My Trip to the 2017 Major League Baseball All-Star Game

The Washington Nationals sent five All-Stars to Miami to represent the National League.
The Washington Nationals sent five All-Stars to Miami to represent the National League.

Tuesday night was my first time seeing Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Ryan Zimmerman in 2017 and it was at my first MLB All-Star Game in Miami.

I moved to Florida in January and the nearest major league team is the Tampa Bay Rays—who have no games scheduled against the Washington Nationals. The Miami Marlins is the next closest team, but the seven hour roundtrip always made watching the Nationals on MLB.TV the more appealing option.

The selection of five players from the Nationals to represent the National League in the All-Star Game changed my thought process. I needed to go to Miami!

StubHub had 3,000 tickets available and many were for sale at seemingly bargain prices the weekend before the game. The inexpensive prices were not just a fluke. Maury Brown, a Forbes contributor, explained that the average listing price of All-Star Game tickets for sale on secondary sites was down 31 percent from last year’s game.

I was given the afternoon off from work, so I purchased a ticket on Tuesday morning and I set my GPS for Marlins Park.

Parking decks surrounding the ballpark were reserved for fans with prepaid parking vouchers. Many private “entrepreneurs” were selling parking spaces around Marlins Park for $50. MLB advertised an alternative park-and-ride option that saved me $30 to spend inside the ballpark. This alternative shuttled fans from a downtown parking deck to Marlins Park and it eliminated the stress of parking.

The ballpark was appropriately decorated for the All-Star Weekend. The exterior of the stadium was branded accordingly, the outfield and batting circle sported All-Star Game logos, and MLB Network sportscasters Peter Gammons and Greg Amsinger reported live from the concourse.


The stadium also had a distinctive Miami feel. A band with drums and horns paraded around the stadium, fans lined up for signature cocktails and Cubans, and the Miami skyline shone brightly in the outfield.

I headed upstairs to the vista level and stopped at a souvenir stand and “Burger 305” for dinner before taking my seat for batting practice.

I was given the afternoon off from work, so I bought a ticket on StubHub and drove to Miami.
I was given the afternoon off from work, so I bought a ticket on StubHub and drove to Miami.

I was glad I arrived early enough to walk around the concourse for the first time because it ensured I was seated for the pre-game ceremonies. The introductions were even more thrilling than Opening Day introductions at Nationals Park because everyone announced was an All-Star. It was an added treat to watch the Nationals players acknowledge the crowd.

Pre-game ceremonies were accentuated by the presence of Latin-American Hall of Famers including newly elected (and hometown favorite) Ivan Rodriguez who threw ceremonial first pitches to Latin-American All-Stars from both leagues.

Latin-American players enshrined in the Hall of Fame threw out ceremonial first pitches before the All-Star Game.
Latin-American players enshrined in the Hall of Fame threw out ceremonial first pitches before the All-Star Game.

Scherzer began “stalking” around the mound almost immediately as he waited for home plate umpire Joe West to start the game, and the Nationals defense immediately made an impact. Jose Altuve hit a laser back to Scherzer who fed Zimmerman to record the first out of the game. Scherzer also struck out Aaron Judge and George Springer swinging to conclude his impressive outing.

Harper, like the rest of the All-Stars, walked up to the plate to his walk-up music, and he provided the first hit of the game for National League. The 2015 National League MVP made an athletic diving catch in right field to rob Salvador Perez of a base hit which culminated in a “Harper Hair Flip.”

The All-Star game was still exciting to watch despite its status as an exhibition game, especially because of the presence of so many players from the Nationals.

The MLB All-Star game retains a level of competition absent from the exhibition games of the other sports. Murphy’s ground out in the bottom of the third inning with the bases loaded wasn’t any less agonizing then a regular season game, in the moment. Additionally, Mookie Betts threw out Nolan Arenado from the warning track after tagging up on a deep fly ball from Zimmerman in one of the more exciting plays of the game.

