This time it didn’t count. Not that it ever should have, but with the ridiculous tie in the 2002 All-Star Game it was undeniable that something needed to change. For the first time since that fateful July night this evening’s game went back to being exactly what it is: an exhibition. A moment about fun, the love of the sport, and the game’s best, brightest, and in some cases youngest stars taking the biggest stage to put on a spectacle for its fans.
In what was a beautiful pitcher’s duel, ultimately decided in extra innings by a Robinson Cano solo shot for a 2-1 American League victory, I couldn’t help but spend most of the night thinking of the one pitcher who was only there in spirit. From the day that it was announced that somehow Jeffrey Loria and the Marlins had the winning bid for this contest the stars were aligning that their own brightest star would take the hill to start this game in his home ballpark. Of course, I’m referring to Jose Fernandez, the right-hander with an electric fastball, a devastating curve ball known as “the Defector” (perhaps a nod to his escape from Cuba, in which he saved his mother from drowning), and a smile that could light up any ballpark. As everyone who follows the game knows, Jose and a couple of his best friends perished in a tragic late night/early morning cocaine/crack/alcohol fueled boating accident back in the early morning hours of September 25, 2016 and in the process ended the career of one of the game’s most promising stars at the ripe age of 24. Tonight was supposed to be Jose’s night but a series of disastrous and irresponsibly reckless decisions took that away from us all, and even 10 months later the sting is still felt around baseball not to mention Little Havana.
For the players who were in attendance, there was a beautiful celebration of Latin Baseball appropriate enough for a showcase game in South Florida. Once the game started there was also an coming out party for some of the game’s top rookies, as well as a Yadi bomb, Mookie assist, Nelson Cruz umpire selfie, and some hair flips from a future Yankee outfielder. A Red Sox pitcher started the game (Chris Sale) and another won it (Craig Kimbrel) with a former Boston fan favorite (Andrew Miller) getting the save.
The All-Star game is a celebration of baseball, its culture, and its players. It gets a deserved night to itself as no other major sports are in season and it provides an opportunity for its host city to promote what makes it unique and special to the game. Tonight, while memorable and a fun night of the best of the best competing against each other, things certainly felt a little hollow like something was missing. We know you were watching, Nino.