WASHINGTON — A quarter-century has passed since my first All-Star experience, and to be honest it sort of feels like it.
Camden Yards hosted the Midsummer Classic on July 13, 1993. My family and I made the trip to Baltimore the day before, to take in the Home Run Derby.
I remember how hot it was that day, sitting along the third-base line in the sun-drenched ballpark, sweating with the rest of the sellout crowd that watched some of the game’s greats take their hacks at the Warehouse and beyond.
Juan Gonzalez sent one off the third deck facade in left field. Cecil Fielder put one all the way out of the confines, up and over the visiting team’s bullpen in left-center. And Ken Griffey, Jr., well, he remains the only player to plunk the Warehouse with a batted baseball.
It was a memorable afternoon in my sports fan career.
We didn’t get a chance to attend the All-Star Game the next day, and that was OK back then. I watched the game on TV and thought maybe I’d get a crack at another All-Star Game down the road.
Besides, the Derby was everything I wanted as a baseball fan back then (and yes, they used to hold them in the daytime).
Now let’s fast-forward 25 years. The 89th All-Star Game, at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday night.
This year’s game featured more than 30 players making their first appearance.
Now I’m in no sense of the words in “athletic shape” these days (or years), so there’s no chance I’m adding myself to any sort of list.
But being there allowed me a chance to cross off an item on my baseball bucket list.
Now I have a new All-Star experience, and the second trumps the first.
As much as I enjoyed the Home Run Derby back in 1993, there’s something about watching the stars come out on the same field for an actual game.
OK, not an actual game. But a nine-inning exhibition should count for something.
In fact, now that it doesn’t count anymore — the whole home-field advantage in the World Series thing is no more — makes it more fun.
Oh sure, the AL and NL each want to win for their league. But if you don’t think the players enjoyed themselves in the nation’s capital, you weren’t watching the same game.
This year’s Derby had its excitement, of course, with Bryce Harper winning the title in fine fashion in front of the hometown fans. Consider it the prelude for the players, however.
They couldn’t stop mugging with each other in the hours that led up to the first pitch. And that’s what made it special for me — knowing the outcome didn’t mean much, the best players in the league made sure to have fun.
I want baseball to be fun again. The sport has plenty of problems it’s dealing with, with terrible teams and long games and half-empty ballparks. But at least for one night the spotlight shined on All-Stars soaking up the experience.
Like I tried to do.
Manny Machado and Mike Trout leaving the field after their pre-game warm-up with their arms on each other’s shoulder?
Great to see.
Premium matchups between Max Scherzer and Aaron Judge (advantage Judge), and Jacob deGrom and Mike Trout (advantage Trout)?
Players snapping selfies on the field between pitches and at-bats?
Orioles fans might have felt a bit wistful when Machado pulled a phone from his back pocket during the second inning and posed with Matt Kemp of the Los Angeles Dodgers, considering they might be teammates later this week. But no matter — it’s the one time all season where players from opposing teams and leagues can interact and show some emotion.
Other than the handshakes and hugs before an interleague game or, say, the World Series, that’s just not happening.
Baseball needs its young stars on a big stage, smiling, engaging the fans, and having fun.
The announced crowd of 43,843 at Nationals Park got a chance to see something special Tuesday night.
I’m glad I got to see it with them.