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Inside the Inferior All-Star Experience of a Non-MLB Superstar

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Inside the Inferior All-Star Experience of a Non-MLB Superstar
Courtesy of Durham Bulls Baseball Club

I have no love for the All-Star Game.

Back in 2008, when I was in Triple-A with the Padres, I was asked if I'd attend the Triple-A All-Star Game as one of the team's representatives. I said no. In fact, I would have said "Hell no," but my manager and pitching coach made it out to be this grand, career highlight—an honor among honors not to be missed, a "real feather in my cap."

I'm sure it was the same line they told all the other guys who made the team but turned the offer down. I'm talking about the guys who actually made the All-Star team, not replacements like me. But I'm sure the next batch of guys—the first-line replacements—heard the same thing. Then the backup bullpen catcher and water boy and clubhouse manager and mascot...all the way down to the bottom, until it was my turn to hear it.

I know what you're thinking: "How can you be so ungrateful?" It's not a matter of gratitude. It's a matter of practicality. The baseball season is the longest in all of sports, and you only get about 10 days off per year at the minor-league level. The All-Star Game, for all the pomp and circumstance, is just more work for no money. I'll take the days off, and you can keep your faith in a game that exists purely so another alternate hat and jersey can be hocked.

Ed Reinke/Associated Press/Associated Press
2008 Triple-A All-Star Game

Besides, I had already attended the All-Star Game once. This may be hard for you to believe, what with my anemic amount of time in the majors and the bad stats accumulated there, but back in 2004, I actually made a professional All-Star team. Legitimately.

I was pitching for what was then known as the Fort Wayne Wizards (now the TinCaps) and was doing so well that I not only won a spot on the All-Star roster but was going to get a full inning to pitch.

I still didn't want to go.

Fort Wayne was close to my hometown in Ohio. I—as all minor league players do at the time of the All-Star break—wanted time off for some relaxation. I had plans to head home. Crash at my folk's house. Pet the dog. Stay up late, play video games and yell, "Mom! Meatloaf!"

It wasn't two days and nights at an oceanside resort, but it was better than the sights and sounds of the minors.

Then management back-roomed me and told me about the importance of the All-Star Game. What it meant for my career. That whole "it's a feather in your cap" treatment. And after all the talk of honors, when my face seemed to glaze over with disgust at it all, I was told, "And there will be consequences if you don't attend."

Oh, yeah, they don't tell you about that, do they? That in the minors, especially the low levels, organizations will punish you if you don't go to what you don't have to go to. How, exactly, they punish you is hard to say. In fact, it's very possible they may do nothing. But they'll threaten to do something.

Maybe push back your promotion. Maybe demote you until you learn your lesson. Maybe something worse. Because you're in the low levels, and the system is still very mysterious to you, you have no idea how horrible it could be, so you do everything you can to make sure it doesn't happen.

So I went. And it was the single worst trip I'd ever been on in my minor-league career—which is saying something, because I've been on bus trips where (1) someone threw up in the bus toilet and the whole bus reeked of vomit, (2) someone urinated in my backpack while intoxicated and (3) the bus driver got lost and drove us four hours in the wrong direction on an already 10-hour trip.

The first thing you must understand about the minors is that everything, especially trips to the All-Star Game, is done by the cheapest means possible. Five of us were selected to go to the 2004 Midwest League All-Star Game, held in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It was a six-hour trip if you drove it by car, seven if you took a minor-league tour bus with its subsequent stops and eight when you factored in the mandatory traffic jam outside of Chicago.

Courtesy of Durham Bulls Baseball Club
Dirk pitching in Triple-A in 2011

But we didn't go by bus or car; we went by diesel-powered hotel shuttle-esque short bus. An underpowered, no-acoustic-dampening, no-DVD-playing, fume-catching, poorly ventilated, bench-seating minibus.

Players weren't the only ones coming on the trip. An All-Star Game is what front-office personnel live for. It's a chance to have a romp on the company credit card. A boozy, all-expenses-paid "networking" session with other front-office personnel.

Get the interns laid. Take pictures with future Triple-A roster-fillers. The more the merrier.

The shuttle bus was crammed full of front-office personnel, who were all excited for a road trip. We left at an ungodly hour in the morning and 10 diesel-drenched hours later came chugging into Cedar Rapids.

I was nauseated from the fumes and wanted nothing more than to go to my room and lie down. The silver lining, for me, was that because an odd number of guys were selected to represent the team, I was supposed to get my own room.

I won the free room lottery because, at the time, I was the only guy on the squad who didn't drink. Just like the front office, the players were looking forward to the All-Star Game's opening ceremonies party the night before the game, and nothing is more absorbent than a minor leaguer on free booze. Having your legs under you, seeing double be damned—when you're getting paid what low-level minor leaguers do, you gulp down free booze like a camel stores water before heading into the desert.

No drinking meant I'd miss 90 percent of the upshot of the All-Star Game, so the other players agreed to let me have my own party-free residence so I could focus on the game.

Unfortunately, because so many front-office members came on the trip—also an odd number—they needed to stick someone in my room. Five minutes after I got my key card, made it to my room and collapsed on my hotel bed, there was a knock at the door. It was one of the team's interns.