The game was accentuated by other exciting moments including a game-tying home run from Yadier Molina, the Nelson Cruz photo-op with West and Robinson Cano’s go-ahead home run in the 10th inning off Wade Davis.

Overall, I am extremely glad that I went to the game. Miami was a terrific host and it was great to finally see the Nationals play, albeit during the Mid-Summer Classic.

 

Book Review: A Great Day in Cooperstown

Jim Reisler's A Great Day in Cooperstown will be the first of many baseball books I will review this offseason. (Photo from Amazon.com)
Jim Reisler’s A Great Day in Cooperstown will be the first of many baseball books that Nats Gallery Blog will review this offseason. (Photo from Amazon.com)

I cast my ballot on Election Day at the public library in Aurora Hills and went searching for the first of many baseball books to get me through the winter until baseball season resumes on Opening Day. Jim Reisler’s A Great Day In Cooperstown was a great book to start with because of its focus on the origins of baseball and the establishment of baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Reisler begins his 2006 book by describing Cooperstown, NY in 1939. Main Street was brimming with excitement. Major League Baseball All-Stars and legends fanned out across the town. Over 10,000 visitors packed the town to celebrate baseball’s centennial.

Fans flocked to the players for autographs and many players held court, telling their stories to anybody who was interested. Others cued up at the post office to purchase special issue postcards bearing a commemorative stamp and post office.

The book focuses a lot of attention on why the fanfare was centered in Cooperstown and Reisler debunks the myth that baseball’s rules were invented there Abner Doubleday during the spring of 1839. Reisler explains how the myth gained traction and became widely accepted in the lead up to the celebration of baseball’s centennial

Readers are introduced to each of inductees as they learn about a different aspect of the type of work that went into planning the celebration which included–speeches, the opening of the museum and a series of games played at a newly renovated Doubleday Field.

Resiler also describes the work of two little known figures–Alexander Cleland, a social worker from Glasgow, and Stephen Clark, a Cooperstown philanthropist–who were responsible for acquiring the memorabilia including the “funny old uniforms” and who worked with league officials to establish voting protocols for Hall of Fame ballots.

Washington Nationals fans may be particularly interested in the chapter about Walter Johnson. The chapter includes his brief remarks from his induction speech, the story about how he was discovered by the Washington Senators while playing for a semi-professional team in Idaho and the story about how he managed to throw three shutouts in four days.

The book concludes with a romantic description of the festivities that followed the induction speeches including a detailed recap of the game the Hall of Famers played in alongside the modern All-Stars at Doubleday Field.

I have not yet had the opportunity to visit the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, but I would highly recommend this book as an essential read for anybody traveling to Cooperstown for Hall of Fame Weekend 2017.

Nationals Winterfest 2016: Player Photos, Autographs and Game Shows

The Washington Nationals hosted Winterfest on Saturday and Sunday at The Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C.
The Washington Nationals hosted Winterfest on Saturday and Sunday at The Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C.

The Washington Nationals hosted Winterfest at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center over the weekend and it was a great opportunity for Nationals fans to meet and mingle with some of their favorite players. We highlighted some of the most exciting moments from Sunday in this blog post.

Meeting Players

One of the most exciting opportunities that fans have at Winterfest, that they are not usually afforded during the regular season, is the opportunity to take photos with players. There were two player photo stations set up near the main stage where players rotated taking photos with fans for thirty minute intervals. The meetings at the photo stations were not opportunities to get autographs, but they were terrific opportunities to welcome the new players and wish them well as they prepare for spring training.

There were five sessions at each photo station each day and fans interested in taking photos with players could meet up to 20 players each day.

Some of the players who posed at the photo stations on Sunday included: Chris Heisey and Wilmer Difo, Koda Glover and Max Scherzer, Trea Turner and Pedro Severino, Dusty Baker and Trevor Gott, Adam Eaton and Derek Norris, Ryan Zimmerman and Matt Grace as well as Michael A. Taylor and Matt Grace.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

These players were excited to meet their fans and they deserve major props!

