Wednesday, July 16, 2014

2014 All-Star Game

Yesterday was an all-day All-Star extravaganza!

I decided in the morning that I wanted to see the Red Carpet Show at 1 p.m. and scrambled a little bit to get over to downtown Minneapolis in time. I had no idea what to expect from this event - besides a parade featuring many of the All-Star players - and when I got there, I realized I had drastically underestimated the crowds. I should have figured it out when my train was full of baseball fans so early in the day!

This was basically my first peek at Nicollet Mall:

I worked my way a few blocks up the street and found a spot to watch the parade. (My dad arrived shortly after that and stood closer to Target Field.) Most of the mascots from around Major League Baseball trotted around the red carpet to rally the crowd, and then the parade began. Every minute or two, a pickup truck or convertible would motor through with an All-Star player sitting in the back, often accompanied by his family (and sometimes his friends, too).

The parade was so neat. I was struck by how close in proximity the players were to the fans. The awestruck kids to my left caught all kinds of trinkets tossed by the athletes - and to my right, a guy was shouting good-natured, informed comments about each player's performance so far this season, and a bunch of the guys acknowledged him directly. The cars moved slowly enough to allow the players to actually look around and make eye contact with lots of the fans. The whole fan engagement experience was great. (And I loved seeing the players with their families, especially the tiny kids!)

Then my dad and I met up and strolled around Target Field...

...before going to an All-Star pre-game party in a parking lot next to the stadium.

We stayed there for about an hour and then met my brother at the train station, then decided to walk over to Fan Fest at the Minneapolis Convention Center about a mile away. The area around the stadium was filled with fans wearing all kinds of different teams' jerseys and hats (in addition to lots of Twins gear). This was the scene at Target Field - three hours before the first pitch:

Good news: those Peanuts statues I liked seeing in downtown St. Paul had indeed made their way over to Fan Fest.

The Fan Fest setting really called for two or four or six hours to properly take in all of the activities, exhibits and kiosks, but we only had half an hour to look around before we needed to head back to the stadium, so we just peeked at a few exhibits.

Then: back to Target Field for the game!  There's a green line painted on the sidewalk leading visitors from Fan Fest back to the stadium, just for this week:

In contrast to Monday's blustery weather and gray skies, last night was gorgeous: upper 60s and partly cloudy. I tested my panorama function on the cameraphone before the game got underway.

Here are the players lining up on the base lines for introductions (before an enormous flag was unrolled in the outfield). This was Yankees star Derek Jeter's final All-Star Game before he retires, and I won't soon forget the ovations during his introduction, his first at-bat and when he left the field.

(Josh worked on Monday night but joined us in the stands for yesterday's game just before the introductions!)

This is probably the right time to talk about our section of spectators. There was a large group higher up in our section, and I have no idea who they were or where they were from, because they cheered wildly for many different teams' representatives. During the pre-game events, a band on the field played the Canadian national anthem, and the group in our section sang along so beautifully that I thought the vocals were being piped through the speakers above us. (The rest of the audience nearby gave them a great cheer afterward.) They maintained the same high energy through the whole game, and they were funny and happy and loud, and I loved it.

After Idina Menzel sang "The Star Spangled Banner" (wonderfully) and the jets flew over Target Field, the game began. The American League "home team" got on the board first, with three runs in the first inning, but the National League answered with two runs of their own in the second. Target Field was ready for the spotlight, with a Minnesota state outline and "ASG" lettering in the outfield and All-Star logos on the base lines:

And, finally, we took a group photo! (Credit to my brother for the selfie.)

The game moved at a leisurely pace because of the breaks and substitutions and pitching changes, but it was amazing to see so many of today's baseball stars on the field at once. To end the game, the crowd got loud when Minnesota closer Glen Perkins trotted in from the bullpen to pitch the ninth. Much to the crowd's delight, it turned out that he'd be pitching to the other Twins All-Star player, catcher Kurt Suzuki. It gave the end of the game a wonderful hometown feel, and Perkins retired the three National League batters he faced with no trouble. The AL won, 5-3!

The final at-bat of the 2014 All-Star Game:

It was a sweet, fitting conclusion to a fantastic All-Star Game experience - and truly, a once-in-a-lifetime week.

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