LOS ANGELES – The problem with baseball is that all too often your eyes betray you. Or at least you can’t see the whole story. What you see in the field is hardly even the tip of the iceberg in a specific sport with large sample sizes and an unexpected value that must be quantified to understand.
That makes the All-Star game a meaningless game—I mean, it was anyway, and those of us who thought it was kind of cool when the score determined the home grounds advantage for the World Championships know to keep this up—as a game and even on an individual level. Aaron Judge is still the best soccer player on the planet even though he went 0-for-2 with a pair of hits Tuesday night in Los Angeles.
We could try to write how one moment defines a game or season on its way to its final destination, but that’s pretty much a poetic license. But in all the stars, all the moments are there. It’s exactly as big, fun, or touching as it made you feel at first sight.
Or in other words: there are no analytics, only sentiment.
In May, as the Seattle Mariners came through New York, Julio Rodriguez spoke of being the captain of baseball’s loot at the time, despite describing strength more than speed as a possibility.
“There are a lot of guys out there that someone else on the outside would say, ‘Oh, you’re just a power-hitter. “I feel I shouldn’t limit myself to who I want to be.”
He had played about 30 major league games at that point and declared that he was “used to it”.
He’s played nearly 100 league games now. His 21 stolen bases are third in baseball and lead all rookies to war. He was also the only one to compete in the All-Star Game, and the only one to compete in the Home Run Derby.
The vibes on Tuesday night were rowdy, lighthearted, and a bit boring in terms of actual baseball but a decent showcase of players’ characters that felt more natural and less begging, than attempts to prove the game can usually be a good time. But in the end, there was nothing quite like The J-Rod Show the night before.
These days, the Home Run Derby is the highlight of All-Star Week. This is not an indictment of either event nor is this just because all kinds of people dig the long ball. The derby is proven for the same reason that every other sporting event does: the excitement of competition. The inherent drawback of any show game is making it feel like winning is important – at least to the participating athletes. All-Star prioritizes giving each guy his moment and letting players get distracted a bit in order to stream on the optimal strategy, as they should. The end result was that the only real concern came from rooting the National League to score an extra goal and send us into a tie-breaking derby at home.
The real derby, though, are these guys attempt. In a head-to-head competition, it’s hard not to notice a build-up of tension or marvel at the unique displays of strength and stamina.
In terms of the sheer grace of watching baseball, it culminated when Rodriguez — who has 30 home minor league runs and 16 so far this season in the league — fired 32 long balls to start the derby, a number he won’t top. all night long. It was a moment everyone saw Poetry. He eliminated two-time reigning champions – and far from someone who takes it seriously – Pete Alonso with 31 in the semi-finals before knocking out once against Juan Soto in the final round.
Soto won the derby – and rumors about his unknown future won the news cycle – but Rodriguez won the night. (He also used to, as himself, regularly hit Soto in “Call of Duty.” “If he says he’s better than me, he’s lying.”)
“What did you show the fans?” Rodriguez considered after the derby, “Who am I, I guess. A bit of my style…I think they know a little bit now.”
This is old news now. All-Star week-old exploits like Dodger Dogs pans consist of the only food available in a press box. But with the right performance, the impression lasts. All the guys in Los Angeles are reacting this week for their talent, but it’s hard to say whether Rodriguez’s eyes or smile are more attractive (it’s the four saucer-sized diamond necklaces that light up the brightest).
Julio Rodríguez came to the All-Star this week, and left as a star Star – which is very rare. We are fortunate to see this stature consolidate early in his career. The 2022 Home Run Derby was the beginning, but it was only the beginning.
He will return later this week to the Mariners’ 14-game break into a run that pushed them into wild card mode. There is still a long way to go before the end of the season as Seattle tries to capture the longest continuous post-season drought in sports. All the more reason to watch what Rodriguez can do.
Even if they fail, another shot awaits them on the national stage a year from now when the All-Star celebrations go to Seattle.
Naturally, amid the chaos of departing players and boxers wearing commemorative jerseys, Rodriguez answered questions not only about whether he would compete in another derby, but whether he would hit a clean ball out of the field.
He said, “I might try.” “Maybe I try.”