‘Hart of the Order’
By Sean Hartnett
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Every summer, the MLB All-Star Game is an exhibition of baseball at its finest.  Year after year, it delivers as a showpiece of the skill and drama that is seen in hotly-contested regular season ballgames.

Baseball’s rivals simply can’t replicate an accurate representation of their sport into the All-Star format.  The NBA All-Star Game is basketball on steroids, achieving point totals that would rarely be seen in a regular season contest.  There isn’t any emphasis on defense and turns out to be a showy, alley-oop o-rama.  Same goes for the NHL, where hard checking is forbidden and players search for excuses not to attend.  The Pro Bowl is a snooze-fest with a large number of rules prohibiting the game from actually being exciting.  Have you ever met an NFL fan that looks forward to the Pro Bowl?

Unlike its competitors, the MLB All-Star Game is able show off all aspects of the great sport of baseball.  I remember watching in awe with the rest of America when Torii Hunter robbed Barry Bonds in Milwaukee in 2002.  It was a jaw-dropping moment that only ‘The Midsummer Classic’ can produce.  I’m far too young to have seen Reggie Jackson’s 1971 blast off the transformer at Tiger Stadium when it occurred but watching old footage makes it seem an almost superhuman feat akin to Roy Hobbs in The Natural.

Same goes for Pete Rose a year earlier at Riverfront Stadium, another moment that lives on in All-Star lore.  Rose chugged around third base and aligned his body like that of a linebacker and separated catcher Ray Fosse’s shoulder to win the 1970 All-Star game.  Those who witnessed it continue to debate whether it was a passionate play that broke the deadlock in the bottom of the 12th or an uncalled for act of contempt for an opponent.

You don’t have to look as far back as the 1970’s for All-Star magic, as 2008 served up a classic at old Yankee Stadium.  In the final season at the hallowed ground in the Bronx, an All-Star game befitting the mystique and aura of the famous building took place.  You knew that something extraordinary could happen on a night where Hall-of-Famers joined present-day stars on the field during pre-game ceremonies.  In the 15th inning, Michael Young flew out to rightfield as Corey Hart rifled a throw home.  On a bang-bang play at the plate, Justin Morneau evaded the tag to win the 2008 thriller.

Fans of our national pastime are a different breed and battle lines are drawn between American League and National League supporters.  In last year’s All-Star game, the NL finally broke a 13-year winless drought.  The AL fans always reveled in the dominance of the ‘Junior Circuit’ but maybe the pendulum has begun to swing in the other direction.  Arizona’s Chase Field is the venue of the 2011 Midsummer Classic but for the first time in All-Star history, a National League park will be host to an exhibition in which both sides are fielding designated hitters.

Most ‘Senior Circuit’ fans will argue that it is an unfair decree in a game where the outcome decides home field advantage in the World Series.  National League followers traditionally believe that AL pitchers should be forced to bat NL ballparks, thus the new rules breaks the heritage of the sport.  American League fans will quickly point to the possibility of pitchers injuring themselves on the base paths and the extra offense that the DH brings.  I’m sure that this isn’t an issue that opposing sides will agree on and this will add further fire to this year’s Midsummer Classic.

What can fans look forward to on July 12th?  How about the prospect of the 1.89 ERA Jair Jurrjens challenging AL hitters with his un-hittable stuff?  Same goes for the dominating Justin Verlander who leads the AL with 130 strikeouts.  Will homer-crushing stars like Prince Fielder, Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Hamilton be able to master the best aces in the game?

Fans in New York have marveled all summer watching Jose Reyes energize the Mets.  He’ll be looking to do the same from the leadoff spot for the NL.  Yankee fans know well how dangerous Jacoby Ellsbury is on the base paths and it’s possible that either of these speed burners can start a rally or score the winning run.  Curtis Granderson has produced many highlight reel catches in the Bronx and will want to captivate fans on the national stage.  Carlos Beltran carried the Mets to many late-inning victories and could be the man to win it for the NL.

There are so many scenarios that can come into play in an All-Star game and that’s precisely why fans are drawn toward their televisions in anticipation.  Baseball is an unpredictable game and seeing the stars align across the diamond is the joy of any hardball fanatic.

What’s your favorite All-Star moment and what are you most looking forward to when the stars take Chase Field on July 12th?  Leave your comments below and send your tweets to @HartyLFC.

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