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October 18, 2021

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From the Archives: MLB’s 2016 All Star game a home run for San Diego

Five years ago the spotlight was on San Diego as the city hosted Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game for the third time. The city also hosted the game in 1978 and 1992.

From The San Diego Union-Tribune, Wednesday, July 13, 2016:

City shines in star turn

By Nick Canepa

The real All-Star was not a wealthy baseball player. The star shining brightest in America was our city, providing a midsummer night’s dream.

San Diego never has been better. It was bright, stunning, entrepreneurial, industrious, orderly, controlled, looking like a million, smoothly handing a major event as if it were flipping flapjacks. It was a fun zone.

In the word of MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred: “Phenomenal.”

We now have set a standard for other baseball towns to follow. Best of luck. Can’t say anyone else has such a lovely stage or is better equipped. The All-Star Game no longer is a little gathering for players to exchange hardball stories. Tuesday night’s affair at dolled-up Petco Park merely was a game within several days of games.

It took a long time for Major League Baseball’s thinkers to realize not all pots of gold are at end of rainbows, but they finally followed the money. And so baseball’s All-Star Game has become a minor league Super Bowl without portfolio.

Knowing its World Series never can be a Super Bowl – it has no knowledge where the games will be played until the 11th hour – MLB has taken extensive notes from the NFL’s big week, which basically runs from Thursday through Sunday. And the All-Star Game got great help from Padres brass, who 18 months ago secured the event and spent tens of millions to beautify and enhance Petco Park.

The party was not spontaneous. The vintage was allowed to mature.

Here, there have been continuous activities since last Friday leading up to Tuesday night’s game. Not even the NFL can have a Home Run Derby, a gimmick which for many is a better watch than the game itself (the gangplank will have to get a mile long for me to get on board with that). But the MLB’s highly attended and successful five-day FanFest at the San Diego Convention Center is an unabashed rip-off of the NFL Experience.

Nothing wrong with that.

San Diego’s third go-round as All-Star host has been terrific (hope you enjoyed it, because my grandchildren will long be parents before we get another). We can do this stuff, as the NFL well knows from our three Super Bowls. All we need is a place to put it, and Petco Park, with its proximity to the Convention Center and Gaslamp Quarter and other attractions, worked perfectly.

Boston’s Peter Gammons, the great, hardened baseball writer, tweeted this out the other day: “Just a thought: All-Star Game in San Diego every year? Never remember bigger pre-weekend crowds than today. You can’t walk Harbor Dr. or Fifth.”

Peter wasn’t alone.

Fox broadcaster and Hall of Famer John Smoltz: “I’d like San Diego be in the rotation every three years.”

Events such as this should tell us, tell voters: We can be better and bigger than we think, which is small.

We didn’t outdo ourselves. When we do what we can do, we’re better than most.

The game itself (won by the American League, which ridiculously means its pennant winner will get World Series home-field advantage) was what it was supposed to be, an exhibition featuring the greatest ballplayers on the planet.

What it was for the most part, with the exception of a few oldies, was a showcase for the young. Twenty-seven of the players were 26 years old or younger, and 30 made the All-Star Game for the first time.

“This stuff is unbelievable,” said Boston Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr., who just turned 26 and made his first All-Star Game appearance. “I think a lot of us can appreciate now how something so small can make such a big difference.

“I’m excited to be here, excited to be here with my teammates, excited to be here for David Ortiz’s last All-Star Game.”

Probably the most revered player here was David “Big Papi” Ortiz, Boston’s 40-year-old designated hitter, who is having a marvelous season in this, his final year as a player without a glove. He likes being respected by the youngsters.

“You see the future of the game telling you they like the way you do things,” Ortiz said.

It’s a rite of passage, and while many players obviously don’t mind seeing a nemesis retire, there’s something about the tug of the game, how it’s difficult to let go.

“I don’t know if I want him to go; he means so much to the game,” said Toronto third baseman Josh Donaldson, whose Blue Jays are in the same American League East division as Boston. “Even though he’s an opponent of mine, I respect his game.

“The hardest thing is to let it go when you’ve been doing it so long. But, if he retires, I’m not going to be super-upset. I’m not going to try and convince him to stay. It’s not my job.”

Not long ago, when the game belonged to the young, the young wasn’t good enough. It is now. We’re witnessing the greatest influx of baseball talent of the past half-century, and just about all of it was on display here Tuesday night.

How can you not enjoy Bryce Harper, the Washington Nationals’ young lion, who wears a “Make Baseball Great Again” cap and openly dislikes the designated hitter, the All-Star Game deciding home-field advantage and the defensive shift?

Now that, folks, is an All-Star in an All-Star city.

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Twitter: @sdutCanepa