For Love of the Game – Afterthoughts on the Midsummer Classic

July 11, 2012 | Hope Birchfield

Since the tragic fall of the Birdland Empire in 1996, the All-Star game has meant little more than some publicity for Orioles stars overshadowed by a losing ball club. Sure, it was always fun to see one of our disciples (Ripken, Roberts, Mora, and Batista to name a few) proudly displaying bird regalia, but the outcome did not really matter. Despite the recent slide of the Orioles and their subsequent drop in MLB power rankings, fans still hold on to hope that maybe the Orioles will be playoff contenders. With that new mentality, the All-Star game completely transforms from a “my bat is bigger than your bat” showdown of baseball’s elite to something that could give Baltimore home field advantage for the World Series.

To be clear, I do not think this is going to be relevant this year with an 11.8% POFF, but as Lloyd Christmas would say to ESPN, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance?”

On Tuesday night, the American League attempted to avoid their third straight loss to the National League at the Midsummer Classic in Kansas City. The lineup for the AL was so densely packed that powerhouse, David Ortiz, was batting 7th and it almost seemed a given that the AL would finally clinch a win. Though the National League had Sandoval, Chipper Jones and the ominous pitching of Cain and R.A. Dickey, the AL had Weaver and Verlander, the 2011 Cy Young and AL MVP Winner.

As the first inning began to unfold, I felt an unsettling wave of familiarity course through my body. Verlander was not on his game and was reminiscent of a hard-throwing Jake Arrieta. In only one inning of work, Verlander gave up four hits on five runs with two BBs and Ks. He struggled with runners on base, consecutively walking Beltran and Posey and then yielding a bases-loaded triple to Sandoval. After this bleak inning, a lot of people switched to regularly scheduled programming. I felt this was a bit premature because it was only the first inning. The AL had All-Star caliber bats (for the most part) and a five run deficit with such offensive talent as Jeter, Cano, Hamilton, Fielder and Ortiz was surely to be surpassed.

Though six hits were generated by the AL, they struggled with the all too familiar RISP woes and never capitalized with a run. Once the domineering pitching of the National League was realized and the lack of offense of the American League was apparent, I was done. I severed all emotional interest, channeled my inner child and simply watched the game. It was no longer about the final numbers, ERAs, WHIPs, etc. No, it was about watching some of baseball’s finest sizzle (or fizzle) and watching the soap opera of baseball unfold.

With a long history that could be considered a veritable sports epic, Chipper Jones would surely emerge as the hero. In the moments before the game, he delivered a speech to the National League that had quotes from “Major League” and valuable insight about the game. His amicability is was one of the reasons he is a household name and one of the reasons why people root for him to succeed. In his final year in baseball, fans of the Atlantic Braves and fans of baseball feverishly voted so Chipper Jones could end his career on a high point with an All-Star game nod. C. Jones first debuted with the Braves in 1993 and has received 8 overall nods to the All-Star Game with the first coming in 1996.

In the 6th inning, pinch-hitter, Chipper Jones walked to the plate and was greeted by the best reception of the evening. As his name was announced, the sold-out crowd rose to their feet, cheering for a living legend that was a shoo-in for Cooperstown. C. Jones is not known for his speed but he ran as though his career relied on. At 40 years old, he dug hard and managed to reach first base on a ball that rolled into to right field. It was one of the moments that remind you why baseball is the greatest sport ever played. Chipper was ecstatic and all smiles as a stadium with no personal vestige in him erupted. For a moment, it was his moment to shine, and the simple beauty of watching was more emotional than anything a Hollywood blockbuster could provide.

In the eighth inning, Orioles’ fans that had “stayed the course” and watched a game that was very reminiscent of several recent Orioles games were rewarded with a glimpse of orange. The middle was completely represented by the birds with A. Jones in center and Johnson bringing the heat down the middle to the familiar glove of Matt Wieters. Though Wieters and Jones did nothing offensively, the bottom of the 7th was dominated by an Orioles presence. The NL was shutout in a1-2-3 inning that gave Jones a fly ball and registered a K for Johnson.

Most All-Star games receive a lot of criticism. Many call them antiquated and no longer needed. But often people forget that sometimes it is not about who wins or loses, but the moments that will go down in history. Moments like watching Chipper Jones do his best Jake Taylor impression when digging to first, or watching the Orioles completely take up the middle of the field are reason enough to keep these love letters to childhood.