Nationals players who were noticeably absent from Winterfest this season included Bryce Harper (who looked like he was enjoying himself at a Duke basketball game), Jayson Werth and Anthony Rendon.

Getting Autographs

The best way to guarantee your autograph at Winterfest this year was to purchase an autograph voucher online as soon as they went on sale. A Nationals Insider email alerting fans that vouchers were going on sale at 10:00 a.m. on December 2 was distributed at 9:06 a.m. the same morning which resulted in many fans missing out an exciting opportunity. The vouchers were all sold out when I checked my email at 11:00 a.m. that morning, but someone, generously, gave me a voucher after they overheard me speaking about the Nationals in a conversation.

I redeemed my autograph voucher for a special bracelet and got in line for my autograph session featuring Stephen Strasburg and Joe Ross. It was an amazing experience to meet Strasburg and Ross.

Player Interaction

Winterfest offers plenty of other opportunities to see players around the convention center floor at the different elements.  Eaton, Ross, and Scherzer stood with Santa Claus on Sunday afternoon for family photos.

Sammy Solis and Norris greeted fans at the top of The Slider.

A.J. Cole was also out and around the convention center. He started the clock for children at the steal home challenge.

New For 2016

There were a handful of new elements this year at Winterfest. The Ballpark of The Palm Beaches, the new spring training complex that the Nationals and Astros will share in 2017, had a presence behind The Slider. This area had a video playing about tourism sites in the area showcasing restaurants, spas and the beaches. Fans who stopped by also walked away with a koozie, spring training schedule, and pamphlets about new ballpark and other activities in the area.

An exhibit showcasing the Ballpark of The Palm Beaches was new for 2016.
An exhibit showcasing the Ballpark of The Palm Beaches was new for 2016.

There were also multiple new main stage events to complement the classic events like the gingerbread house contest. The games allowed fans to get a better feel for the personalities of their favorite Nationals.

Dusty Baker and Chris Speier teamed up against Strasburg and Tanner Roark for Smitten Mittens Duo Battle–a game show modeled after “The Newlywed Game.” The teammates took turns answering questions about their partners while one was behind the stage in a “soundproof room.” Some of the answers made the audience laugh including one where Speier said his favorite postgame meal was ribs when Baker predicted it would be salad. It was also funny to watch when Roark correctly anticipated that Strasburg’s favorite flight activity was to watch movies on his iPad.

X’s and Bows was another new game this year and it was hosted by Charlie Slowes–the veteran play-by-play announcer for the Washington Nationals. Ryan Zimmerman and Stephen Strasburg teamed up with members of the audience to answer trivia questions about Nationals players to get three of their ribbons or bows in a row. Some of the highlights of the event included Ryan Zimmerman answering a question about where he went to college (University of Virginia) and Stephen Strasburg answering a question about the year he was drafted (2009). It was also fun to watch the players correctly answer trivia questions about some of their teammates.

Room For Improvement

Winterfest was a terrific experience, but there are definitely areas where there can be room for improvement. Two of the longer lines were for the video pitch exhibit and the batting cages. Adding an additional two batting cages and encouraging some of the younger attendees to use the rookie batting cages  would go a long way at reducing the waiting time for attendees.

Winterfest planners can also consider rotating out some of the exhibits such as the New Era cap exhibit and the snow globe photo station to make room for more popular or new exhibits for 2017.

Nationals Magazine Digest: Postseason 2016

The latest edition of Nationals Magazine is on sale at Nationals Park
The latest edition of Nationals Magazine is on sale at Nationals Park.

The final issue of Nationals Magazine for 2016 featuring the Washington Nationals celebrating a walk-off victory is now on sale at Nationals Park. The latest magazine includes a vibrant series of photographs featuring “Signature Moments” from the 2016 regular season and two short articles written by the radio broadcasters.

Nine “Signature Moments” are featured in the magazine. Fans should definitely pick up a copy of the magazine to relive the moments by checking out the photos and reading the recaps. Video clips celebrating the “Signature Moments” were featured on NatsHD before the previous postseason games.

