MINNEAPOLIS — In case you didn’t know: Tonight is all about one man. Major League Baseball knows this. FOX knows this. Every player on both All-Star teams knows this. “It’s Derek Jeter’s night,” Orioles catcher Matt Wieters said on Monday in Minneapolis. "And it should be. It’ll be a special night, something we’ll all be able to tell our grandkids about.”
Off another snoozer of a Home Run Derby, amid sliding TV ratings, the 2014 All-Star Game will take place tonight at Target Field, and MLB will do its best to put on smashing show. Get ready for the most overproduced MLB production in history: the Derek Jeter au revoir.
This is Jeter’s final All-Star Game and potentially his final moment on the national stage if the Yankees don’t reach the postseason. On Monday, Jeter drew the largest media crowd in the hotel ballroom at Media Day, where his session was as compelling as a filibuster on C-SPAN. (Asked if he was planning on making a speech to his AL teammates, Jeter replied, “I’m still asleep right now. I haven’t even thought about it.") Jeter drew the largest crowd at Target Field during batting practice before the Home Run Derby, and he’ll draw the largest crowds all day Tuesday.
Yes, all eyes will be on the Yankees' captain, but there will be other storylines to follow during the All-Star Game.
The passing of the torch
In 1971, a young Reggie Jackson smashed a ball that hit the transformer at the base of the light tower in right-center field at Tiger Stadium. In 2000, in his first year starting the All-Star Game, a 26-year-old Derek Jeter went 3-for-3 and took MVP honors at Turner Field. The All-Star Game is an opportunity for a young star to make his mark on the game with a signature moment. Tonight, will it be Yasiel Puig? Giancarlo Stanton? Mike Trout?
There’s been a lot of talk about who will take over as the new face of baseball, and at the moment there’s only one player set up to take the title and run with it. To start the game, Jeter will hit leadoff, followed by Trout hitting second: This will be the night’s symbolic moment. Trout is the best player in baseball, still just 22 years old, talented enough to dominate the game for the next decade.
Asked on Monday about a passing of the torch with Jeter’s retirement, Trout shrugged. “I don’t know who the face of baseball is going to be when he leaves,” he said. Trout will let his play speak for itself, and on the field on Tuesday he has a big opportunity.
This is Derek Jeter’s All-Star Game. But it could become Trout’s, too.
NL’s power pitchers vs. the AL’s power hitters
The strengths of the two leagues will be on display: The top-four home run hitters in baseball reside in the AL, and on the AL roster there are six hitters with at least 20 home runs here at the break. Talk about depth: Current major league home run leader Jose Abreu, as well as Home Run Derby champ Yoenis Cespedes, will come off the bench for Red Sox manager John Farrell. “It’s a dream team of power,” said Baltimore’s Adam Jones.
The NL team, meanwhile, has an embarrassment of riches in its pitching staff. Farrell had the easy decision to anoint Felix Hernandez his starter, but Cardinals manager Mike Matheny was faced with the impossible choice of either Clayton Kershaw (11-2, 1.78 ERA) or Adam Wainwright (12-4, 1.83 ERA). Kershaw has two Cy Young Awards, the richest contract in history for a pitcher and is the ERA leader for the fourth year in a row—but he will not get his first All-Star Game start. “It was not an easy task, though it may look that way," Matheny said as he announced Wainwright as his starter. "There is a lot of talent in starting pitching in the National League right now.” He’s right: To close out the game, Matheny could turn to Aroldis Chapman and his 100 mph fastball, or the game’s best closer, Craig Kimbrel.
The Cuban baseball invasion
There will be five Cuban-born players at the All-Star Game, the most in 40 years. You could argue that four of the Cubans—Cespedes, Chapman, Puig, and Abreu—are four of the game’s most exciting and dynamic players right now. Cespedes already made his mark in Monday’s Home Run Derby. Puig, hitting second in the NL starting lineup behind Andrew McCutchen, will be playing in the first of what should be many All-Star Games. Chapman will be making his third All-Star appearance, while shortstop Alexei Ramirez is at the All-Star Game for the first time. And for many fans across the world, the game will be their formal introduction to Abreu, who has 29 home runs at the break and might be the greatest slugger in the world right now.
Cuba, that untapped reservoir of baseball talent, has always been something of a mystery to the U.S. fan, but this year’s game reflects the growing pipeline between the two countries, as well as the globalization of the game. For some of the Cuban players, the week has been a reunion. Ramirez and Chapman were teammates on the gold medal winning team at the Pan Am Games in 2007. Said Ramirez on Monday: “It’s like old times. We left a country to make a dream come true, and now here we are at the All-Star Game.”