All-Star Grand Tour Stops 4 & 5

Well, most of the “All-Star season” is finished now – in the last few days we’ve had the Futures Game, the Southern League, Major League, Eastern League and Triple-A All-Star games. It’d be impossible for someone to visit all of ’em since they overlap and cover a span of four days, so you’re forced to pick & choose (or in my case, be told which ones to cover).

The pair I attended – the Futures Game and Triple-A All-Star game are both top-level events. Obviously the Futures Game (the 2008 edition was the eighth I’ve attended having missed the first two due to basically working for the NBA at the time) is the biggest and most prestigious of the group. After all, it’s played at the site of the MLB All-Star game, it includes players from virtually all of the full-season minor leagues and is reserved for players that are considered to be the big leaguers of the future (hence the name).

This year’s Futures Game had the added cachet of being in Yankee Stadium. Many of the players had never set foot in the hallowed edifice, let alone been on the field. My Futures Game experience was essentially operating a camera for MLB.com’s Pregame Show and in-game between-innings dugout interviews (conducted by Lisa Winston). One thing about Yankee Stadium – the dugouts are not large. Compared to the locales of the other seven Futures Games I’ve attended, the dugouts at Yankee Stadium are tiny. Part of being an 85 year old ballpark (even one that was renovated) I suppose. With us in the USA dugout were Erin Andrews and her ESPN producer and cameraman, a trio from XM Satellite Radio, MLB.com’s dugout blogger, and an assortment of non-field personnel from Team USA. It was cramped, which led to us being told to leave about halfway through the game. It turned out that I ended up staying there for the rest of the game anyway, because the ESPN folks (and Lisa and producer Kyle Casey) all headed over to the World Dugout, easing the congestion (which was roughly equivalent to riding the D train at rush hour).

It was a novel experience to say the least, capped by my getting a nice sunburn during pregame media availability where we did a handful of interviews.

From New York, Lisa, Jonathan Mayo and I all headed to Louisville for the Triple-A All-Star Game festivities. It was my first visit to Kentucky’s largest city, which sits on the southern bank of the Ohio River across from Indiana. To me, Louisville called to mind several things: Muhammad Ali, bourbon and the Kentucky Derby. I also found out that 90% of all the disco balls in the country come from Louisville. So the next time you’re getting jiggy with it on the dance floor, think about where that mirrored ball over your head originated. That’s right: Louisville, Disco Ball Capital of the USA.

The Triple-A version of the Home Run Derby was on Monday. I have a confession to make: I think the HR derby’s a waste of time. Whew… there: got that off my chest and confession is good for the soul. I’ve seen a ton of ’em from the big leagues down to the NY-Penn League, so maybe I’m just jaded. Regardless of my personal feelings, it seems like every All-Star game in the minors is required to have two things: a HR Derby and postgame fireworks (which generally wreak havoc with the MVP interview we’re trying to finish on the field after the game).

The Derby here in Louisville wasn’t as impressive as the one going on concurrently in the Bronx. We didn’t have Josh Hamilton channeling Mickey Mantle and bouncing baseballs off the back wall behind the bleachers (for one thing there isn’t a back wall behind the bleachers at Louisville Slugger Field). The derby here was one by Jamie D’Antona of Tucson, who hit, I think about 14 homers in three rounds (including several tie-breaking “swing-offs”) of the contest. Jamie’s a terrific interview – you should definitely check out his HR Derby interview with Lisa.

Tuesday was All-Star Gala night at the Louisville Slugger Museum. That was pretty cool. We walked around and saw bats being made (apparently they can really churn those suckers out), I got to make a fool of myself in the batting cage (proving that unlike riding a bicycle, hitting a baseball is something you can forget pretty easily) and sample the “official All-Star cocktail” a concoction based on Kentucky bourbon (natch) and featuring orange juice, lemonade and a cherry (which promptly sinks to the bottom of the glass). It was good, but I had only one lest I make a fool out of myself in more embarrassing ways than I did swinging good Louisville lumber poorly in the batting cage. The museum is nice and has a lot of interesting exhibits (mostly related, as you’d expect, to bats) and I recommend it if you’re ever in the Disco Ball Capital of the USA.

Last night was the game itself. Jonathan got to do sideline work for ESPN which included riding the carousel behind right field and interviewing Jake the Diamond Dog. People have done far worse to get on TV, so you can’t hold it against the guy. Lisa & I worked on our feature on Indianapolis Indians outfielder (and top Pirates prospect) Andrew McCutchen – which is coming soon to a computer near you – and eventually, after the teams combined for nine runs in the ninth, we did an interview with PCL player of the game Matt Brown which is on MiLB.com right now.

Today it’s back to Ohio. Having been gone for a week, I’m really looking forward to seeing my wife & kids. I also hope that 1986 edition of Pursue the Pennant I won on Ebay has appeared on my doorstep. I heard from Mike Cieslinski, the game’s creator and we traded a few emails about Dynasty League Baseball, which is the updated version of PtP and Mike is coming out with an online version, which looks promising.

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