He pushed through the door as soon as I opened it and slung his suitcase onto the queen bed across from my own while apologizing profusely for what the team had forced on the pair of us. I stood there, staring at him as he tore his team-logoed polo from his belt-cinched khaki leash. He ran his fingers through his comb-over haircut and then, spotting the mini-bar fridge, attacked it.

Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

Minutes later, he was sucking down a Coke and a bottled water, sweat still beading on his head, grilling me on what it was like to be a player, a pitcher, an athlete; on my childhood, my favorite players, the road to the pros—each answer inducing him to monologue on the whys and whats that prevented him from doing the same.

This was the minors, I reminded myself. Things like this happen in the minors. Setbacks, upsets, letdowns. You have to take them in stride.

I focused on the bright side. I reminded myself that, if I would have roomed with another player, I probably would have had a hot, drunken mess on my hands. Any chance of a good night's sleep before the All-Star Game would have been blown.

Furthermore, that aforementioned drunken player mess would probably bring a date back to the room and give me the option to either stick around (as long as I pretended to sleep) or "do them a solid" by leaving the room for a couple of hours in the middle of the night.

That night at the party I just I sat around drinking complimentary bottles of water. I didn't want to make friends with guys I was trying to beat, I wasn't interested in conversation with drunk front-office staffers and there were only so many free hot dogs a man could ingest. The best thing I could do on a trip was pitch well when my turn came. I went back to the hotel on the first available shuttle.

My roommate wasn't in, so I cleaned up, got ready for bed and called it a night.

A couple of hours later a full-body tackle woke me.

My roommate was surprised to see me awake. Why? I had no idea. When you pass out on the wrong bed, atop your roommate, it tends to wake him up. He pushed himself off me, stumbled back into a standing position and rolled a thumb over at the door, informing me that all the other players were still out for the night. I told him I was back because the All-Star Game was a great opportunity, a feather in my cap, and I took it all very seriously.

He threw his hands up and told me he respected my inner competitor. Then he promptly went into the bathroom and projectile vomited. I heard him hurl vividly for two reasons: First, he was a big man and really got into it. Second, he left the bathroom door open.

Also worthy of note: He puked in the bathtub, not the toilet. The tub is a much bigger target than a toilet, I get that, but what I couldn't understand is why he tried to wash it down the drain without first opening the stop that keeps the drain closed. Water starting running; as the tub filled, so too did the room with the thick, heavy, putrid scent.

This front-office guy, he was a total newbie. Here's one thing I'll say about player roommates: While they may not all be clean-living Boy Scouts, they at least are considerate with their dirty behavior. A player roommate would probably be able to hold his liquor. If he couldn't, he'd shut the door while he vomited in the proper receptacle. If it was really bad, he'd take a pillow and blanket into the bathroom and sleep in the tub. That's a veteran move.

I got out of bed, walked to the bathroom, looked at him crying over the toilet bowl, sighed with a disdainful head shake and shut the door on him. But we weren't done yet. After an hour or so of whimpering, moaning and hurling, my roomie came out, flushed and fatigued, tumbled into his bed and promptly fell asleep.

He went down facedown at first, sucking air, the noise from which I could drown out with a pillow over my head. Then, almost as if he noticed me tuning him out, he rolled over supine and launched into that clogged, guttural, unholy snore that only a drunk, large person can produce.

I took the Lord's name in vain several times. Softly at first, to see just how much volume was required to stir the beast. But what finally woke him was the hard edge of a Frisbeed magazine to the side of the head. In my defense, I had screamed at him a couple of times, unloaded a full complement of pillows and slammed the drawer of the nightstand between the beds.

It was only after all that that I went to the complimentary nightlife magazine stash.

He awoke, smacked his lips and rolled to face me, whipping a hand across the saliva streaming across his face. I was sitting up in my bed, staring daggers into him. He wanted to know what the problem was. I told him that he snored, was wasted and had fumigated the room with barf. He didn't seem to remember any of it.

That's when I told him to get the hell out.

The next day, at the All-Star Game, everyone looked like they'd had a long night. Long but productive, according to the stories being swapped in the locker rooms.

Highlights from this year's 50th anniversary of the Midwest All-Star Game

I just sat at my locker, sniffing my clothes. Everything I owned seemed to have taken on the smell of vomit.

The only thing left for me to do was pitch well. The great baseball men always say that if you absolutely have to play a game, you might as well win. Yeah, well...screw them.

Someone has to lose, even in the All-Star Game. And thanks in no small degree to a hung-over shortstop who had had a very productive night out before the game and the intern who kept me up for the majority of it, that someone was me.

After the game I was inconsolably pissed. And, as all the other All-Stars packed their gear and readied for the trip back home, I slammed my equipment around, mumbling obscenities about how I'd never do one of these stupid fan-service pageants ever again.

Fast-forward six years, back to the Triple-A All-Star invite, specifically to the point of me turning it down after being told it was a feather in my cap. When I said no thanks, they said the organization might be upset with me for saying so and that there could be repercussions.

Yeah, I'd heard that one before, I thought, with memories of my last All-Star Game trip tumbling nauseously through my head. Then I smiled and said, "I'll take my chances."

 

Dirk Hayhurst is a former pitcher who spent nearly a decade in professional baseball between MiLB and MLB. He is also an accomplished author and has appeared on Baseball America, ESPN, TBS' MLB postseason broadcasts, Sportsnet Canada and more.

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