  1. April 4 – The Pursuit Begins – The section celebrates the success of Harper on Opening Day and the arrival of Daniel Murphy.
  2. April 14 – One Hundred Grand – Bryce Harper hit his 100th career home run in style.
  3. April 24 – The Roller Coaster – I never leave games early because of games like these. Bryce Harper delivered a game saving pinch-hit home run and Chris Heisey delivered a game winning home run in the 16th inning agains the Minnesota Twins.
  4. May 9 – The Accidental Walk-Off – In a game most notable for Harper’s ejection and subsequent outburst against home plate umpire, Brian Knight, Clint Robinson hit a walk-off home run without knowing the inning of his pinch hit appearance.
  5. May 11 – 20th & K – Max Scherzer had, arguably, the most dominant games of his career when he struck out 20 players in a nine inning game. Strikeouts are sexy.
  6. June 15 – 2 Legit 2 Quit – Jayson Werth told his critics that they could kiss his ass after he delivered a walk-off against the Chicago Cubs.
  7. June 30 and July 3 – See You L-8-R – Danny Espinosa won NL Player of the Week honors after an offensive outburst against the CIncinnati Reds. His most notable achievement was hitting home runs from both sides of the plate in both games including two grand slams.
  8. July 29 – Rule of Three – This one took place late at night on the road in San Francisco. Dusty Baker made a triple switch and substituted in Danny Espinosa, Ryan Zimmerman and Sammy Solis. The result was the first 3-3-5 triple play in MLB history.
  9. September 9 – The Perfect Ending – Trea Turner could probably be elected Mayor if he wanted to put his baseball career on hold. The two time NL Rookie of the Month belted two home runs including a walk-off home run to center field to top the Philadelphia Phillies.

In “You Never Know,” Dave Jagler writes about how the Nationals can very feasibly have a successful postseason run. Jagler describes how anything can happen in October and that teams with the most elite hitters, starters and bullpens are not guaranteed the Commissioner’s Trophy.

Charlie Slowes echoes a similar sentiment in “Hero Time.” Slowes describes how players like Daniel Murphy, Max Scherzer, Trea Turner can each play a role in a successful postseason run.
The magazine also contains a large (two-page) scorecard which you can use Thursday to score the game.

TOPPS NOW: Daniel Murphy Drives in Four Runs for the Washington Nationals

Daniel Murphy drove in 4 RBIs and had three hits in NLDS Game 4. Murphy drove in 2 RBIs in at bats against Clayton Kershaw.
Daniel Murphy drove in 4 RBIs and had three hits in NLDS Game 4. Murphy drove in 2 RBIs in at bats against Clayton Kershaw.

The Los Angeles Dodgers were clinging to their postseason lives entering Game 4 of the NLDS at Dodger Stadium in Chavez Ravine. Manager Dave Roberts made the decision to throw, three time Cy Young Award winner and 2014 NL MVP, Clayton Kershaw on just three days rest.

Daniel Murphy, the 2015 NLCS MVP and 2016 NL runner-up for the batting title, continued his hot hitting this postseason against Kershaw.

Murphy, who hit a monster home run against Kershaw in the 2015 NLDS, put the Washington Nationals on the board in the first inning when he slapped a 1-1 curveball with runners on first and second base into right field to score Trea Turner.

The Nationals countered Kershaw with Joe Ross, who was making his MLB postseason debut. The Dodgers took a 2-1 lead the next half inning after Adrian Gonzalez hit a two-run home run. Ross was on a short leash and was pulled in the third inning after surrendering another run.

Murphy drove in his second RBI of the game in the third inning when he hit a deep sacrifice fly off of Kershaw into center field which plated Turner and evened the game at 2-2.

Kershaw recorded 11 strikeouts in his outing and exited after loading the bases in the seventh inning.

