Saturday, July 17, 2021

All-Star Week

Now that the All-Star break is complete, the second half of the MLB season is underway. Even though we call it the halfway point, the true midpoint of the season falls around the end of June or beginning of July, but I'm sure the players don't split hairs like that. I'd bet a lot of them, especially those on contending teams, would perceive the midpoint to be around the trade deadline at the end of July, or even later.

It's a long season.

Traditionally, I use the All-Star Break as an excuse to do some entertaining at my home, but this year I had the rare opportunity to attend the festivities in person. As I'm sure I've mentioned before, I hadn't been to the ballpark since the final Rockies home game of 2019. It was a bit weird to be back among a crowd of that size (or really to see Coors Field that full in general), but it was a fun experience.

2021 Topps Heritage #31 Pete Alonso

Pete Alonso was the big winner Monday night at the Home Run Derby, and he took home the trophy for the second consecutive time. For that occasion I sat in the Rockpile at Coors, the distant bleacher section in straightaway center. A former coworker of mine had an extra ticket and invited me along, which is exactly the same way I got a World Series ticket back in 2007. It really helps to be the first baseball guy everyone thinks of.

Normally, the Rockpile is far, far away from the action, but it was actually a pretty solid seating area for the Home Run Derby. Anything that was hit over the center field wall was out of sight for me, but for the tape-measure shots landing in The Rooftop or on the left field concourse, I had a surprisingly good view. Sort of like being in a control tower.

To make sure fans got a good show, none of the balls used in the Home Run Derby were kept in the humidor, where game balls are usually conditioned for a month. This ensured that souvenirs reached the deepest parts of the park, both in batting practice and in the tournament itself. One BP ball landed directly on the concrete fifteen feet or so behind me when I was standing on the concourse eating a burger. I lost an inch of beer as a sea of humanity suddenly closed in around me.

Nowhere was safe.

My friend stayed in that area for the entire tournament hoping to catch a ball, and a couple of Pete Alonso's shots were right in his vicinity. 

This 2021 Topps Heritage card is pretty much how Polar Bear looked all night. No batting helmet, admiring a long home run in his post-swing pose. Repeat 74 times throughout the evening, walk away with $1 million. 

Incidentally, Alonso has made more money winning two Home Run Derby tournaments than he's made from his regular playing career so far.

2020 Topps Heritage #346 Trey Mancini

Trey Mancini was Alonso's foe in the final round, and while he put up a respectable 22, it wasn't enough to take the title. But he beat Matt Olson and hometown favorite Trevor Story to get all the way to the final.

If you've watched this tournament since they changed it to a timed format, you'll know that distance equals time. That is, if you hit especially long home runs, you'll earn a little extra time to keep hitting dingers. In past years, players had to hit two homers beyond 440 feet to qualify for bonus time. This year, the distance to qualify was increased to just one beyond 475 feet. Almost everyone got it. 

It was a quite a show. And it was inspiring to see Trey Mancini do so well, because he was being treated for stage 3 colon cancer little more than a year ago. The back of this 2020 Topps Heritage card tells us that he almost went into medicine, like a few of his close family members. Last year, he got a closer look at the healthcare system than he intended, for several reasons.

2020 Topps Big League Roll Call #RC-25 Shohei Ohtani

I raided a few piles on my card shelf to find most of these, and this insert is from a blaster of 2020 Topps Big League that I have yet to blog about. Big League is growing on me more and more, and this is the second consecutive post containing that crossed-bats "BL" logo. The Roll Call insert set tells us a lot about how the players interact with their fans and how popular their merchandise is. Apparently, the Angels simply can't keep Ohtani gear in stock.

And judging by the buzz around Shohei Ohtani, I believe it. Coming into the Derby, he was the league leader in home runs, and showed everyone in the ballpark why. Fans that would usually be much too far away to catch a ball were in striking distance. If you're visiting The Rooftop or sitting just below it, normally you can enjoy your snacks, take in the Denver skyline, and perhaps enjoy a sunset if the weather is just right. But on Monday, the fans up there needed to keep their eyes peeled. Juan Soto, who ended up beating Ohtani in the first round after an exhilarating series of tiebreakers, hit the longest homer of the night up there at 520 feet.

A surprising number of Derby participants, including Trevor Story and both finalists, weren't even on the actual All-Star Game roster the following day. But Ohtani most definitely was, and he made history by being both the starting pitcher and leadoff hitter. Seeing him play will definitely be a story to tell someday.

2018 Stadium Club #241 Aaron Judge

I've been going to games since I was a kid, and I've still never seen the Twins or Royals play. So to have a chance to see all the superstars in one place on one day is pretty amazing. For Tuesday's All-Star Game, I sat in right field near the foul pole. I was in the first row of the third deck, several rows below The Rooftop. And I had a great view of Aaron Judge throughout most of batting practice and for the first few innings

As each session of batting practice winds down, players often toss balls to fans in the first few rows of the lower sections. But Judge took aim at the second level of the Rooftop, basically the very top of the stadium and approximately where the purple row would be. I saw him fling four or five balls all the way up there, at least as high as the foul pole. All the while he had a huge smile on his face.

