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I went to the All-Star FanFest and it was OK

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MINNEAPOLIS, MN — For the past two years people have been telling me that I needed to go to FanFest.

“Go to FanFest!” they said.

“Well, I dunno, maybe,” I said.

Just like that.

I didn’t go in New York last year because FanFest was literally ten miles away from the ballpark and I just didn’t have that kind of time and energy. Here in Minneapolis, however, FanFest is in the convention center across the street from the hotel where all the players and press conferences were yesterday. I walked into the press conference/player availability room a little after noon yesterday and, in the space of two minutes, heard three or four different players offer some variation of “I’m just soaking it all in” and/or offering their takes on Derek Jeter. At that point I decided it was safe to leave and go to FanFest.

I’m not exactly what the purpose of FanFest is. I suppose it has a lot of purposes. It’s part merchandise-selling. Part fan-excitement-generator. Part trade show. Part traveling baseball museum. All in one of those enormous airplane-hangar-size convention center rooms. They sell tickets to it for $10 a pop and the tickets look like baseball or concert tickets, so you mentally prepare yourself for some of affirmative entertainment. It doesn’t really come. You just kind of go in and wander around.

I wandered around for an hour or so trying to see if there was a there there. Here are some of the sights I saw:

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Every year there is some themed-statue thing. Statues of Liberty, corn, guitars, whatever is specific to the city, pained up with baseball logos. We have Peanuts characters this year, I presume because Charles Schulz was born in Minneapolis. I liked this theme very much and, given how much baseball appeared in Peanuts, it was quite appropriate. Joe Shlabotnik for the Hall of Fame.

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When you walk in to the big room, this is the first thing you see. Bert Blyleven was standing next to the big baseball posing for pictures (You can sort of see him behind the lady in the white t-shirt). Everything in the place was big. Big baseballs, big jerseys hanging from the ceiling a few more big things you’ll see below.

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A D.J. was spinning tunes. He was totally breakin’ it down, yo. For example, the song he was segueing into as I took this picture was “All I wanna do” by Sheryl Crow. Really, I’m not making that up. That was the hot jam he was dropping on us. Your mom was there rolling her eyes at how lame the songs were. In other news, baseball fan demographics are not the best in the world for those interested in reaching the hip, bleeding-edge tastemakers.

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Next to a green screen setup where you could have your picture taken “with” baseball stars. I watched five people go through the line. All five of them picked the Twins’ mascot, TC Bear, leaving Mauer, Cabrera, Puig and Jeter here all lonely and discarded.

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Grant Balfour isn’t even in the damn All-Star Game, but here he is parking his sweet ride in the middle of FanFest. What a guy.

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This was either an indoor Wiffle Ball game involving kids who could barely run, hit or catch or else it was Texas Rangers pregame drills. Hard to tell from this distance.

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The section with the traveling Baseball Hall of Fame exhibit was genuinely cool. Lots of memorabilia, plaques and the like. Thing I learned: Roberto Alomar has his entire name, including his maternal surname, Velázquez, on his plaque. I didn’t realize that the Hall of Fame did that with Latin players — regular MLB records and publications tend not to — but a quick scan shows that Clemente, Cepeda and Aparicio all have their maternal surnames on their plaques too. I think that’s pretty cool.

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Sorry folks, there’s no baseball that counts until Friday. Moose out front shoulda told ya.

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Another photo mockup thing, this time allowing you to have your picture taken in an MLB Network blazer on the MLB Network set. Fact: the person who looks the 356th best at this desk today will be given Chris Russo’s time slot and show. Fact: No matter who it is, whatever show that person does will be more watchable than the Chris Russo show.

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Oh no! Harmon, I warned you not to look straight into the eyes of the Witch of the Woodlands! That the curse would affect even one as mighty as you! But did you listen? Nooo!  In other news, the person who carved this Killebrew statue thinks that Killebrew choked up.

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This was a shirt that was actually for sale. For like $40. Someone created this shirt and thinks a non-crazy person would pay $40 for it and wear it out in the world where other people could see it.

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I didn’t get the price tag on these, but if I was a big famous rock star I’d buy 30 different ones and use them on tour. That way I’d get that extra cheer from the crowd when I did the “HELLO, [INSERT CITY NAME HERE]!!!” thing.

Anyway. That’s pretty much FanFest. I’m not sure it’s worth $10, but I suppose you could spend $10 on a lot of other things. If you’re on the fence about it, well, now you don’t have to go.

The Rays are considering reliever Tyler Clippard

New York Mets pitcher Tyler Clippard throws during the eighth inning of Game 4 of the National League baseball championship series against the Chicago Cubs Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
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On Thursday, we learned that the Diamondbacks were still considering free agent reliever Tyler Clippard. You can add the Rays to the list as well, per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.

