Dispatches from Kansas City: “If this is what we’re doing, then dammit let’s do it with passion”

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HardballTalk’s Drew Silva is filing regular stories from this year’s MLB All-Star Game festivities in Kansas City, Missouri. Part One. Part Two.

I drove out to Kauffman Stadium around 10 a.m. this morning to pick up my press credentials — a badge on a lanyard, basically, with my headshot and “NBC SPORTS” emblazoned across the bottom. “Must be worn at all times,” it states. “No autographs.”

Kauffman is a few miles east of downtown, right along the interstate. It shares a sprawl of asphalt parking lots with Arrowhead Stadium, a cathedral for football fans and home to the beloved Kansas City Chiefs. I’ve been to Arrowhead twice and left without a voice on both occasions. Chiefs fans don’t sit down. The bright red seats are merely noisemakers, and if you’re not screaming your face off you’re the enemy.

I’ve never been inside Kauffman Stadium, not yet at least. The media stuff was handed out at a ticket window.

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FanFest is the first event on MLB’s All-Star schedule. It’s being held over the next four days at the Kansas City Convention Center, a long, modern-looking building adjacent to the Power & Light District — a kind of planned nightlife and entertainment center, the likes of which can be found in most medium-sized towns. A blues band was rocking close by, but the 106-degree heat drove most of today’s attendees indoors.

source:  Admission for adults was $30. Tickets for children were $25. My press pass allowed me to glide through the makeshift turnstiles at no charge.

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I love irrational fandom. You should have a favorite team and you should buy a jersey of your favorite player and you should sit in seats that you can’t really afford and you should get overly optimistic during five-game winning streaks. Because in the grand scheme of things, a professional sport is a pretty silly concept. We should all be out saving the planet.

If this is what we’re doing instead, then dammit let’s do it with passion.

FanFest is a celebration of that irrationality. Adults wait in line in jersey shirts to meet retired players and kids slide onto pads while videos of famous stolen bases play on giant screens. You can test your fastball at radar-ready pitching stations or work on your swing in batting cages.

On a turf field in the middle of the warehouse-like space, former Royals first baseman Mike Sweeney taught a clinic on plate approach to a group of preteens. A kid in a royal blue Mike Moustakas tee listened intently.

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Jack Morris and Jeff Nelson took questions from fans on an MLB.TV broadcast near the back of the Fest. There were sponsored booths from Rawlings, Phiten, Taco Bell and various baseball memorabilia companies. Dave Winfield was inside a fabricated clubhouse by the exit, talking about his upbringing in Minnesota and recalling some memories from his playing days. All-Star Game-themed artwork was on display. There was a stand for ice cream sundaes. The ice cream bowls were plastic Royals helmets.

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Tomorrow is the Futures Game and the Legends & Celebrity Softball Game. I’ll get my first feel for Kauffman Stadium and work for the first time from a big-league press box. Tonight, it’s more Boulevard and barbecue.

Evan Longoria: ‘I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base’

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The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.

Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.

Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”

Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.

The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.