Fresh faces highlight All-Star Game
CINCINNATI — Not too long ago, Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and Gerrit Cole were the ones picking up the extra balls and getting pranked into paying the pricey checks.
Now, along with the likes of Kris Bryant, Matt Harvey and many others, they've become the face of the All-Star Game and the future of the major leagues.
"The Derek Jeter generation in the last few years came to the end of their careers. We have a great new crop of young players," new Commissioner Rob Manfred said.
This is an age when The Kids are All Right — a record 20 of the 76 All-Stars for tonight's game are 25 or younger, according to STATS.
"I think the young talent in baseball is better than it's been in years," said Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira, one of the older All-Stars at 35. "These are exciting players, players that kids can look up to."
His former teammates — baseball royalty, in the form of Mariano Rivera and Jeter — are gone.
The brash bats who rule the new era belong to Giancarlo Stanton, Yasiel Puig and Manny Machado, trying to solve bold arms led by Chris Archer, Cole and Harvey.
Major League Baseball, which often relies on the nostalgia of its 19th-century roots, is striving to connect with 21st-century youth more familiar with Reddit and Tinder than Josh Reddick and Branden Pinder.
"We're working very hard to give our fans the kind of access to those players and others in order to raise their awareness of these players," Manfred said. "We do realize we have a challenge in that regard because of what I characterize as generational change."
How different it was in 2011, when Trout was 19 and arrived at his first big league camp. Some Los Angeles Angels veterans invited him to dinner Mastro's City Hall Steakhouse in Scottsdale, Arizona.
A waiter brought the check, which came to $1,800, and ace pitcher Jeff Weaver handed it to Trout and told him the bill was his to pay.
When Trout arrived at Tempe Diablo Stadium a few days later, he found a toy truck in front of his locker. Inside were 7,200 quarters.
And Weaver punked the newbie outfielder later in spring training with a message on the right-field scoreboard, urging fans to call "Mike Trout directly with your baseball questions" during an exhibition game — with his actual cell phone number, of course.
"It was pretty creative of them," said Trout, now a four-time All-Star and winner of an MVP award. "It's part of breaking into the big leagues."
At 23, Bryant looks more high school student than big-time ballplayer. He made his big league debut in April, and his 12 homers and 51 RBIs have given Chicago Cubs' fans hope of a first World Series title since 1908.
Face of the game? He doesn't think so.
"It is pretty cool to be mentioned in the same sentence as those guys," he said.
Cole, a new All-Star at age 24, hopes to bring the Pirates their first title since 1979. He's just two years removed from bringing the veterans balls and gloves out to the field every day during spring training and proving his worth to teammates with a different kind of pitch.
"We'd sing a lot of songs on the bus," he said. "My voice has gotten better — my pitch probably not so much."
Production on the field. Personality off it. That's what baseball's bosses are looking for.
MLB announced in February it had hired Anomaly its new multimedia creative marketing agency. Its first campaign, "This in Baseball," debuted in April for opening day and featured Trout, Stanton and Puig. Others highlighted this season include Joc Pederson, Nolan Arenado and George Springer.
"When you look at the Mike Trouts and the Bryce Harpers and the Kris Bryants of the world, we're just so fortunate and we need to take advantage of this opportunity to the fullest," said Jacqueline Parkes, Major League Baseball's senior vice president and chief marketing officer.
Yet as much as baseball tries to move forward, the sport always looks behind.
Hosting the All-Stars for the first time since 1988, the Reds celebrate their history at Great American Ball Park, which opened in 2003. Statues of former stars Ted Kluszewski, Ernie Lombardi, Joe Nuxhall and Frank Robinson greet fans outside the home plate gate in Crosley Terrace, an homage to the sloped outfield at the team's home from 1912-70.
A Rose Garden outside the first-base stands was planted in tribute to — who else? — Pete Rose, the hometown hero banned from baseball for life for gambling on the Reds to win while playing and managing the club.
The symbol of this year's Midsummer Classic is a handlebar mustache, befitting the club that became baseball's first professional franchise in 1869. Special old-style caps with horizontal stripes will be used, although not in the traditional "pill box" shape.
There are two smokestacks in right center, and a riverboat deck sits above the batter's eye in center field.
For the Home Run Derby on Monday night, batters could try to hit the ball into the next state. A 1980 U.S. Supreme Court decision determined the Ohio-Kentucky border was the low-water mark on the northerly side of the Ohio River — as it existed in 1792, when Kentucky became the 15th U.S. state.
Adam Dunn is said to have hit a drive off the Dodgers' Jose Lima on Aug. 1, 2004, that cleared the batter's eye in center, bounced on the street outside the ballpark — an estimated 535 feet from home plate — and was found among some driftwood in the river.
"I wasn't there for that," said Cincinnati's Todd Frazier, one of the derby participants, "but I heard that ball is still going."