American Freakshow

Categories: MLB
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I haven't watched the All-Star game in years and years. I last caught the thing the year Selig declared the game a tie, and then the next season made it the determinant for home field advantage in the Fall Classic, something I'm sure Tampa Bay's Carl Crawford cares buckets about. Tonight's 5-4 American League victory, the tenth in a row (not counting the one that "didn't count") did nothing to lessen my conflicted feelings about the All-Star game, and baseball in general. Tonight, I couldn't help but notice that this beautiful game of ours is plagued with some bizarre and unhealthy personalities, who literally referred to themselves tonight as distant and untouchable. And they meant that as a compliment.

Now, to be honest I am personally very little interested in getting too close to the characters that take to the field. It's interesting to read about these guys' careers, how they struggled to get to the game, what they do to hit a wicked curve. My favorites over the years have included jailbird Ron LeFlore, Ted Williams, the Negro Leaguers, and Dmitri Young's spate of troubles. Those guys have some good stories. But during this All-Star game, I came to realize that pennant races and the collection of hallowed statistics serve as a sort of sheltering sky, one that makes the empty platitudes and ridiculous financial claims of the games participants somewhat palatable. Tonight I couldn't help but wonder: Do I need to try and get close to these talented fools who, in a Fox-sponsored montage, referred to themselves, without a hint of irony, as heroes who provoke "imagination, wonder, and awe" in us, their faithful fans?

It's true that baseball players do that, but to actually look into a camera and say that about yourself, well, that's just fucking weird. Then again, maybe it's no more weird than wondering if Torii Hunter is worth many hundred times more money than a nurse or teacher or soldier.

Setting aside the actual game this evening (dull with a few sizzling moments, and a near breakdown by the AL in the ninth), here's some observations of the more bizarre episodes in this traditionally freaky exhibition:

Baseball's inability to make real fun of itself even affected The Simpsons. Homer Simpson was asked about his impressions of the coming contest, and his remarks were stale and lacking teeth--the only reference to Barry Bonds' controversies was regarding the guy's inability to smile. Whoa!

Later, some poor sap in a Taco Bell uniform, who won a contest to strike a ball on a tee for a chance to win a cool million, couldn't hit the damn thing out of the infield. The boos that rained down upon him seemed crushing.

During the tribute to the great Willie Mays, the Say-Hey Kid barked at Jose Reyes to "Get back! Get back!" when throwing a ceremonial first pitch from the outfield. The old boy's got some pep, and wanted a chance to actually hurl the damn pill. Later, they drove him off the field in a pink Cadillac, where he threw baseballs to the very wealthy in the front rows.

I still remain torn as to whether or not these guys ought to try harder in the All-Star game as they (seemingly) did in the past. My memories of the 70s games were rough and tumble. Tonight, when Alex Rodriguez tried to race home from second on a base hit, and was out by a good ten feet, I couldn't help but think back to Pete Rose's crash at home plate back in the 1970 Midseason Classic. Catcher Ray Fosse, though he had a few good years, still felt the pain in his shoulder 29 years later. Is that good? Sure, it was exciting. But really, man, it's the All-Star game--I'd hate to have Rodriguez's career cut short because of the All-Star game.

Then there was Barry Bonds' sly jab at Hank Aaron. The beleaguered one stated that he would definitely fly to any stadium in the country to watch Alex Rodriguez break the home run record if the opportunity arose. "Baseball should be a fraternity--if we don't stand up for one another, who will?" he said. Apparently, not Aaron.

Weirdest, most of all, was Ichiro Suzuki's miraculous in-the-park home run. I love these things, and I've never seen one on live television, much less in a stadium (without the benefit of an error or two). Ichiro's fly took a weird carom off the right field wall, Griffey chased it, and Suzuki--who no doubt took off out of the box like a bottle rocket--raced home standing up. Even better was the fact that this feat interrupted the blubbering of one of the crackpots waiting to catch home run balls in the San Francisco Bay. The brainiacs at Fox thought it would be amusing, during the fucking game to cut away to one of these aquatic clowns just to chew the fat. Nothing about the game, just wondering why this goof wasn't in his kayak, and could we see a dog trick? Apparently, his dog swam away, and then Joe Buck had to bark at the man to fetch his damn pooch. "I'm the world's best dog owner!" the guy whined. This exchange went on for what seemed an eternity, keeping us from Ichiro's crazy batting routine...

Let me close with this: I think these players are talented, focused, capable of doing incredible things within the first- and third-base lines, feats that, in the crucible of a season, have driven me near to madness, into depression and out again, and have made me more blissfully happy than some of my favorite poems and movies. But get close and they also reveal themselves to be some of the most grossly overpaid, unimaginative, spoiled and narcissistic people who actually contribute very little to society compared to the citizens who wander your street every given day. Their distance from us grows wider every year. And tonight, when the game was over, and I turned off the idiot box and real life asserted itself again, I looked out the open window at the lights of the homes of my neighbors, good people all. And I realized: that isolation is the players' loss, not ours.

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