The Rays traded lefty reliever Jake McGee to the Rockies in exchange for outfielder Corey Dickerson in late January, so Clippard would be able to slot right in behind closer Brad Boxberger. Clippard, 30, compiled a 2.92 ERA with 64 strikeouts and 31 walks over 71 innings in a season split between the Athletics and Mets. The strikeout rate was at its lowest since the right-hander become a full-time reliever in 2009, and his walk rate was at its highest since 2010, which may be a factor in his still being a free agent in February.

Report: Juan Uribe is too expensive for the Giants

New York Mets' Juan Uribe follows the flight of his solo home run off Colorado Rockies starting pitcher Chris Rusin in the third inning of a baseball game Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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ESPN’s Buster Olney reports that, while the Giants are interested in free agent Juan Uribe, the utilityman’s asking price is too high for the club. Despite having a capable starter at every position, the Giants are a bit thin on depth and Uribe would be a nice fit given his versatility.

Uribe, 36, spent last season with the Dodgers, Braves, and Mets. He hit a combined .253/.320/.417 with 14 home runs and 43 RBI over 397 plate appearances. In his only postseason plate appearance for the Mets, he hit an RBI single in Game 3 of the World Series against the Royals.

Uribe has mostly played third base in recent seasons, but also has plenty of experience at second base and shortstop.

A study showed “grit” isn’t always a great attribute

Washington Nationals left fielder Bryce Harper slides into third with a three RBI triple during the third inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres, Friday, April 25, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
AP Photo/Nick Wass
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This popped up in my Twitter feed and I felt it had some applicability to baseball. This past October, Olga Khazan of The Atlantic highlighted a study in which researchers from the University of Southern California and Northeastern University performed three separate but related experiments to determine how “gritty” their subjects were.

One experiment had them solve anagrams. The second, a computer game. Finally, the third test had them solve math problems. Those who were deemed “grittier” attempted to solve fewer anagrams, which means they were sticking too long with difficult words rather than skipping and moving onto easier ones. The “grittier” crowd worked harder when losing at the computer game, but worked only as hard as the less-gritty when winning. With the math problems, the subjects when stuck were given a choice to take $1 and quit or keep going for a potential reward of $2 but $0 if they failed. The study showed that the “grittier” people weren’t any more productive but were more willing to risk the $1 for the doubled prize.

“Grit” is also a common colloquialism in baseball circles, used to refer to players who always run out a routine ground ball or pop-up. Other common characteristics include a willingness to dive for fly balls, slide into players to break up double plays, and to stick up for their teammates when there’s a disagreement between members of two teams. Often, those deemed “gritty” are in many other ways subpar players, but their perceived “grit” gives them value.

Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper is a rare superstar player who has earned the “grit” descriptor. There are many examples showing why he has earned it, but the most famous incident occurred on May 13, 2013 at Dodger Stadium. Harper turned his back to the field to chase an A.J. Ellis fly ball but went face-first into the wall, suffering abrasions on his face and a jammed left shoulder. This was during a game the Nationals were comfortably winning 6-0 in the sixth inning. At the time, the Nationals were 95 percent favorites to win the game, according to FanGraphs. Is the risk of suffering an injury — which could keep Harper out only a game or two, or cause him to miss the rest of the season — worth potentially turning a double or triple into an out?

Famously, Philadelphia fans and talking heads got on outfielder Bobby Abreu’s case in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s because he appeared gun-shy when approaching the outfield fence on fly balls. He was under a lot of pressure to sacrifice his body for the supposed good of the team, and developed a reputation as “soft”. As a more recent example, former Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins caught flack from fans when he didn’t run out a routine pop-up against the Mets on August 30, 2012. Then-manager Charlie Manuel benched the veteran. At the time, the Phillies were 62-69 and 17.5 games back of first place in the NL East and 8.5 games behind the second Wild Card. Freak injuries can happen, as Rollins’ teammate Ryan Howard showed when making the final out of the 2011 NLDS against the Cardinals. Is that non-zero injury risk worth the tiny chance that the infielder drops the pop-up and Rollins gets a single (or, in rarer cases, a double) in a game that is essentially meaningless?

The aforementioned study shows that maybe Abreu and Rollins had it right after all. Statistically, a freak injury that occurs on a “hustle” play is bound to happen. Maybe that’s what it will take to stop expecting athletes to put their bodies on the line for no realistic gain.

Zach Britton settles with the Orioles for $6.75 million

Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher Zach Britton delivers a pitch against the Boston Red Sox in the ninth inning of a baseball game at Fenway Park, Tuesday, June 23, 2015, in Boston. The Orioles won 6-4. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
AP Photo/Steven Senne
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The Orioles and closer Zach Britton avoided an arbitration hearing, agreeing to a $6.75 million salary for the 2016 season, Jon Heyman reports. The club has now handled all of its remaining arbitration cases and won’t have to go to a hearing with any players.

Britton, in his second of four years of arbitration eligibility, filed for $7.9 million while the Orioles countered at $5.6 million. $6.75 million is exactly the midpoint between the two submitted figures.

The 28-year-old lefty saved 36 games in 40 chances last season for the O’s while putting up a 1.92 ERA with a 79/14 K/BB ratio over 65 2/3 innings.