What a week.
After enjoying this week’s All-Star festivities, I simply do not have enough positive things to say about the Reds organization and the City of Cincinnati. But I’m going to try.
When MLB announced that Cincinnati was going to host the 2015 All-Star Game, I was probably more excited than most. I’m a sucker for the All-Star Game, and I always have been. One of our longtime editors here at the Nation, Chris Garber, once jokingly called me a “gooey, Field of Dreams”-type fan, or something like that. Guilty as charged. I love the stats and the advanced analysis, and I’m an adult now, with a serious and important day job. But at heart, I still want to love baseball as I did when I was 12 years old.
The All-Star Game is perfect for a guy like me. It’s an annual celebration of the game, and I like celebrating this incredible game. Heck, I’m the guy who, for many years, had two spring training rituals that I undertook without fail. I watched Ken Burns’ “Baseball” documentary every year as spring training got underway, and I always read Jim Bouton’s “Ball Four” (still, for my money, the best baseball book ever written*). I don’t do that any longer, but the All-Star Game still taps into that gooey baseball love that I hope never leaves me.
So I knew, when it was announced that the Reds would host the All-Star Game, that I would be at Great American Ballpark this week. Here are some of my reflections on the festivities. I don’t know if you want to read this, but I’m sorry. It’s my dumb little website, and you’ll have to indulge me for a little while. Or you can click over to Fangraphs or something.
I wasn’t able to make it into town until Sunday afternoon, later than I had intended. I brought my entire family with me, and we don’t live far from Cincinnati, but it’s just far enough that it didn’t make sense to drive back and forth each day. My daughter’s travel softball team played in a tournament on Saturday, and they made it to their championship game (which didn’t finish until nearly midnight), so we had no choice but to get some sleep before making the trip.
We arrived at Great American Ballpark after the Futures Game had begun. I got a kick out of the portion of the game that we watched, but my family was much more interested in the Celebrity Softball game that took place afterward. Specifically, my daughter was beyond excited that some guy from “The Hunger Games” was playing. Okay, whatever.
My son, ten years old, was more interested — as was I — in the presence of Eric Davis and Paul O’Neill, since he and I had just watched the Reds 1990 World Series video the week before. It was the first viewing for him, and the millionth for me. The only disappointment in the Celebrity game was that Luis Quinones wasn’t in the lineup.*
Anyway, the softball game was mildly entertaining, and the weather was good. There are worse things to do on a Sunday evening than hang out at Great American Ballpark with a bag of peanuts, watching Snoop Dogg play softball. Plus, Andy Dalton was mildly booed, so that was good too, I guess.
Afterwards, we spent some time downtown, and I was amazed by the energy you could feel in the air. I’m not sure if that makes sense, but if you were there, you understand. I’ve never felt a buzz in downtown Cincinnati like I felt this week. It was great.
Monday morning started, for us, with the Fan Fest at the Duke Energy Convention Center. It was a good event, and it was well-organized but, frankly, it was no Reds Fest. Then again, the kids loved it, which was the point, I suppose. Plenty of things for them to do — batting cages and pitching machines and Playstation 4’s — and they loved the fact that Topps was handing out free baseball cards all day every day. For my part, I enjoyed the Hall of Fame and Negro League exhibits.
The main event on Monday, however, was the Home Run Derby. We arrived at the ol’ ballyard in time to watch the All-Star teams take batting practice. Some band called Walk the Moon made my daughter very happy. By the time the competition began, the capacity crowd couldn’t wait to get things started.
Then, when Marlana VanHoose hit the first home run of the day, everyone was in awe.
The format was different from previous HRDs, and I had a feeling that the changes made a lot of sense. I was right. The timed rounds added an element of excitement and drama that had been lacking in previous years, when players would take a few swings then take a break to towel off and sip Gatorade. I’ve always enjoyed the Derby, but there’s no question that it tended to drag at times. That’s no longer the case.
Also, the bracket format worked well, making it easier to determine exactly what each player needed to do to move on in the competition. When two-time Derby champ Prince Fielder started crushing bombs in the first round, everyone around me shared a common sentiment: our guy Todd Frazier was in trouble. That feeling didn’t disappear when Fielder finished with 13 homers, but at least Frazier knew how tall a mountain he had to climb.