The Nationals were able to pounce on the Dodgers bullpen just as they did Monday night. Werth did not have to swing the bat to make it a 5-3 game when he was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.

Murphy’s turn was next and he made Kershaw bury his face in his hands when he slapped a single to left center field off of Luis Avilan to score Turner and Bryce Harper. The game was tied 5-5 and Murphy had 4 RBIs on the night.

Daniel Murphy had his fingerprints all over the game. Topps released a limited edition Topps Now card celebrating Murphy’s performance even though the game slipped away in the eighth inning. The card will be available until 4:30pm on Thursday.

The Moment:

Daniel continued to do in Game 4 exactly what he’s done all season for Washington–come up with timely hits and drive runners in. Murphy went 2-3 with four RBI against starter Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers, inflating his average this Postseason to .462 (6-for-13). Manager Dusty Baker on Murphy’s performance, “he knows how to hit…he comes through in the clutch.”

TOPPS NOW: NLDS Game 2 Daniel Murphy and Jose Lobaton Cards

Jose Lobaton crushed a 3-run home run in Game 2 of the NLDS which gave the Washingon Nationals a lead they never relinquished.
Jose Lobaton crushed a 3-run home run in Game 2 of the NLDS giving the Washingon Nationals a lead they never relinquished.

The Washington Nationals desperately needed a win Sunday afternoon to avoid having to fight for their postseason lives in Chavez Ravine just to force a decisive Game 5 in Washington.

Things did not get off to a strong start for the Nationals. Chase Utley got the Dodgers off to a 1-0 lead in the first inning after he slapped a line drive for a home run to right center field off Tanner Roark.

The Nationals offense came out flat against Rich Hill, a midseason acquisition from the Oakland Athletics, as he managed to strike out Trea Turner, Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth.

Jose Lobaton was having an especially rough day. The Nationals back-up catcher, who played in just 39 regular season games during the regular season, squandered a bases loaded rally in the second inning  when he into an inning ending 1-2-3 double play on the first pitch he saw from Hill.

To make matters worse, Lobaton also mishandled a strong throw from Bryce Harper during a close play at the plate in the third inning. Lobaton could not handle the ball and reached across the plate to tag Justin Turner without the ball. The Dodgers now had a 2-0 lead which they held until the fourth inning.

The bad vibes surrounding Lobaton evaporated when he crushed a three-run home run into the visitor’s bullpen. It gave the Nationals a lead they would not relinquish.

Dave Jagler, a Washington Nationals play-by play announcer, enthusiastically described the scene at the ballpark after the home run.

“Delirium here at Nationals Park,” he said.

The moment brought everybody to their feet and kept the team fired up.

Daniel Murphy scored a run and drove in two runs as he went 3-for-3 with a walk in Game 2 of the NLDS.
Daniel Murphy scored a run and drove in two runs as he went 3-for-3 with a walk in Game 2 of the NLDS.

Daniel Murphy was one of the runners to score on the home run after reaching base on a walk. Murphy also had three hits in Game 2 including an RBI single in the 5th inning which chased Hill from the game and gave the Nationals a 4-2 lead. Murphy’s final hit of the game was another RBI single which scored Jayson Werth and gave the Nationals a 5-2 lead.

Topps Now released two limited edition baseball cards on Monday afternoon which celebrate the stellar Game 2 performances by Lobaton and Murphy. These baseball cards will be available until 4:30pm.

 

Moments:

(#558) The Washington Nationals trailed the Los Angeles Dodgers 2-0, in the bottom of the fourth inning, as they held a 1-0 deficit in the NLDS. With runners on first and second and two outs, Jose Lobaton delivered a clutch, three-run shot that put the Washington Nationals out in front for good, as they came away with an eventual, series-tying, 5-2 victory.
(#559) Daniel Murphy continues to rake in Postseason play. Murphy went 3-for-3 in Game 2 of the NLDS, accounting for two RBI and a run scored for the Washington Nationals. Murphy’s offensive efforts helped lead the Washington Nationals to a series tying, 5-2 win.