That simple phrase — uttered by one of the game’s most popular and polarizing players — was on full display in Tuesday’s All-Star Game.
We witnessed wonderfully amusing impulse moments like Nelson Cruz’s photo op with umpiring legend "Country" Joe West and awkward ones such as Alex Rodriguez traipsing through the infield during warmups, asking questions of the fielders.
These particular circumstances might not fly in a major league game that counts, however there were some exceptionally fun aspects to the All-Star festivities that should inspire how MLB works to create an improved fan experience.
Change the time home teams take batting practice
The Home Run Derby was undeniably the top attraction within the All-Star festivities. Each of the competitors drilled homer after homer plastering the glass windows in left field of Marlins Park, treating fans to souvenirs in the right field upper deck and leaving marks on the unique home run statue in dead center field. Fans and players alike were delirious as they witnessed eventual winner, Aaron Judge, demolish four baseballs over 500 feet.
Here’s the sad thing: In ballparks across the game, fans are often unable to see their favorite players take batting practice — essentially the closest many will come to the Home Run Derby — as the home team typically takes their licks before gates open. Children attending their first games and other young-at-heart fans of all ages are left without the opportunity to catch a home run ball hit by their favorite players during batting practice.
The premise behind the home team hitting first, which allows extra rest directly before game time, is understandable. However, the experience is unlike anything a fan will witness in-game and is a simple way for the home park to boost excitement amid otherwise dull pre-game activities.
Allow equipment and uniform accessories to do some talking
The most interesting uniform display was undoubtedly Yadier Molina’s catcher’s mask and chest protector, which elicited C-3PO comparisons. In addition, we saw many variations of compression sleeves, socks, batting gloves, wrist bands, Harper’s tribute to Jose Fernandez on the slugger’s cleats and artistically personalized bats in the Home Run Derby. Not a single one of these equipment/accessory expressions took away from the game. Rather, they stirred conversation and brewed an “I want that,” clamor across social media.
Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez went all out for their bats for tonight's#HRDerby pic.twitter.com/tTHwh4Gcfp— Patrick Hennessy (@TrueHennessy) July 10, 2017
Why can’t players wear different socks or stirrups than the standard? Why does a catcher’s mask and chest protector have to match the uniform? How is a compression sleeve or a set of cleats outside the uniform color scheme detrimental to the game? Just as MLB pushes alternate jerseys and awful throwbacks that entices a certain All-Star starting pitcher to get out his sheers, the league can soften the stance on these types of accessories.
Mic ‘em up
The connection between fans and MLB players can be further amplified by conducting in-game interviews with the players in similar fashion to FOX’s broadcast Tuesday night. Rodriguez strolling through the infield in his $5,000 suit was a bit much, but the interview with George Springer was excellent and listening to Harper ask FOX’s play-by-play man Joe Buck about Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott is what live TV is all about — unexpected and unfiltered.
Imagine the raw energy and enthusiasm during an interview with a player moments after striking out a key batter to end an inning or from another players straight after drilling a game-tying home run. Visualize the bullpen discussion as endgame relievers go through their warmups and gear up for their appearance with a game on the line.
Now, try to explain how this hurts the game.
From 2nd to 3rd on the field before the 2nd inning, @AROD interviews Daniel Murphy, Zack Cozart & Nolan Arenado #ASGhttps://t.co/77ysAm9L1q— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) July 12, 2017
Further, the use of audiovisual recording at the bases, on the mound and in the dugout/bullpens to fill dead time instead of muting analysts who discuss inane non-baseball topics or reiterate the same drowsy facts from the night before would be a welcomed treat. The playback of live conversations and recordings should not be reserved for television, but should also be pumped through the mammoth stadium video displays and TVs throughout the ballpark.
Face of baseball? How about the many faces of baseball!
The idea that the game needs a singular face on which to build is lazy and defeatist. MLB cannot afford to heavily market one player or even a handful when there are so many faces begging to be promoted throughout the game. The more we learn about all of baseball’s stars on the field via a multitude of avenues, the more connected fans will become.
MLB should not wait for All-Star Games to popularize each of its talents. Each day and in every game, the league should be telling the stories of its players utilizing the wide breadth of its entities within MLB Advanced Media.
The player/fan relationship will strengthen when young fans realize many baseball players thrived on the same dreams as them and that some have gone to great lengths to reach their goals. The notion is not only that young impressionable kids will find an idol, they’ll tell their friends about him and help grow the game.
Hang the “unwritten rules” out to dry
The league and the Major League Baseball Player’s Association must work to relieve baseball of arguably it’s biggest problem today — the “unwritten rules” surrounding individual player celebrations mid-game.
This code should be put to print, framed and hung in the National Baseball Hall of Fame as a memento of yesteryear. It could take MLB and the MLBPA coming straight out and telling its players that bat flips, fist pumps, shimmying, primal screams and simply exhibiting unabashed exhilaration at one’s personal efforts is desired, not discouraged.
Baseball needs to add more personality to the game in as many ways as possible. Bottling up players’ expressive abilities at every corner cannot continue. As such, if MLB takes a page from the incredibly fun All-Star Game festivities, it can go a long way toward improving the experience at every single game.