Forty-three years ago, Pete Rose forever changed the way we see the MLB All-Star Game.
The story has been told and retold, now deeply embedded in baseball lore. In the 12th inning of the 1970 All-Star Game, Rose barreled around third base and collided with catcher Ray Fosse, breaking the 23-year-old’s shoulder and setting in motion what would be a less-than-stellar career for Fosse.
Baseball traditionalists use that play as an example of how Rose approached the game, but detractors are quick to jump at the fact that, as it should be, the MLB All-Star Game is just an exhibition.
In the 43 years since, the Midsummer Classic has slowly evolved into nothing more than a fun, relaxed display of baseball. While the game has taken on added importance since being chosen to decide home-field advantage in the World Series, few All-Stars play the game with any more fervor than they would a game of backyard Wiffleball.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. Just ask Bryce Harper.
The 20-year-old Washington Nationals outfielder and now two-time All-Star is approaching the festivities with the mentality one would hope for from one of the game’s budding superstars.
Selected to participate in the Home Run Derby for the first time in his young career, Harper plans on having his dad pitch to him during the competition. As quoted by James Wagner of The Washington Post, Harper always promised he would have his old coach on the mound should he ever be selected for the event:
[My dad] wanted to make sure I was comfortable with that, not being able to see him for the past four or five months throwing. He just wanted to make sure that’s what I want. But he’s a pretty incredible BP thrower. I just hope he hits my bat. I’m just trying to go out there, have some fun, and hopefully do what no one else has done.
The beauty of the All-Star break is the chance for players to relax, unwind and enjoy the experience. We see examples of that every year as players bring their children to the stadium to experience the events with them.
Harper, though still young enough to get up in proving himself to his peers, doesn’t seem fazed by his second All-Star appearance. Instead, he’s taking the right approach to what is, at its core, nothing more than a chance for players to enjoy the game.
And it’s not just Harper’s approach to the Home Run Derby that proves he truly gets what it means to be an All-Star. He’ll also be highlighting the more leisurely aspects of the game with a pair of spikes fans may need sunglasses to view.
The flair is nice, but the coolest parts of his kicks are the “New York City” inserts with pictures of some of the city’s main attractions—including a photo of Citi Field, site of the 2013 All-Star festivities.
One would think traveling to a couple dozen different cities in a 162-game schedule would desensitize players to the allure of playing in a place like New York. From the looks of those cleats, Harper isn’t jaded by his success.
And even after slugging 22 home runs and solidifying himself as a true star last season, Harper is quick to give admiration to his peers, as he did when discussing Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis and his tremendous 37-home run campaign prior to the All-Star break.
As quoted by Wagner, Harper had this to say about the player he’ll be batting after in the Home Run Derby:
“He’s incredible. I don’t know if I want to follow that or not.”
Sure, Harper isn’t doing anything differently than many All-Stars before him—but that’s kind of the point. Instead of letting his success get to his head, Harper is enjoying the experience and showing he truly belongs as one of the select few to represent Major League Baseball in its marquee event.
Let’s hope he gets plenty more opportunities to do so.
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