Frazier started slowly, then finally hit one, then two home runs. With each successive bomb, the crowd got louder and louder and louder. He hit two homers in the final 30 seconds to tie Fielder, at which point the chants of “Let’s Go, Frazier!” began. A homer in extra time sent Fielder packing and sent the crowd into a frenzy.
Frazier knocked off Toronto’s Josh Donaldson in the next round before facing the Dodgers’ rookie slugger Joc Pederson in the final. Once again, after Pederson put on an impressive display with 14 homers, there were murmurs around me that maybe Frazier was going to lose in the final for the second consecutive year. Again, the Toddfather got off to a slow start, and he only had two homers at the 3:15 mark. With two and a half minutes left, he only had five. The outlook was bleak as Frazier called his timeout.
That’s when the roars of the crowd really kicked into high gear. Unfortunately, with less than two minutes remaining, Frazier still had five. Then he hit his sixth, then boom-boom-boom, he tied Pederson on his next to last swing. When he won the event on his first swing of extra time, Great American Ballpark exploded:
“Big-time impact,” Todd Frazier said of the crowd. “Just hearing the crowd roar, call my name, adrenaline. And those last minutes of each round really picked me up to drive the ball out of the park a lot more.”
Listen, I’ve been to a bunch of games at GAB. I’ve been a part of three of the five biggest crowds at the stadium. I was there for Clinchmas in 2010, when Jay Bruce hit the ninth inning homer that clinched the NL Central division. I was there a few weeks later for the first home playoff game in a decade and a half. I was there for the 2012 playoffs, and I’ve been there for six Opening Days, including one where Joe Randa hit a walkoff homer.
But I have never heard a crowd at Great American Ballpark as loud as the one that cheered Frazier when he won the Home Run Derby. Never. It was essentially a meaningless accomplishment, but Reds fans were going nuts. It was a lot of fun, especially for the kids.
My kids were still buzzing as we watched the post-event fireworks,* as we walked out of the stadium, and as they tried to get some sleep later. I think they may still be excited about being a part of that crowd.
*I’m not a fireworks guy, but the Reds always put on a good fireworks show. You know, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Six weeks ago, I explored the following question: “Why isn’t Todd Frazier a bigger star in this city?”
Never mind. He’s the biggest star in town now.
Further proof that Frazier is now the biggest star in town was provided the next day. More on that later. We slept in a bit after the events of the previous night, then made our way downtown for the red carpet parade. I’m not a parade guy either, but we thought we should get the whole experience; after all, this might be the last All-Star Game any of us ever attended.
So we staked out a spot along the parade route, and before long, various MLB mascots came stumbling down the red carpet. First was Rosie Red, then Mr. Red. Houston’s Orbit mascot and the Philly Phanatic engaged all the kids along the way, while Bernie Brewer acted like he couldn’t be bothered. Mr. Met gave my son a beer koozie.
After a while, Barry Larkin came by in a convertible, followed by Giants manager Bruce Bochy. Then the players, seated in the back of Chevrolet trucks, came rolling by. Todd Frazier was the first All-Star to come by, followed by the rest of the National League players…with one notable exception. We waited expectantly, but evidently Aroldis Chapman couldn’t be bothered to participate in the red carpet festivities.
Frankly, watching a bunch of guys with beards rolling by with their families in the backs of pickup trucks wasn’t exactly compelling entertainment. Whatever. I was surrounded by dozens of kids who seemed pretty happy, lingering excitedly at the rail, rushing to grab whatever goodies were thrown into the crowd by the players and mascots. Jacob deGrom tossed my son a Red Sox pencil topper (for some reason), and Jose Altuve gave him a pack of baseball cards. My daughter caught a foam baseball tossed by Mike Trout.
Some of the players looked bored. Most of the younger players — especially Chicago’s Kris Bryant — looked like they were on cloud nine. Eventually, the parade ended and we made our way back to Fan Fest for a couple of hours before walking over to Great American Ballpark for the All-Star Game.
