The All-Star Game and Baseball Fandom

The All-Star Game is tomorrow in Minnesota. I have loved this game since I became a baseball fan, and still try to watch it every year. Honestly, I make more of an effort to watch it than to watch the World Series some years, depending on who is playing. I love the pageantry of the All-Star Game, how each player wears his own uniform (it is a travesty that this year they will wear league caps instead of their own caps), how the players get introduced individually along the baselines before the game, how the ballpark is festooned with red, white, and blue bunting. I love how, even though it is an exhibition game, the players clearly take pride in playing in it and trying to win it.

In thinking about how I grew to love the All-Star Game as a boy, I realize that part of my fanaticism for it resulted from the rarity of, not just that game itself, but televised baseball in general when I was growing up in the 1980s. My family did not have cable, so there would usually only be two or three games on per week that I was interested in watching: NBC’s Game of the Week on Saturday (I would watch no matter who was playing; I remember being crushed one April Saturday in 1988 or 1989 when there wasn’t a game because both games that NBC was going to show were cancelled due to weather. One was in Chicago, with the Cubs getting snowed out, and the other game was rained out. I still remember Marv Albert in the studio saying “No game today” like a death-knell.) and the Mets on WWOR channel 9 on Sunday. Sometimes the Mets would also be on Friday night (though I couldn’t watch the entire game because I had an early bedtime), and if I got desperate the Yankees would usually have one or two games a week on WPIX channel 11 (it is still incredibly weird to me that WPIX now televises the Mets). During the postseason it did not get much better because, even though all of the games were on network television, I was usually only able to watch the first half hour or so before bed.

As result of this limited television exposure, my baseball fandom took a much different form than it does now. I learned much more about the game from print media—especially from the newspaper and statistics on the backs of baseball cards—than from television, whereas now the ratio is switched. These days I almost never watch baseball aside from the Mets during the regular season because I am now fortunate enough to have cable and they are on SNY nearly every night (and my cable package even shows the games when they are on WPIX). Every once in a while I might watch a bit of ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball to close out the weekend, but, unless the Mets are playing, I no longer watch Fox’s nationally-televised game on Saturdays. (A necessary aside: one reason I do not watch regular season baseball on Fox is that Joe Buck is their play-by-play announcer, and he is pedestrian at best. In hindsight, I realize that I was lucky to grow up in an era when Vin Scully was the national play-by-play man for NBC and Al Michaels was the primary play-by-play man for ABC’s postseason telecasts. It kills me that an entire generation of fans has grown up with Joe Buck as the voice of baseball. No wonder young people are not drawn to the game!) These viewing habits mean that I follow the Mets closely, but the rest of MLB much less so until the pennant races heat up in September. As a kid, aside from my favorite Mets I was also a fan of other good players such as Ozzie Smith or Tony Gwynn (R.I.P.), but now, although I appreciate the feats of players such as Miguel Cabrera in a general way, I do not feel any connection to them, and whereas I liked and respected Mike Schmidt growing up because I viewed him as a baseball player rather than as a divisional rival, that viewpoint has flipped and I have nothing but hatred for present-day Phillies like Chase Utley and Cole Hamels.

Thus the All-Star Game is the one time during the summer when my baseball gaze widens to observe the game in all its glory. I root for the National League, I hope the Mets’ representative (Daniel Murphy this year) gets a hit, and I remember why I fell in love with the sport in the first place: it is fun to watch, and it is a national language that, at its best, brings us all together.

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