So, since it isn’t online anywhere…which happens with my stuff sometimes…here’s my column about what it was like to cover a big league All-Star Game that appeared on the cover of Thursday’s Hunterdon County Democrat sports section. I never write columns or first-person stuff anymore, so this was a bit of a change from my usual routine there.
It appears as submitted…so there are some edits that were made in the paper that will make it look a little different from what you see here.
By MIKE ASHMORE
For The Hunterdon County Democrat
PHOENIX, AZ. — By now, you already know that Robinson Cano won the Home Run Derby and the National League clinched home field advantage for their representative in the World Series. Such is life with a weekly paper.
So I thought it might be interesting to share my experience of covering my first big league All-Star Game instead. I think things might best be summarized by the quote eccentric San Francisco Giants closer Brian Wilson gave me when I asked him his thoughts on his time in Arizona.
“Great. Hot. Lots of AC,” said Wilson through a beard and a smile.
I’ve spent my entire life living in Hunterdon County — Three Bridges to be specific — and as a little kid, I always dreamed about maybe getting to one day play in a Major League All-Star Game. Eight years of baseball and no Little League All-Star teams made later, and it was clear that dream would never become reality.
But, for the past nine years, I’ve been a sportswriter, including the past six for the Democrat. And while I’ve been fortunate to draw some big assignments over my career, covering a big league midsummer classic seemed like a pipe dream as well. So fast forward to last Tuesday, when I was sitting in the Chase Field press box with a credential around my neck with my picture, name and “Hunterdon County Democrat” on it, and well…it was hard to think I wasn’t dreaming.
Appropriately enough, the trip started up in the clouds with a five hour flight from Newark to Phoenix on Saturday. Stepping off the plane and walking into the 108 degree heat was quite breathtaking, quite literally. But I headed over to my hotel, stopped off at the grocery store to pick up some food to hold me over for my five day stay, and got to work.
The three days of events start with the XM Futures Game, which has showcased the game’s top prospects since 1999. To be honest, this was the real reason I initially thought about going to Arizona. I’d covered the game three years ago at the old Yankee Stadium, and with Trenton Thunder catcher Austin Romine getting invited out for the second straight year, I thought it would be a great opportunity to cover his performance.
Turns out Romine went 2-for-2 with the game winning RBI, and was a media darling both before and after the game. But the always gracious backstop made sure to give me as much time as I needed with him, and that sort of set the tone for my comfort level for the trip. After spending a few minutes watching the celebrity softball game that took place after the Futures Game — a celebrity game that featured Diamond Nation star Jennie Finch — I headed back to the hotel to transcribe the quotes from the dozen or so prospects I spoke to, including Nationals star Bryce Harper, and prepared for the next day’s events.
On the slate for Monday was the Home Run Derby and the All-Star Gala, the latter of which is essentially the biggest party of the three days. Imagine my surprise when I found an invite along with my credential envelope. As for the Derby, it was just as impressive in person as it was on television. Making it all the more special was what Cano was able to do, as it brought back memories of covering him with the Thunder all the way back in 2004, which was my first year as a credentialed member of the media in a place where I’d gone to countless games with my father as a kid. It was hard not to think of those memories when seeing Cano’s father, Jose Cano, pitching to his son in the Derby.
After the Derby had ended, it was across the street to the Phoenix Convention Center, where the Gala was already in full swing…so to speak. Cee-Lo, star of the NBC show “The Voice,” was performing, and gourmet food and free drinks of all kinds were served. But while the party went well into the night, I left quite early. After all, my focus was on the big day.
I made sure to get to the ballpark extra early on Tuesday so I could soak it all in. I’d covered over 900 games over the past nine years, but none were going to be like this. And things simply couldn’t have gone any better. I ended up speaking one-on-one with 25 Major League All-Stars, with the names ranging from Prince Fielder to Jose Bautista to Adrian Gonzalez.
It all didn’t seem real. But nobody was coming over to pinch me. Roy Halladay threw the first pitch, and I was covering the 2011 Major League Baseball All-Star Game.
The experience was simply incredible, and made all those years of work to get to this point worthwhile. To have grown up in Hunterdon County and to represent the Democrat at such a big event was an honor and privilege…but thankfully, not a dream.
Perhaps, a dream come true.
Read more about Mike’s trip to Phoenix and see exclusive quotes, photos and videos at his Trenton Thunder blog — http://thunderbaseball.wordpress.com