Thursday, July 17, 2014

Tour 2014: MLB Homerun Derby & All-Star Workout Day

All photos of ASG Block Party, All-Star Workout Day, Homerun Derby, and new Saints Ballpark construction available on Flickr.

Megan and I got a good night's sleep and took our time getting out of Erik and Katie's apartment on Monday.  They both already had a half day's work in before Megan and I began our stroll back towards the ballpark.  We had some time to kill before gates opened, so we went to check out the All-Star Block Party across the street.  I was really impressed in general with the Twin Cities rolling out the red carpet for the event and providing lots of entertainment outside the ballpark for fans, but the block party was pretty lame.  There was only a few food trucks and a team store, and a tent with the Budweiser Clydesdales.  It wasn't hard for the local news station to pick out the two most photogenic people of the 30 that were there and interview us.  Our interview aired as part of a piece about how the All-Star festivities were expected to bring in hundreds of thousands of visitors and inject $75 million into the local economy (you can watch the story here).  I guess with numbers like that, it makes sense to cram as many opportunities for tourists to spend money in the 5-day period, so I would not be surprised if the block party became an annual All-Star tradition.

We anticipated spending a few hours at the block party but after about a half-hour we had seen everything, so we hit a couple bars and got in line at the stadium around 3:15 for a 4:00 opening.  We wanted to be sure to get there super early, because we had standing-room tickets for the Derby.  Target Field has several phenomenal bar areas open to the public and I had my eye at the one by the left field pole on the 2nd level as our destination.  We entered at the gate closest to this area and hustled up the escalator to get a great spot right along the front rail.  With an unblocked view in front of us and a full-service bar right behind us, we really couldn't have asked for a better spot.  I thought I would care that we would have to basically stay in one spot for 7 hours while standing, but I think we were so into the event that we didn't even notice - and let's be honest, the beer helped.  We had some kids who played for the Rochester Honkers of the Northwoods League next to us that I talked to, and Megan of course made friends with the bartender, so it was a very enjoyable evening.  I love standing room areas for the social aspect you just don't experience sitting in a regular seat.  If you talk about a homerun drinking game in a seat, a person sitting right in front of you in a row of seats might feel like he would be eavesdropping to say anything.  Make the same comment in a standing room area and you get a group of people joining in in no time.

Preceding the Homerun derby was the workout day for all of the All-Stars.  The AL took the field first for BP, followed by the NL.  Sporadic showers forced the teams on and off the field a few times, but another perk of our standing room spot is we were completely under cover the whole time.  The Workout Day was probably the first glaring realization that I need to invest in an actual camera rather than just my iPhone.  There were 70 of the greatest players in the league right in front of me, including Derek Jeter taking his last round of all-star batting practice, and I just wasn't able to get many good pictures.  Of over 2 hours of batting practice, the person that really stood out was Josh Donaldson of the Athletics.  He was consistently crushing the ball and I immediately looked to him as my sleeper pick for the upcoming Derby.  An odd thing I noticed was that all the players still bunt the first few pitches just out of habit.  Yeah, because Jose Bautista is going to bunt...and in an All-Star Game no less.  Another odd thing was that Jeff Samardzija was warming up with the NL and wearing an NL jersey despite being traded to the A's a couple weeks ago, although he did have just a generic "yay all-star game" cap on.  A cool thing about the day before the All-Star game is this is when you typically see all the players' kids out there with their dads.  K-Rod's young son was having an absolute blast trying to hit balls with his wiffle bat.  Batting practice wrapped up around 6:45 for both teams, and then there was about an hour rain delay before the Homerun Derby started.

Personally, the Homerun Derby has always been my favorite part of All-Star Week.  I started getting into baseball on the fanatic level I am now in the late 90s when you routinely saw 50, 60, even 70 homerun seasons and every year there was a threat a record would be broken, so perhaps the derby just makes me nostalgic for those days.  I know that there are a lot of diehard baseball fans who like to shun the Homerun Derby, but let me tell you that until you've seen it in person, it is not fair to judge the event solely based on 3 hours of Chris Berman.  It was an amazing experience to see 400' blasts coming towards us in the outfield, and to hear that loud crack of the bat on almost every pitch.  This was also the first time I've seen prolific power hitters such as Yoenis Cespedes and Giancarlo Stanton hit homeruns in person, so that was probably the best part for me.  Watching Stanton hit a homerun completely out of Marlins Park on Baseball Tonight and seeing it live are two different things.  Even though a lot of people had sat through 6+ hours of cold and rain, the stadium was electric the entire night and roaring for every homerun.  This year featured a new format that more closely resembled pool play in soccer - 10 participants were weeded into the top 6, and then those 6 faced off in a bracket-style tournament to the end.  The addition of 2 hitters and one round was kind of dangerous since Megan and I were of course playing a Homerun Derby Drinking Game, but we powered through.  My predictions were spot on - Stanton would hit the longest bomb, but one of the Oakland players would win it.  "La Potencia" Cespedes defended his 2013 title by defeating "The Toddfather" Frazier 9-1 in the final round, and Stanton hit one to the 2nd deck in centerfield on a line.  And if you've ever been to Target Field, you know that's quite a poke.  Joey Bats had the biggest round with 10 in the 1st, and former Twin Justin Morneau got a huge standing ovation but only hit 2.  I was happy to see Yasiel Puig put up a big fat goose egg.

Erik had to work the derby and did not get to watch too much with us, so the 3 of us went out for a couple postgame brews at Hubert's and said our goodbyes.  On our way out of town on Tuesday, Meggs and I stopped by the construction site of the new St. Paul Saints ballpark slated to open in 2015.  I wasn't expecting it to be much more than a hole in the ground at this point but they were pretty far along with the concrete framework.  The site does not have very easy access other than by light rail, so I will be interested to see how that all works out when I see a game there next year.  It then took us about 20 minutes of driving through downtown St. Paul to find anything resembling a decent lunch place, and afterwards it was back to Wisconsin.  Tour 2014 continues in only a few weeks with a visit to Wrigley for its 100th Anniversary season!

National League
Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado (captain)
Justin Morneau, Colorado
Todd Frazier, Cincinnati
Giancarlo Stanton, Miami
Yasiel Puig, LA Dodgers

American League
Jose Bautista, Toronto (captain)
Yoenis Cespedes, Oakland
Josh Donaldson, Oakland
Brian Dozier, Minnesota
Adam Jones, Baltimore  

winner - Yoenis Cespedes
score – 9-1 final round, 30 total

stadium - Target Field

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