There was still an energy in the air as we passed through the gate, lingering from the prior night’s celebrations, and anticipating the excitement yet to come. At this point, I really began to believe that everything was coming up perfect for Bob Castellini and the organization. Sure, they’d clearly done all the legwork to prepare for every event, including the All-Star Gala and the on-field competitions. But even the weather was cooperating! Despite weather reports that caused my wife to carry around an umbrella all week, and which threatened delays or even cancellations, the rain stayed away during the hours that Bob Castellini needed sunshine.
I said it on Twitter, and I’ll say it again: everything the Reds did in relation to All-Star week was strictly first class. I cannot express my admiration enough for what Castellini and his crew were able to pull off.
National media types agreed:
If they want to put a huge baseball event in this town every year they’d get no argument from me. #Cincinnati
Ã¢â‚¬â€ Mike Greenberg (@Espngreeny) July 13, 2015
I won’t say much about the “Franchise Four” stuff, except to note that it was good to see Barry Larkin, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, and yes, even Pete Rose on the field. The crowd around me certainly enjoyed Rose’s appearance. Then it was cool to see Bench, Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax, and Henry Aaron honored as the four greatest living players. I don’t think I necessarily agree with those selections, but they were all great baseball players, and it was good to see them on the field together. Koufax threw out the first pitch, a strike to Bench.
Now, as I’ve said many times, my favorite part of the All-Star festivities has always been the player introductions. This year was no exception. Obviously, Chapman got the first big ovation (though our intrepid manager Bryan Price’s reception was very warm, as well). When Cardinals backstop Yadier Molina was introduced, however, the boos began. It was actually a pretty funny moment, in my mind, at least. Molina took it in the spirit it was intended, laughed it off, and pointed to the name on the back of his jersey. Across the field, on the third base line, Angels 1B Albert Pujols emphatically (if jokingly) joined in on the booing of the Cardinals.
Then, when the American League All-Stars were announced, Pujols was the target of a few boos, as well. After all the bad things he’s done to the Reds over the years, he certainly earned a little derision from Reds fans. But Pujols laughed it off, and pointed to the name on the front of his jersey, as if to say, “Hey, I don’t play for the Cardinals any more!”
The most surprising moment of the weekend came when Todd Frazier was announced as the starting third baseman for the NL squad. The roar that went up from the Reds faithful was even louder than that given to Pete Rose. I never expected to be able to say that. Todd Frazier runs this town.
The game was fun, if a bit anticlimactic. It was great to see all the young guys, like Mike Trout and Bryant and deGrom and Pederson. Watching Aroldis Chapman blow everyone away was fun. Chapman, of course, struck out the side on 14 pitches, 12 of which were 100 mph or faster. It’s always fun to see the best hitters in the world marvel over what we get to see once or twice a week (or less often) in Cincinnati. Chapman is something else. We’re going to miss him when he’s gone.
So the game ended, and Trout won another All-Star MVP award, and we finally had to leave the stadium. The memories of the week won’t soon disappear. I fear, however, that all the festivities have just served to deepen my children’s fondness for the Cincinnati Reds, and that’s a recipe for lifelong heartache.
Then again, the Reds organization did everything right in the preparation and execution of All-Star Week. If Castellini could just get the baseball operations side of the ledger running with as much efficiency and effectiveness as the nation saw from the rest of the franchise over the last few days, the Reds would be the best organization in pro sports.
One last thought. I noted over on Twitter that I truly believe Cincinnati is still the best baseball town in America. It’s really true. The energy I felt in the city, and the love for the game, was infectious. I’ve seen it before, in the past, but even now, when the team is struggling, there’s an interest and a passion for Reds baseball that is palpable and, I think, growing every day.
Yes, things are better and more intense when the Reds are good. But Castellini has to notice that this is a town that is desperate to embrace the Redlegs. We love the Bengals, and in varying proportions, the Bearcats, Musketeers, Wildcats, and Buckeyes, and whoever else you want to throw in the mix. But only the Reds can move the dial in Cincinnati.
By and large, the Reds have been a pretty good product over the last five years. If ownership can figure out how to keep the team consistently competitive (they’ve done it in Tampa, so it can be done), they’ll find that Reds fans are forever loyal. I’m skeptical that they’ll be able to do that, at least in the near term. But I’m hopeful. Because when there is something baseball-related to be excited about, no one does it better than Cincinnati.