What are the attributes of a great all-star game in baseball? For any baseball league on the planet, the all-star format has become as expected as the end-of-season championship series. It is now a staple of the game. Leagues use the all-star game to motivate players, attract attention for the players as well as for the league and to generate excitement (if not dollars) from fans.
And so what makes for a great all-star game? That is the question I pondered Saturday night after the Arizona Fall League’s 2009 Rising Stars game in Surprise, Arizona. This year’s was the fourth all-star showcase.
I would argue the criteria for a great all-stars game are pretty straightforward:
1. The best player talent 2. A great fan experience 3. Something to play for 4. Memorable plays 5. Great conditions and a great location
Based on my 5-star criteria, I’d give this year’s Arizona Fall League Rising Stars game a 2.5 (possibly a 3.5 if the outcome impacts the championship game, which I do not know and they do not tell you.).
Here are the facts about the league and the Rising Stars game: All 30 Major League teams send their top prospects to develop and accelerate during the fall in sunny Arizona, where they play for one of six teams – the Mesa Solar Sox, Phoenix Desert Dogs and Scottsdale Scorpions in the East and the Peoria Javelinas, Peoria Saguaros and Surprise Rafters in the West.
The 30 teams place their top prospects with teams that are mostly aligned with where those MLB teams play during spring training. The Seattle Mariners are in Peoria, the San Francisco Giants are in Scottsdale and so on. Each AFL team then sends its top players to the Rising Stars game.
I wanted to attend this year’s game because my son and I had watched several of this year’s Rising Stars when they were All-Stars in the Cape Cod Baseball League a few years ago. Yonder Alonso, Buster Posey, Jason Castro, Chase D’Arnaud, Drew Storen were just a few of the names I remembered from recent Cape League seasons.
Add to that list top round draft picks like pitcher Mike Leake and Josh Fields or hitters like Dustin Ackley, Carlos Triunfel, Brandon Allen, Mike Moustakas, Jemile Weeks, and you’ve got an unbelievable lineup of talent.
Sadly, the top pitching prospect, Stephen Strasburg, was a late scratch, and other top players also were scratched.
So on criteria #1, I give the AFL a half-star. The one-half deduction is not their fault, but it is a deduction from a fan perspective.
Speaking of fans, I can’t give a star on fan experience – especially when I compare this game with the Cape League’s All-Star Game. Unlike the Cape League, fans in the Rising Stars game are more like background noise. That was especially true with the MLB Network broadcast, which decided to keep the grassy areas in the outfield free of kids. The network personnel also seemed to keep the game moving along.
Batting practice, which began at 3:30 pm, was closed to the public. In the Cape League it's all part of the celebration. There was no autograph session like there is on the Cape, in fact players blew past my 12-year old who patiently waited for hours. No worries, the prospects happily stopped for the overweight professional autograph collectors who positioned themselves perfectly. Sorry, kid.
This did not detract from the fun of the game, but I do think the AFL is missing an opportunity. Someone who loves engaging fans with the stars of tomorrow should get involved with the AFL. They might talk with someone in the Cape League about how the CCBL does the best all-star game from a fan perspective, short of the MLB.
On criteria #3, I honestly don’t know if the Rising Stars game has any impact on the end-of-season championship game. I think the MLB’s decision to give home field advantage to the league that wins the All-Star game is brilliant – it gives players and fans some motivation beyond the showcase.
Criteria #4 is really the most important one in many ways. You come to see great players do amazing things. And on Saturday night we saw a very good game.
In the bottom of the 8th inning, with the West trailing by a run, catcher Mike McBride ( the Cleveland Indians catcher pinch-hitting for Jason Castro) hit a two-run home run to give his western all-stars the lead and ultimately the victory. The West won 8-7.
McBride got his game-winning homer off former Cotuit Kettleer Drew Storen, who fans may recall gave up the game-winning hit to allow the Harwich Mariners to win their first Cape League Championship in years.
• Yonder Alonso definitely gets the Cape League’s best performer. He hit .750 with two singles and a double. The two-RBI double was to straightaway center and was hit deep. • Buster Posey had a single and a walk. • Mike Minor, a prospect for the Atlanta Braves, started for the West but had a disastrous first inning. He gave up 7 runs (an ERA of 81), and managed to retire just two batters before he got the hook. A deep hole but the West eventually dug out of it. • Dustin Ackley has the sweetest, smoothest swing I’ve seen. Moustakas has an in-and-out swing but he delivers good power with it. • During BP Alonso hit to all fields, including the one beyond the fences. • The crowd on Saturday night was more than 5,000, which apparently set an AFL record.
For (Seattle) Mariners fans, I have to call out that we were well represented on the field. Josh Fields was lights out – retiring 4 in a row (all easy fly balls to the right side). Carlos Triunfel had a lead-off homer after hitting a hard shot off his front foot. Ackley showed great discipline at the plate.
On criteria #5, no complaints. Surprise is a terrific stadium and the weather could not have been nicer (especially if you come from rainy Seattle). Traffic and parking were easy.
I hope to see the MLB Network broadcast. I wonder if anyone watched the game? How was it from the comfort of your living room?
PostScript: I just found a fan's video coverage from the game on YouTube.