I woke up very early and took a plane from Chicago, arrived at my motel near the airport, and met my friend Eric Sildon. We unpacked, made a few phone calls, and headed for Downtown Cleveland to begin the festivities.
The first event of the weekend was the All Star Workout. A celebrity softball game, batting practice for both the American and National League All Stars, the Rookie Homerun Derby, and the All Star Homerun Derby were the highlights of the afternoon. I picked up my tickets a little after mid-day and was comfortably seated (way up in the upper deck on the first base line) by the start of the Rookie Homerun Derby.
We decided to try and sneak into some better seats to watch the festivities and ended up next to two guys who had skipped out of work to watch the workout. One man, a engineer who was supposed to in Ohio for a meeting, explained how he had skipped the meeting and paid a scalper for the privelage of attending. He was a self proclaimed "conservative", much to the entertainment of Eric and I (both staunch Demorats) and we spent much of the time talking about politics and other related subjects.
Two local fans who skipped work to attend the All Star Workout.
The Rookie Homerun contest was the first event we watched. The four contestants, Nomar Garciaparra from the Red Sox, Scott Spezio from the A's, Jose Guillen from the Pirates, and Scott Rolen from the Phillies were vying for a spotin the real homerun derby, and bragging rights for being the most powerful rookie. I picked Rolen, having seen him play in Philadlephia I knew what he was capable of and wasn't too worried about the others. Despite my prediction, it was Garciaparra who showed impressive power and won the contest.
As the trophy presentation was starting, the rightful owners of the seats we were occupying arrived and were were froced to move. We found a section, even closer to home plate, and remained there for the rest of the day. We sat next to a local couple, both decked out in Cleveland Indians clothing, and talked about the city, the team, the stadium, the workout activities, and more. Both were very nice and very honest about things to do in the city, what things had changed or were unsafe about the current downtown area, and were both knowledgable and opinionated as to the prospects for the Indians the rest of the season. They were a good group to sit with during the Home Run Derby.
Ten different players were entered in the homerun derby, a long and tedious contest giving each player ten swings to hit as many homeruns as possible. The first few contestants failed to produce anything special in terms of distance or power. Fan favorite Jim Thome of the Indians didn't hit a single homerun and Ken Griffey Jr. didn't advance to the second round despite having more support from the crowd than any other visiting player. The big hitters in the first round included Larry Walker of the Rockies, Tino Martinez of the Yankees, and Mark McGwire of the Athletics, all advancing to the second round.
In between rounds, the Gillette Million Dollar Challenge contestant was brought to the mound to attempt a pitch that would win him $1 million in cash. From the mound, the contestant was supposed to pitch baseball into a hole approximately three feet tall and two feet wide. With the support of Rollie Fingers and the 35,000 fans in the crowd, the obviously nervous contestant wound up and released what looked like a winning pitch. The ball barely missed the target, bouncing off the right side of the stand. The man was givn $50,000 as a consolation prize.
The second round was where things got interesting. Larry Walker stepped up to the plate and launched nine homeruns (almost every one over 400 feet) while Tino Martinez launched eight homeruns (almost every one over 400 feet). Both advanced to the finals. Mark McGwire did not advance to the finals, but he did provide the most excitement of an the day. Attached to the upper deck in deep left and right field, (more than 450 feet from home plate) the Pinnacle Card Company had placed target banners for players to aim for. If a players hit the banner (on a homerun) a randomly selected fan would win $1 million. McGwire's second to last homerun, a blast which silenced the crowd while it was in flight came within 12 inches of striking the sign. You could hear the executives at Pinnacle breathing a collective sigh of relief.
In the finals, Tino Martinez stroked three homeruns while Larry Walker could only muster two more dingers. Tino was crowned the homerun champion and presented with the trophy. After the contest, Eric and I went shopping for All Star merchandise at the Indians team store and took an entire roll of film of me standing by the field (for use in a magazine). On the way out of the stadium, I ran into the Philly Phanatic and decided to give him a hug and take a picture. Unexpectadly, the Phanatic "slimed" me and I spent most of the afternoon smelling like Phanatic slime. . . Yuck.
The Philly Phanatic and me in front of Jacobs Field in Cleveland.
After the workout, Eric and I walked over to the Marriot hotel, the headquarters for all the players and management of each team. After fighting our way through security, we met up with Mark Weiner, his daughter Cathy (my pal) and his son Stephen. Cathy and I had spent several days during the Democratic Convention in Chicago running around the city at all hours and crashing all the best parties. Eric used to work for a political organization in Washington, D.C. that Mr. Weier was very involved in so they have been good friends for a while. Mr. Weiner offered us tickets to the All Star Gala, the big private party happening at the Flats, and we gladly obliged.
So, half an hour before the party was scheduled to start, Eric and I were on our way back to our hotel at the airport to change clothes (the attire was stated as "business or smart casual". But, I hadn't brought any suitable clothes to Cleveland, not really expecting to get a ticket to the nice parties, and Eric and I were scrambling to find something I could wear. In the end, we decided that my white (khaki) pants and polo-shirt would be sufficiently formal, but the tennis shoes I was wearing would not be suitable. On our way to the train station (RTA) we passed by a Johnston & Murphy store in hopes of finding a suitable pair of shoes. We were the only ones in the store and the store manager was very quick in offering me help, guessing correctly that I was on my way to the party. We found a pair of shoes, on sale no less, quickly purchased them and were on our way.
Thomas Reynolds from Johnston & Murphy at the store in Cleveland's Tower City Shopping Center.
After more than an hour of travel time to and from our hotel (the shuttle driver forgot about us and we were forced to walk from the RTA station), we arrived at the Flats for the party. The Flats is one of the hottest places in Cleveland, with restaurants, bars, night clubs, strip joints and more. Major League Baseball had rented the entire complex (five different restaurants, an arcade, a comedy club and a huge outdoor patio) for the party and more than 750 players, owners, executives, fans, commentators, etc... There were dozens of tables of food, dessert, free gifts, and an open bar for all the guests. Eric, Cathy and I spent the next four hours talking with players, baseball fans, and playing video games in the arcade (MLB gave us unlimited free tokens). We snagged several free gifts (very nice glasses with all-star logos etched into the side) and went back to the Marriot.
When we got back to the Marriot, we went to the hotel bar for a quick drink and ended up at the table next to former Indians superstar and now Chicago White Sox left-fielder Albert Belle. Belle, who is not very popular in Cleveland after leaving to sign a lucrative contract with the White Sox was trying to have a quiet dinner with a gentleman who appeared to be his agent was continuously bothered throughout the meal. One fan who asked Belle for his autograph continued to pester the two after being denied complaining to Belle about his attitude and accusing him of being selfish and arrogant. Later, that same fan in an attempt to reconcile for the attitude he showed earlier, sent Belle a drink with many apologies. It didn't work. Belle left the bar shortly before 2am in an obviously agitated state. We left shortly after and went back to our hotel for the night.
Cathy playing Air Hockey with me at the All Star Gala. She blamed her loss on the fact that I took this picture of her.