I am now an Aaron Judge fan.

Batting practice was effectively a continuation of the Home Run Derby itself. I'm not sure who was up at the time, possibly Joey Wendle, but during BP a few balls came screaming into the third deck. One landed nearby about three or four seats to my left, and at a terrifying velocity. I didn't end up with that ball either, but I didn't really bother trying. I was ten feet away and I knew it was a hopeless endeavor, as it was snatched up in a split second.

Sure got my heart racing, though.

Of course, there was a special pre-game tribute to the late Hank Aaron, with a video on the scoreboard and specially-commissioned artwork presented to his widow. His uniform #44 was mowed into the right field grass, and all players wore that number during the Home Run Derby.

2019 Topps #602 Germán Márquez

As the game itself got started, Nolan Arenado got a great standing ovation, a continued show of appreciation from Denver-area fans. I missed the series a couple weeks ago when the Cardinals came to town, so I had to wait until the player introduction ceremony and his at-bats to voice my support.

Germán Márquez, the lone current Rockie on the All-Star roster, pitched the 4th inning and got quite the ovation of his own as he struck out the final batter.

2019 Topps Base Set Photo Variations #700D Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. /Fielding 

Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. was the ultimate star of the show, hitting a Derby-worthy solo home run in the third inning, eventually being named the game's MVP as the American League won the Midsummer Classic yet again.

Also, apparently Chevrolet doesn't give away a car to the MVP anymore? Did I miss that announcement? I told the kids sitting next to me that Vlad was about to get a free Corvette C8 or something. Disappointed them for no reason.

2021 Topps Opening Day Mascots #M-2 Wally the Green Monster

In any case, there was a lot to do all weekend. I already did a post about the Play Ball Park, but I missed the Futures and Celebrity games, and didn't make it to see the Red Carpet show. I didn't watch much of the Draft either. It's a jam-packed schedule. But there's a little more to tell.

On the first-level concourse, near the alarmingly long line to get into the merchandise store, many of the team mascots were keeping the fans company. Among the sightings were Mr. Met, Rosie Red, Stomper, Fredbird, Orbit, the Phillie Phanatic, and Wally the Green Monster. The All-Star Game is truly a place where all the greats are brought together.

Prior to the Derby, my friends and I stopped into the Hall of Legends, a temporary memorabilia display in the new McGregor Square complex across 20th Street from Coors. The showcase consisted of jerseys, bats, and other memorabilia from Marshall Fogel, a local Denver-area collector. You might remember something similar from the Play Ball! exhibit several years ago.

And there was one other thing.

1952 Topps #311 Mickey Mantle (PSA GEM-MT 10)

One of three known Gem Mint 10 examples of a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle.

This has gone on display on rare occasions in the past, but what better way to celebrate All-Star week than to let the public have a glimpse of this ultra-valuable baseball card. A PSA 9 recently sold for over $5 million, so this one is likely worth around $10 million.

Sometimes I wonder if the entire production run of something like 1988 Donruss is worth that much. That's a question for another day, I suppose.

The last time Denver hosted the All-Star Game was in 1998. At that time I was in no position to attend, and I'm glad I was able to this time around. It's a once-in-a-generation experience to take part in the festivities, and I'm excited to look back on this decades down the line to see how many of these guys ended up in the Hall of Fame.


6 comments:

  1. Glad you had a good time! I saw the Mantle too, which was very cool. I sat in 133 for the Derby and 131 for the game. I enjoyed Denver, as a whole.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Congrats on getting to the All-Star Game! And welcome to the Aaron Judge Fan Club. Glad to hear that he was being awesome.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Sounds like a great weekend. I've never seen a '52 Mantle in person, but I've seen a T-206 Honus Wagner at the New York Public Library. Judge seems like a genuine great person, a natural successor to Jeter as the face of the Yankees. Too bad they've put such a mediocre team around him.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Fantastic that you got to go to that. Forget the haters - the All-Star Game is a must-watch every year. And you’ve given me another Ohtani card to hunt down.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Sounds like most of the people who went must've had a fun time. It's too bad that you and AJ couldn't have met up at some point. Oh, and to answer you're pondering, no, the entire 1988 Donruss print run would not be worth $10 million dollars -- at least not in 2021 it isn't.

    ReplyDelete
  6. That's awesome that you were able to participate in All-Star festivities. Although I don't watch the game anymore on TV, I'd love to go to an actual game.

    Love that Ohtani! Topps did a good job with that insert's design and the photo selection on that card.

    ReplyDelete