One of the first questions George Plaster asked me when I told him I won All-Star Game tickets was “Are you going to sell them?” He was half-kidding, but my response was simple: “Hell no.”
As a kid growing up in Cincinnati, baseball was my passion. Sure, I loved other sports, too, but baseball was my true love – whether it was doing my best Hamilton Porter impression as the chubby catcher on my Knothole team, or simply going to Reds games with my dad.
There was always a particular baseball event I loved watching as a kid: The MLB All-Star Game. And Tuesday night in Cincinnati – 20 years after playing imaginary baseball in the backyard; voicing games as if I was Marty Brennaman – I was a kid again.
The funny thing is I had no intentions of attending the All-Star Game a little over 48 hours before first pitch.
Tickets were too expensive; and as a sports radio producer in the heart of SEC Country, there was a certain event in Birmingham that was kind of a big deal. As disappointed as I was, I accepted the fact I wasn’t going to be there for an event I had always wanted to attend in my hometown.
Apparently, though, I had entered the Reds’ “All-Star Sweepstakes” by voting online. And Sunday night, I received an email from the Reds saying I won the grand prize of two tickets to the 2015 MLB All-Star Game.
“Are you (expletive) kidding me?!”
After pulling some strings at work, I was on my way to the All-Star Game for a one-day trip to the Queen City with a good friend of mine. We left Nashville at 9 AM Tuesday … and arrived back at 3 AM Wednesday!
On the drive up to Cincinnati, it still hadn’t set in we were going to the All-Star Game. But when we approached the stadium, the magnitude set in: Streets blocked off, vendors set up on the sidewalks, a sea of red filling The Banks district, a palpable buzz in the air … at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, five hours before first pitch.
It all felt real while watching batting practice from the left field seats. Not only was it seeing Clayton Kershaw interacting with fans or former pitching great Pedro Martinez laughing it up with old friends, but it also felt real by just looking around the section we were standing in. My friend and I were surrounded by a dad and a son who were Giants fans; a husband and a wife who were Cubs fans; an Angels and a Cardinals fan standing next to each other while donning fake Chinese jerseys of Mike Trout and Michael Wacha, respectively.
Yep. This was the MLB All-Star Game.
It’s an event that has admittedly become stale in recent years. In my opinion, it shouldn’t count for anything. The Home Run Derby hadn’t been the same, for the most part, since Mark McGwire launched homer after homer over the Green Monster in 1999. Still the best All-Star Game presentation of the four major sports, but just not the same.
However, the Reds hit it out of the park – literally. Todd Frazier winning the Home Run Derby in front of his home fans, coupled with the awesome new Derby format, couldn’t have been scripted any better. Like they always do, the Reds did a great job mixing the franchise’s history with the game’s stars of the present.
Cincinnati is a true baseball town, and it couldn’t have been more obvious on one the biggest stages in sports.
Tuesday’s pregame ceremony was second to none. As a lifelong diehard Reds fan, the Franchise Four introduction of Johnny Bench, Barry Larkin, Joe Morgan and Pete Rose was amazing. The usual player-by-player introductions, national anthem and spine-tingling flyover I enamored over as a kid were cool to see take place in that ballpark. And watching Sandy Koufax throw the ceremonial first pitch to Johnny Bench was as good as it gets.
The game itself didn’t disappoint, either. But 20 years from now, I’m not going to remember Mike Trout’s leadoff homer or Jose Iglesias’ unreal defensive play late in the game or the AL getting the best of the NL (again). It all felt secondary to the event as a whole.
I’ll remember being a kid again at the event I loved 20 years ago, in the city I will always call home. I’ll remember being in awe of greatness when Bench, Koufax, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays were honored as baseball’s Greatest Living Players. I’ll remember enjoying a cold one before the game at a nearby, standing-room-only bar alongside baseball fans from every walk of life.
I’ll remember it being one of the best baseball experiences of my life.