If he could have climbed Mount Rainier to spread the message from above, Rob Manfred surely would. Manfred, the commissioner of Major League Baseball, had reason to celebrate his sport on Tuesday: attendance was up eight percent over last season, with a faster pace of play, bolder on the bases, improving TV ratings and surprise contenders.
“What do they call it – a virtuous cycle, huh?” Manfred said Tuesday afternoon, ahead of the 93rd edition of the All-Star Game. “The rule changes are good, the players stay positive, it makes the fans even more positive about them because the players are positive about them. So it’s been really great for us.”
On one point, however, Manfred acknowledged that baseball simply caught a break. The World Baseball Classic in March ended with a dream matchup: the best player in the world, Shohei Ohtani, struck out his Los Angeles Angels teammate, the decorated Mike Trout, to win the tournament for Japan.
“Every time, you get lucky,” Manfred admitted. “The climax of Ohtani and Trout, you can’t plan that.”
A few hours later – with the right field upper deck still bathed in Seattle’s glorious summer sunshine – baseball almost got lucky again. A two-out walk in the bottom of the ninth inning brought Julio Rodríguez, the Mariners’ young centerpiece, to the plate with a chance to win the game.
Like everyone from Snohomish to Spokane, Rodríguez was thinking about a home run.
“Oh, sure I tried to win it, honestly,” he said. “Once I saw the guy get to first, my thought was just get a good pitch to drive and let’s try to win this game.”
Alas, that pitch never came. As eager as he was to play hometown hero, Rodríguez walked. It set up an anticlimactic finish: Craig Kimbrel of the Philadelphia Phillies struck out José Ramírez of Cleveland, sealing the 3-2 victory of the National League over the American League.
It was the first NL win since 2012, but there was no postgame toast from the league president. That position was eliminated years ago, and league distinctions are all but extinct now, with all teams playing each other in the regular season.
“I don’t think they really pay too much attention to it anymore,” Phillies NL manager Rob Thomson said, referring to the end of the NL losing streak. “I think if you play in a game you want to win, but I don’t think that meant much at all.”
The All-Star Game is mostly a chance to celebrate the sport and watch the exploits of the majors’ best shows. Indeed, the first two batters of the game, Ronald Acuña Jr. and Freddie Freeman, smashed deep drives that turned into quick, aerial catches by Cuba outfielders. Adolis García countered the sun to rob Acuña on the right, and Randy Arozarena – his former teammate in the farm system of the St. Louis Cardinals – soared to catch Freeman’s ball in the left field shadows.
“It’s my first time here at the All-Star Game, and I’m glad to have shared the field with Adolis, who is the godfather of my daughter and my brother,” Arozarena, of the Tampa Bay Rays, said through a translator. “So it was fun.”
Arozarena – the runner-up to Toronto’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in Monday’s home run derby – did his signature crossed arms on the warning track after his catch. García, of the Texas Rangers, made another leaping catch at the warning track in the fourth.
“I have all the faith in the world in Adolis that he’s going to make those plays,” said Rangers’ Jonah Heim, the AL starting catcher. “Usually when he jumps, he catches it.”
In the second inning, when Nathan Eovaldi pitched for the AL, Heim was one of six keepers on the field at the same time. The only other teams to do so were the champion Yankees of 1939 and the star-crossed Brooklyn Dodgers of 1951.
“It’s really special,” Heim said. “When you look around and you’ve got third, short, second, righty and a pitcher and a catcher on the field at the All-Star Game, you can’t really beat that.”
The Atlanta Braves tried; their entire infield played together in the bottom of the fifth inning. That might be an exciting sight, but for the third year in a row, MLB has put the teams in generic Nike uniforms, making its best players look as indistinguishable as possible.
Right, then, that Tuesday’s MVP was perhaps the most anonymous All-Star of all: Colorado Rockies catcher Elias Díaz, who hit a two-run, walk-off homer to relieve Félix of the Baltimore Orioles. Bautista in the eighth.
Díaz, 32, signed with Colorado in 2020 after five undistinguished seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was the only representative for the last-place Rockies, but earned his way onto the roster by hitting .277 with nine home runs and an optimistic outlook.
“It’s unbelievable,” Díaz said through a translator when asked about his transformation from Pirates dropout to All-Star MVP “When they let me go, I didn’t allow myself to feel defeated. I kept my confidence and stayed positive. Now I’m just happy to be here.”
He did more than show up, walking away with a crystal bat named for Ted Williams, an award that eluded all the headliners — including Ohtani, who struck out and walked in his two plate appearances.
Yes, Ohtani said, he heard the crowd chant “Come to Seattle” as he batted, a recruiting plea from the 47,159 paying fans who would love for Ohtani to move as a free agent this offseason.
“Never experienced anything like this,” Ohtani said through a translator, adding later, “Every time I come here, the fans are passionate, they really like the game. So it’s very impressive.”
Ohtani spent offseasons in Seattle and said the city is beautiful. He wouldn’t say if fellow All-Stars made more subtle pitches for him to be their teammate.
“I’d like to keep that a secret,” he said.