If he could have climbed Mount Rainier to spread the message from above, Rob Manfred certainly would have. Major League Baseball commissioner Manfred had reason to celebrate his sport on Tuesday: Attendance was up eight percent from last season, with faster pace of play, bolder runs on the bases, improved TV ratings and surprise contenders.
“What do they call it – a virtuous course, right?” Manfred said Tuesday afternoon, ahead of the 93rd edition of the All-Star Game. “The rule changes are good, the players stay positive, and that makes the fans more positive about them because the players are positive about them. So it was really nice for us.”
Despite this, Manfred admitted at one point that baseball simply had stopped. The World Baseball Classic in March ended with a dream showdown: World’s MVP, Shuhei Ohtani, hit fellow Los Angeles Angels quarterback Mike Trout to win the tournament for Japan.
“Every now and then, you get lucky,” Manfred admitted. “Otani and Trout’s coronation, you can’t plan for that.”
A few hours later—with the upper deck of right field still bathed in the glorious Seattle summer sunshine—baseball almost got lucky again. A two-run walk in the bottom of the ninth inning gave Mariners young baseman Julio Rodriguez the game-winning lead.
Like everyone from Snohomish to Spokane, Rodríguez had home runs in mind.
“Oh, sure I was trying to win her over, honestly,” he said. “As soon as I saw the guy coming up at the start my thought was just get a good driving ground and let’s try to win this game.”
Sadly, that pitch never came to fruition. As eager as he was to play his hometown hero, Rodriguez went for a walk. It marked an unexpected end: Craig Kimbrel of the Philadelphia Phillies struck out Cleveland’s Jose Ramirez, sealing a 3-2 National League victory over the American League.
It was the Premier League’s first win since 2012, but there was no post-match toast from the Premier League. This position was eliminated years ago, and all league distinctions are now extinct, with all teams playing each other in the regular season.
“I don’t think they really pay much attention to that anymore,” said NL manager Rob Thomson of the Phillies, referring to the end of the NL’s losing streak. “I think if you’re playing in a game, you want to win, but I don’t think there’s much importance to that at all.”
The All-Star Game is often an opportunity to celebrate the sport and stare at the exploits of the major shows’ best men. In fact, the game’s first two players, Ronald Acuna Jr. and Freddie Freeman, smashed deep thrusts that turned into mid-air tackles by players from Cuba. Adolis García fought the Sun to steal Acuña at right, and Randy Arozarena—a former teammate in the St. Louis Cardinals’ farm system—rose to fumble Freeman’s ball into the shadows of left field.
“It’s my first time here at the All-Star Game, and I’m thrilled to be sharing this field with Adolis, who is the godfather to my daughter and brother,” Arosarina, of the Tampa Bay Rays, said through a translator. “So it was fun.”
Arozarena — runner-up to Toronto’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in Monday’s home derby — flagged him to the caution ring after catching him. Garcia, of the Texas Rangers, made another jumper on the warning run in the fourth inning.
“I have all the confidence in the world in Adolis that he’s going to make those plays,” said Rangers AL catcher Jonah Heim. “Usually when he jumps up, he catches her.”
In the second half, when he pitched Nathan Ivaldi to the AL, Heim was one of six Rangers on the field at the same time. The only other teams to do so were the 1939 champion Yankees and the 1951 Brooklyn Dodgers.
“It’s really special,” Heim said. “When you look around and have the third, shortstop, second, right, pitcher and catcher on the field in the All-Star Game, you can’t really beat that.”
Try Atlanta Braves. Their entire stadium playing together in the bottom of the fifth inning. This would have been visually impressive, but for the third year in a row, MLB has put teams in generic Nike uniforms, making their best players look as undistinguished as possible.
It was fitting, then, that Tuesday’s most valuable player was the most unknown of the All-Stars: Colorado Rockies catcher Elias Diaz, who pulled off two runs and got the go-ahead to leave the Baltimore Orioles’ Felix. Bautista at eight.
Diaz, 32, signed with Colorado in 2020 after five undistinguished seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Rockies’ lone representative was last place, but he made his way to the list by hitting . 277 with nine home runs and an optimistic outlook.
“It’s unbelievable,” Diaz said through a translator, when asked about his transformation from Pirates castoff to All-Star MVP. I kept my confidence and stayed positive. Now I’m happy to be here.”
He did more than just make an appearance, however, as he left with a crystal racket named after Ted Williams, an accolade that eluded all the headliners — including Ohtani, who sauntered and walked in his two-tier appearance.
Yes, said Ohtani, he heard the crowd chant “Come on Seattle” as he batted, a draft appeal from 47,159 paying fans who would love for Ohtani to move in as a free agent in the off-season.
“You’ve never experienced anything like that,” Ohtani said through a translator, later adding, “Every time I come here, the fans are excited, and they’re really into the game. So it’s impressive.”
Otani spent unofficial seasons in Seattle and said the city was beautiful. He didn’t say if his fellow All-Stars gave him more accurate pitches to be their teammate.
He said, “I’d like to keep this a secret.”