As the most-watched All-Star event in professional sports, Major League Baseball has a duty to put on a spectacular show each year, even more so in an era where interest – particularly among the youth – is apparently on the decline.
And as eyes descended on the Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, it’s fair to say baseball delivered. The revamped Home Run Derby brought with it new excitement, while the continued emergence of Mike Trout as the sport’s brightest young star was welcome, even if the MLB does do everything possible to shoehorn him into the limelight – no, “hitting for the cycle” doesn’t count if it takes you four games.
The showpiece All-Star Game saw the American League secured home advantage for this year’s World Series with a 6-3 victory over the National League – their 15th triumph in the last 19 Midsummer Classics. Trout homered off the fourth pitch of the game; Brian Dozier sent his first at-bat as an All-Star into the crowd as well, while Aroldis Chapman’s superhuman arm fired 12 out of 14 pitches over 100mph, striking out Brock Holt, Mike Moustakas and Mark Teixeira.
Dispelling the myth that a mass invasion of Kansas City Royals into the game would threaten the American League’s chances, their three eventual starters – Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar and Salvador Perez – went 3-8 and Perez also reached first base after being struck out, courtesy of Madison Bumgarner’s wild pitch, in a painful rematch of the final out from last year’s World Series (if only that had happened in Game 7 at Kauffman Stadium). Wade Davis threw a typically filthy eighth inning, retiring two, while the other Royals pitcher, Kelvin Herrera, did not get on the mound.
Trout was MVP for the second year running – the first time that has happened in All-Star Game history – but the award perhaps should have gone to Cain who was the only player with two hits, which he complimented with an RBI and a stolen base. The MLB’s desperation to find the “face of baseball” is an understandable one however, and it’s a decision that is hard to take too much umbrage with.
In Monday’s Derby, hometown kid Todd Frazier saw off the impressive challenge of the Dodgers’ Joc Pederson. The competition still managed to thrive despite being bereft of Giancarlo Stanton, Bryce Harper and Trout, who were unable to take part due to a broken left hand, a father not well enough to pitch and a humble 23-year-old who wanted to allow his Angels teammate Albert Pujols a chance for glory. No complaints there.
The new time format sped up the contest and made for an exciting couple of hours, even if the repeated “back-back-back-back-back” line from Chris Berman in the commentary box became slightly tiresome.
Pederson showcased his big-time talent in his first full season as a Dodger and his match with Pujols made for the most touching moment of Monday evening when the latter hugged Pederson’s brother, Champ. The two met for the first time earlier this year and Champ, who suffers with Down’s syndrome like Pujols’ older daughter Isabella, struck a chord, with Albert signing a jersey for him.
Champ said that Pujols was his favourite player at the time although was supporting his brother when the two faced off – the family bond is pretty unbreakable, especially in baseball. It was one that tugged the heartstrings.
Viewing figures were reportedly down once again, which was in part due to the “Derek Jeter” effect. New York tuned in en masse in 2014 for the Yankee shortstop’s final All-Star Game and their interest in this year would have been muted further since there were no Bronx Bombers starting. An absence of Red Sox starters too marked the first time in All-Star Game history that there were no starters from either the Yankees or Boston. However, in comparison to other All-Star Games, baseball still towers above its competitors.
There were plenty of concerns ahead of the 2015 Midsummer Classic, the fan voting, the injuries – losing Miguel Cabrera, Alex Gordon and Stanton to name a trio were big blows – and the new Derby format. But by and large it worked, and in Trout, baseball is in possession of American sport’s hottest young property. The future may yet be bright.