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.

Rob Manfred explains reasoning behind proposal to cut 42 minor league teams

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As we learned earlier this week, Major League Baseball wants to contract 42 minor league teams, mostly in short-season and rookie ball. The proposal earned a lot of backlash, including from some of the teams on the chopping block and from Congress. MLB responded with its own letter to Congress, written by deputy commissioner Dan Halem, explaining the league’s reasoning.

In the letter, Halem complains about the lack of competition between minor league teams and independent teams. Halem wrote, “The lack of competition among operators of teams for an affiliation with a Major League Club has reduced the incentive for some affiliated Minor League teams to improve their facilities and player amenities.” It is an interesting thing to write as someone representing a $10 billion business that has benefited for a century from an antitrust exemption.

Halem also noted that MLB has several goals that are supposedly attained by cutting 26 percent of the minors: ensuring the quality of the facilities for the players, reducing the travel burden, improving the “compensation, accommodations, and amenities” for players, improving the affiliation process between minor league and major league teams.

Commissioner Rob Manfred essentially echoed that sentiment on Thursday, per Newsday’s Laura Albanese. He gave four reasons behind the proposal: inadequate facilities, travel, poor pay, drafting and signing players who don’t have a realistic shot to make it to the majors. The last reason is a new one, but let’s go over those four reasons in context.

It is true that some, perhaps even most, of the facilities of the 42 named teams are inadequate. It’s not all of them. As NECN’s Jack Thurston reports, the owner of the short-season Lowell Spinners, Dave Heller, said that his team’s stadium is “arguably the best facility in the New York-Penn League,” speaking highly of its lighting and field conditions. The Quad Cities River Bandits, the Astros’ Single-A affiliate and also on the chopping block, renovated their stadium a handful of times over the last 12 years. In fact, it earned an award from BallparkDigest.com for “Best Ballpark Improvement” in both 2008 and ’09, and finished third in the 2018 running for “Best View in the Minors.” At any rate, if facility quality is such a big issue, why did the Athletics continue to play in a stadium that repeatedly had its sewage system overflow in 2013?

Travel is certainly a big issue for minor leaguers because they mostly travel by bus, not plane. Having teams located closer to each other would be more beneficial in this regard. Or — and hear me out, here — major league teams could take on the extra expenditure of paying for their minor leaguers’ airfare. Several years ago, the Phillies took on the extra expenditure of making sure their minor leaguers ate healthy food and that has worked out well. The Blue Jays took on the extra expenditure of giving their minor leaguers a pay raise and that has worked out well. The Red Sox took on the extra expenditure of installing a sleep room at Fenway Park to ensure their players were well-rested and that has worked out well. No one is suggesting that Single-A players have to fly first class on every flight, but the travel issue is an easy fix that doesn’t require contracting 42 teams. Teams have individually chosen to improve their players’ quality of life and it has yielded positive results. Imagine it on a league-wide scale for thousands of players in their formative years.

Manfred citing minor league pay as a basis for the proposal is laughable. His own league successfully lobbied Congress to amend language in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, classifying minor league players as seasonal workers. That means they are not entitled to a minimum wage or overtime pay, among other worker protections. If the pay of minor league players was so important to Major League Baseball, it wouldn’t have pressured the government to legally ensure they didn’t have to pay them a living wage. Every baseball team is worth at least a billion dollars. The league has set year-over-year revenue records for 16 consecutive years, crossing $10 billion in 2018. Minor leaguers could be compensated well without robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Lastly, it is true that a majority of minor league players will never reach the major leagues. That doesn’t mean that their presence in the minor leagues or their effort to realize their dreams have zero value. Lopping off the bottom 26 percent of minor leaguers might nominally increase the level of skill on each roster, but it eliminates so many jobs — well over 1,000. Furthermore, there are few incentives for athletes to want to slog through several years of the minors as it is, as Kyler Murray recently showed, but there would be even fewer incentives by shrinking the minors (and, consequently, the draft). Shrinking the minors and the draft could lead to more minor league free agents, but if baseball is actually interested in a free market (it’s not) then it should abolish the draft entirely as well as the arbitration system.

These reasons, each uniquely fallacious, hide the real reason behind the proposal: shifting money around so Major League Baseball can say it will award pay raises to minor leaguers, ending a years-long stretch of bad P.R., without actually cutting into profits. MLB could have afforded to pay minor leaguers a living wage years ago and it chose not to. MLB could have chosen not to lobby Congress for the ability to continue underpaying minor leaguers years ago, but it chose to do so. Everything since has been the league trying to avoid lying in the bed it made for itself.