Sunday night, Major League Baseball announced the starting lineups for this year’s All-Star Game, to be held next week in Cincinnati. Well, this week, Bridgeport will host another version of all-star baseball at The Ballpark at Harbor Yard.
The 2015 Atlantic League All-Star Game will be an unaffiliated, minor league, exhibition baseball game. Which is to say that the actual outcome of the game could maybe not be less consequential.
But on the one hand, that might just be part of the fun.
On the other hand, minor league baseball teams, and especially independent minor league baseball teams like the Bridgeport Bluefish, are maybe better suited than anyone to turn a largely meaningless sporting event into compelling family entertainment.
The game itself will include everything you’d expect from a minor league baseball game: goofy mascots; t-shirts shot out of canons; on-field, between-inning games for the kids; a fireworks display after the game. Plus it’ll have everything you’d expect from an all-star game: a home run derby before the game, an MVP award ceremony after the game.
“And I got a few other surprises lined up to make a fun night,” said Jamie Toole. He’s the general manager of the Bluefish, who will host all the All-Star festivities this week in Bridgeport, and he’s being a bit cagey about all the special guests and special events he’s built into this game. But I did get him to tell me about one other thing: “Wednesday,” he said, “Our special guest is former WWE star and hall-of-famer Ric Flair.”
Flair, whose name is apparently a registered trademark, will host the evening’s events.
“Ric Flair®’ll be introducing [the players] walking out,” Toole said. He'll be “doing his thing on the mic.”
“That alone should be interesting,” said Toole.
Uhh, yeah. It should be.
But on the other other hand, we should talk about the baseball too. What is it that makes an Atlantic League All-Star exactly?
According to Toole, “It’s the best players in the entire league. That’s the cool thing about an All-Star Game. You really want to showcase the best players in the league.”
The thing is, the guys playing in the unaffiliated Atlantic League, they’re guys with a chip on their shoulder. They’re guys who’ve maybe fallen out of the big leagues (guys you’ve maybe heard of if you follow baseball -- guys like Lew Ford or Sean Burroughs or Chien-Ming Wang). Or they’re guys who maybe didn’t get drafted into the affiliated minor leagues in the first place. They’re guys who’re playing with something to prove.
On a night like this, when the 44 best players in the league get together for one night, to play one game, Toole said, “It is a draw too for scouts. Ya know, you’ll have probably 15, 20 come that night, where [on a normal night,] you may have two to three in the ballpark.” Fifteen or 20 scouts from the major league teams, all in attendance, all out looking for players. It's a “good opportunity for a lot of these guys to get signed into organizations,” Toole said, to try to get back on the road to the big leagues.
So the night will showcase the quirkiness of minor league baseball. And the game will showcase some of the best quality minor league baseball around. It’s enough that Jamie Toole might even be willing to guarnatee a great game.
“Well, I can guarantee you a great game for two reasons,” said Toole. “Number one, is ’cause there’s going to be a lot of scouts there. But number two is because, unlike traditional all-stars, where we give the MVP a plaque or a bat or something like that, [with] Ric Flair® being here, we got a championship belt. So when we introduce that to the players, I’m sure that we’re going have 44 guys that are excited to put on a show out there on Wednesday night.”
That’s right. A championship belt. Like the wrestlers get after they quote, unquote “win.”
So come for, ya know. That. And stay for the baseball — the independent, minor league, exhibition baseball that maybe actually kind of matters.
All-Star Week starts Tuesday night, with a circus-themed All-Star Block Party on Fairfield Avenue in Bridgeport, starting at 5:30 p.m. The 2015 Atlantic League Home Run Derby starts at 5 p.m. Wednesday, at the Ballpark at Harbor Yard. The All-Star Game itself follows at 7:05 p.m. Thursday night will feature a “Legends Game,” pitting former Boston Red Sox players against former New York Yankees players. Visit bridgeportbluefish.com for more.