For the first time in 14 seasons, the Major League Baseball All-Star Game went back to its roots. With home-field advantage off the table, it was simply an exhibition: An opportunity for fans to see players having fun and enjoying themselves while celebrating a game both parties love dearly.
Because of that, it’s tough to kill the league for experimenting with on-field interviews during the contest. Throughout the game, fans were treated to Alex Rodriguez talking to players on the field during inning breaks, sideline reporters chatting with hitters before at-bats and the broadcast booth interviewing fielders while the game was going on.
Actual pitches were being thrown as Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper casually asked Joe Buck about Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott. We’re living in a brave, new world.
It was a bold and exciting idea, even if it didn’t totally work the first time around. The interviews were mostly awkward and forced. The amusing moments were few and far between.
But some of those issues are easily fixable. Rodriguez’s segment suffered from everyone trying to do too much. Rodriguez and FOX tried to cram three separate interviews into a single inning break. It’s tough to get solid answers from any player when you spend roughly 20 seconds with them.
Things improved near the end when Rodriguez settled in and asked Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado a couple questions. That provided a glimpse into what the segment could have been if Rodriguez only focused on talking to one guy.
Rodriguez is a smart analyst who has a unique view of the game. The All-Star Game is no longer supposed to be serious, but having Rodriguez ask about positioning and strategy, and perhaps even demonstrating it, has a lot of potential.
The interviews with players during innings were similar. There were a few moments where George Springer and Bryce Harper got to show off their personalities, but they were sandwiched in between some bland answers. On top of that, both interviews dragged on a little too long.
It’s tough to know where to fully place the blame there. The idea of having players take fans through an inning on the field seems like it could be fun, but only if the players are able to relax a bit. That’s not a criticism on Springer or Harper, it’s more an observation that no one is completely comfortable with the game no longer mattering.
There was nothing at stake, so both players could have just joked around and had fun. Would anyone really care if Harper was late on a ball because he was giving an interview? If anything, fans would have experienced that moment with him in real-time and received a genuine reaction.
It’s probably hard to get players to accept that mindset. They have to be 100 percent focused 162 times during the year. Asking them to let go of that during on exhibition game in the middle of the season is tough, especially the first time around.
That could change with time. Those interviews might become looser as players adjust to the new format. And with the right player, they could be pretty entertaining.
While it doesn’t necessarily fall under the “interview” section, putting mics on players as they ran the bases worked well. The insight wasn’t always illuminating, but it did give curious fans an answer to the age-old “what do players talk about at first base” question.
It’s fair to ask whether players will truly get to a place where they can let loose and enjoy themselves. Baseball often takes itself way too seriously. There are countless unwritten rules and far too many debates about players respecting the game.
Seattle Mariners designated hitter Nelson Cruz provided some hope that it might be possible. In the sixth inning, he had St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina snap a picture of him with umpire Joe West before his at-bat. The picture was taken, and Cruz slipped the phone into his back pocket before stepping in against Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Zack Greinke.
It was a strange thing to see during a baseball game, but it was entertaining. While it’s the type of thing you would expect to launch thousands of hot takes about the good old days of baseball, Cruz’s picture happened in a game that didn’t matter. We don’t want every player to start snapping pictures before at-bats, but spontaneous moments of fun are good things that should be encouraged in this format.
If the game is truly going to be an exhibition, then it should serve as an opportunity for players to have fun and provide entertainment for the fans. Baseball often faces criticism that it doesn’t push its star players more often. The All-Star Game is a chance to finally do that.
Let the players be themselves, let their personalities shine and give fans an inside look at what it’s like to be on the field with them. The league took a step in that direction Tuesday. With a little bit of tweaking, it can make the All-Star Game feel like the unique event it should be, as opposed to just another game in the middle of a long season.
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