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Baseball All-Star Game again dominated by surrounding events

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As usual, everything leading up to the Major League Baseball All-Star Game overshadowed the game itself. This time, the gap was even wider.

The American League (yawn) again disposed of their inferior step brothers in the National League, 6-3. Those looking only at the box score may be impressed with the nine total runs put on the board by the best players in the game. The numbers lie when taking into consideration the venue of the game.

Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark is an attractive facility in a small-market Midwestern city. But it is a band box. What’s worse is that during hot, humid summer months, the ball carries even further there.

If this game was played in next year’s site – San Diego’s Petco Park – or the future sites of Washington and Miami, the more normal 2-1 or 2-0 game would likely have followed.

Case in point was the first batter of the game. The Angels’ Mike Trout sent a line drive to right field about 340 feet from home plate. The ball traveled 341, skipping off the top of the eight-foot wall.

The game was so devoid of action, Trout was named the Most Valuable Player. To be sure, Trout is among the best five players today, but the selection was a bit baffling to some. Maybe a bunch of MVP voters quit watching after the first inning.

The National League tied the game in the second, negating the advantage provided by the Trout homer. In the fifth, with the game tied, Detroit’s Prince Fielder hit a hot smash to left off the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw that put the American League back on top….to stay. Kansas City’s and Madison County, Fla.’s Lorenzo Cain followed with a double to make it 3-1.

In his second at-bat, Fielder knocked in another run with a sacrifice fly. Two at-bats and two runs batted in, the first of which helped decide the final outcome.

While not a slam dunk, the award should have gone to Fielder. Yes, he was a designated hitter, but he was the only player with two RBIs and the one that put his team ahead for good.

In recent years, the All-Star Game has played second fiddle to the Home Run Derby. This year the comparison was more like the difference between a fiddle and a bass violin. Though it remains the best and most hotly contested game of superstars among the four major sports, the game has lost much of its luster.

With a new format, the Home Run Derby was again the event generating the most buzz. Fielder, a two-time champion, was again in a position to take the top prize, but it took an incredible late surge by Cincinnati’s Todd Frazier to knock the Tigers’ slugger out of the competition, 14-13.

Frazier went on to win the competition, but every round of the seven head-to-head competitions was laced with excitement. Whoever came up with the new format is an underpaid genius. TV ratings for the Derby were up by 26 percent. It was that good.

Before the game, Major League Baseball announced the results of a promotion known as the “Franchise Four.” This promotion involved a fan vote that chose the four most prominent players in each franchise’s history. James Shields, Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist and David Price were the choices of Rays’ fans.

Though banned from baseball, Pete Rose was among the selections for Cincinnati’s Franchise Four. With the crowd chanting “PETE,” he appeared on the field with Barry Larkin, Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan.

The highlight of the evening, far overshadowing the game itself, was the presentation of the four greatest living players. Great American Ballpark erupted into resounding cheers as Sandy Koufax, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and the Reds’ own Johnny Bench strolled slowly onto the field.

Koufax, who pitched for the University of Cincinnati in the 1950s, threw out the first pitch to the Reds’ legendary catcher.

This was a reminder of days gone by when baseball was unquestionably America’s Pastime. For a few minutes, it was again.

Then it was time for the All-Star Game and things returned to normal. With the exception of those fans rooting for teams in a pennant race, millions of others are counting the days until football camps open.

What excites Tampa Bay fans more? Rooting for a team in a pennant race or getting ready for Lovie’s Bucs? Just asking.

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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