Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Tuesday at the All-Star Game!

I know Charge-Shot!!! generally likes to steer away from sports in favor of more nebulous activities falling under the heading of "popular culture." But big events like the World Series and the MLB All-Star Game are certainly newsworthy and, I would argue, culturally significant. And considering I'm a semi-professional baseball blogger, this kind of stuff puts me directly in my element.

Last night my girlfriend and I attended the 2010 MLB All-Star Game in Anaheim. (I made sure to note that the city was in fact Anaheim and not "Los Angeles of Anaheim" and that Anaheim and Los Angeles are in fact cities from two distinct counties and have absolutely no affiliation except in the cobbled-together name of a dumb baseball team who wants to extend its market share. Okay, rant over.) We sat in Section 102, directly adjacent from the bullpens - which was especially interesting because we got to see (and hear - those glove pops are loud when dudes are throwing 90mph!) all the pitchers warming up before they entered the game!

As it turns out, the pitching changes were the most interesting part of a 3-1 game that included only two scoring plays the entire night - a sac fly by Robinson Cano to score Evan Longoria for the AL, and a bases-loaded, bases-clearing double by Brian McCann (the eventual All-Star game MVP) for the NL. The blandness of the game was overshadowed by the historical significance of the outcome: it was the first victory for the National League All-Stars since 1996, breaking a near-curseworthy drought of 13 years without a win.

So why were the pitching changes so interesting? All-Star pitchers usually don't log more than 2 innings, to allow the managers to take advantage of the wealth of talented pitchers on the roster. This practice also helps individual pitchers avoid fatigue - while it does have significance (see below), the ASG does not count towards the standings, so it would be improper to overtax a pitcher in an exhibition game to the extent that it impinges on his regular season performance. (I was incensed in 2003 when Mike Scioscia, manager of the hated rival Angels, used A's pitcher Mark Mulder for 2 full innings, even after he gave up five hits, including a home run. He only started 6 more games that season before going down with an injury.)

Thus we got to see such legendary talents as Andy Pettitte, Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, and Jonathan Broxton give their warmup tosses just mere feet away from us! Pitcher utilization requires significant amount of planning in addition to strategy, because starters usually require more time to warm up than relievers. But since the game now determines which league gets home field advantage in the world series, a manager must be fluid and not adhere too strictly to a plan when the game could be on the line.

I know what you're thinking, and, yes, this is the kind of stuff that I get excited about. Don't get me wrong, it was also exciting to see Ryan Braun make a tremendous diving snag of a tough line drive. And to see a ball pop out of Matt Holliday's glove as he ran to the wall. That's pretty much all that went down around the left field area. Aside from when starter David Price was warming up on the field, air-mailed one of his warmup tosses, and nailed a fan in the face! Priceless!

But essential to the enjoyment of any game at Angel Stadium are the colorful fans, which we A's fans affectionately refer to as "Anaheim Scum." Take the three guys sitting in front of us: a sunburned Cubs fan who announced every player in a rotten Howard Cosell impression. A Dodger fan who sought solidarity by getting to his feet and shouting "DODGER BLUE!!!" He seemed confused and disappointed when people stopped responding after the fourth or fifth time. And finally an Angels fan, decked out in a Vladimir Guerrero jersey and a Mickey Mouse hat, who spent most of the game creepily snapping candid photos of the blonde Rangers fan sitting in front of him. Listen to this exchange as her group got up to leave:

Angels fan: "Ooh, she's leaving, gotta get a picture of that!"
Other Rangers fan (brunette): "You guys are the most obnoxious people I've ever seen."
Angels fan: "Well, you have bad hair, and you're ugly! F*ck off, you piece of trash! And the Rangers suck! They're trash!"

No joke. Ver batim. He then got into it with a Red Sox fan who called him a mouse (cuz of the ear hat, of course). Why wasn't this the side of the O.C. that made it onto the TV show?

All in all, it was a thrill to be part of the festivities and to see all the stars up close. Congratulations to the National League for finally showing something more than total incompetence. Thanks to MLB Commissioner Bud Selig for making these games count for something. (Sure it's kind of arbitrary, but less so than just having home field advantage alternate each year. Why not have it go by team winning percentage? Don't ask me, I just work here.)

And a big thanks to all the fans (including me!) who voted a maximum of 25 times each for their favorite players. Despite changes to the All-Star game proceedings that make it both more unwieldy and less interesting, we are at bottom what this game is all about.