All-Star Game 2014 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
I started writing this story about a baseball game from a press box at Target Field. That’s a thing that, in and of itself, is nothing remarkable. In fact, it’s about the most normal place a story about a baseball game could be written. I was flanked by guys doing the same thing: typing with one eye, watching the game with the other.
Then again, this story isn’t really about a baseball game, the press box I wrote it in wasn't really a press box, and I’m not really a guy who should be writing about baseball games in the first place.
What I was staring at just over the monitor of my MacBook Pro when I started writing this was the pre-game to the pre-game of the 2014 All-Star game, and the “press box” I sat in was a press box in name only, as it was actually just four rows of fold-up tables with extension cord power atop the seats high in section 108 on the first base line. And, although the Major League Baseball credential I'd applied for months earlier said otherwise, I didn't really belong there.
I was just a local guy who loves baseball that happened to have better access than most local guys who love baseball to one of the sport's premiere events. So, instead of feigning a thinkpiece with deep baseball insights or a feel-piece about the ebb and flow of the game itself, I thought I'd use my precarious position to showcase the carnival from the inside out in a way that maybe only a guy with an iPhone, a credential, and a certain wide-eyed curiousity about the spectacle of the Midsummer Classic could.
So here, in no particular order, are my thoughts about the whole experience. Consider it my collection of All-Star Game found objects:
>> In a press box they have a closed circuit announcer telling you strange facts, like the official temp at game time (72 degrees), what direction the wind’s coming from (I didn’t hear that one), whether it was a wild pitch (it was), and who’s warming in the pen (Jon Lester, at first).
>> Baseball media are nothing like Harry Carry anymore. It’s a soda-only crowd. They aren’t, however, afraid to indulge in stuff like the chili cheese fries with a side of Kramarczuk’s brat, piled-high with onions and kraut.
>> I sat next to a reporter from a Japanese media outlet called something like the All-American Press. He didn't speak a word of English, ate lots of cheeseburgers, and kept a radical-looking Japanese scorebook that I had to sneak a picture of.
>> Everyone loves retiring Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter. EVERYONE. (But especially the ladies.) There was even a “De-rek Je-ter, De-rek Je-ter" chant during his first at-bat. NL starter Adam Wainwright loves Jeter so much he admitted to giving him "a couple pipe shots" during his first at-bat because he "deserved it," which, translated from baseball speak means Wainwright threw him meat to do his part in ensuring Jeter's first at-bat of his final All-Star game was a successful one. It was. He got a double and a standing-O.
>> Legendary San Diego Padre Tony Gwynn passed away in June, and yet there wasn't any form of tribute to him during any portion of the All-Star Game festivities. It took a St. Louis Cardinals beat writer from Hannibal, Missouri to point that out to me after the game, but still, what gives?
>> Sid Hartman carries an incredibly large, incredibly outdated tape recorder, and he’s not afraid to interrupt a national radio interview to use it. He is also a goddamn institution and the person who tells you otherwise is a fool.
>> During pre-game media field access to an event like the All-Star game, even the most jaded journalists get kinda giddy to be standing five feet from Giancarlo Stanton as he belts homers during batting practice. They even have other media members take their pics.
>> Related: Press credentials forbid media from seeking autographs. Nothing is said, however, about selfies.
>> Idina Menzel from Rent and Frozen sang the National Anthem and Bob Dylan's "Forever Young," and man, does her mouth do crazy things when she sings. Seriously. Google it.
>> Fellow media do not take kindly to certain, ahem, press box newbies forgetting they are “impartial journalists" and unabashedly taking a side/cheering.
>> For the most part, the All-Star pitchers who throw the hardest are not all that large. In fact, almost uniformly, MLB-ers aren't abnormally large humans, they're just normal-sized humans with abnormally large amounts of natural talent.
>> The Yankees relief pitcher Dellin Betances (#68) is a GIGANTIC exception to what I just said about MLB-ers being normal-sized fellas.
>> It truly is spectacular to be on the field while the best of the best in professional baseball hit batting practice. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been allowed to do it and I highly recommend doing whatever it takes to get yourself out there someday . . . Unless what it takes is hopping the fence and streaking, which, although I might snicker at, I do not condone.
>> The view from the field to the stands is similarly amazing.
>> The American League almost hit for the cycle in the first inning missing only the single. THE SINGLE.
>> Related: The press box PA tells me that Adam Wainwright's “inning line” for his kinda-shabby first was “1 Inning, 3H, 3ER, 2KO, 1 HR, 21 pitches, 14 strikes.”
>> MTV2 thinks enough of Fat Joe to have made him a correspondent for the festivities. He interviewed dudes in a thoroughly Fat Joe-ian way that mystified almost everyone including the guys being interviewed.
>> Target Field upped its game and manufactured a semi-automatic t-shirt launcher for the All-Star Game. It was one part amazing. One part horrifying.
>> Once your media credential gets you deep into the recesses of Target Field, people don’t really pay all that much attention to you anymore. I just kinda wandered around down there for a while and found Robinson Cano kicking it in the hallway, while some dude typed in a way that's sure to give him carpal tunnel.
>> This photo does him little justice, but Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Chase Utley is as handsome a man as I have ever met in person—and I have been in close proximity to a carboard cutout of David Beckham. He can also hit the ball a looooong way, as evidenced by his second inning double off the wall in right center.
>> I’m pretty sure some press people just come to events for the free food. And, judging from at least one guy nearby me in the press box, the free wi-fi.
>> Target Field was designed to be an intimate ballpark that puts fans right on top of the game and the result is very little foul territory, which during major events doesn’t give the media a lot of room to maneuver. More than a few national media types were less than complimentary about this fact as I strolled foul territory. Hey, it's David Price!
>> Once they’re positive they’re not going to sell in-stadium, they hand out the special programs to media people . . . and neat golden commemorative pins. The Cardinals beat writer from Hannibal was very excited about the pin. He also split a $20 that we found on the floor of the press box with me . . . Such camraderie.
>> Despite what Tom Hanks says, there is, in fact, crying in baseball, as we saw when Twin Cities native, former Twin, and current Cardinal/ NL team member Pat Neshek got choked up upon being introduced to a thundering applause from his hometown crowd. His brother, by the way, is on the grounds crew at Target Field.
>> I once substitute taught for Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman's English class when he was still at El Modena High School in Orange County, CA. He did not remember me and did not care to. This fact does not make him a worse baseball player or person, it just reminds me that less than 10 years ago I was trying to become an English teacher in Southern California and now I'm home writing about the All-Star Game at Target Field. Magical.
Oh, yeah, and the AL won 5-3 with Minnesota Twin Glen Perkins getting the save in a 1-2-3 ninth that saw him throw to fellow Twin Kurt Suzuki . . . Just in case you confused this with a story about a baseball game.
Photos by Drew Wood and taken on his iPhone because, while Major League Baseball could be convinced to give him a press credential, they could not be convinced to allow him to bring an actual camera to anything. He apologizes for the quality of the photos and remains irritated about his inability to bring a real camera.