From a fan’s perspective Chase Field has been dark for nearly two weeks since the Arizona Diamondbacks completed their final home game before the All-Star break on June 29, 2011. Since that time the field and stadium has been going through several changes in preparation for the Mid-Summer Classic All-Star game to be held on July 12, 2011.
Like kids anticipating Christmas morning, fans have been milling around Chase Field hoping to get a glimpse of what was happening inside. Finally today the turnstiles were opened for the first series of All-Star events.
Today was designated as All-Star Sunday and included two games at Chase Field. The first contest is the Sirius/XM Radio Futures Game. This game pitted some of the best up-and-coming talent on the baseball horizon.
The gates to Chase Field were opened two hours prior to first-pitch and from the looks of the lines outside in the Arizona heat it would take a while to get everyone inside. The security to Chase Field was definitely more thorough than is typically found at a Diamondbacks game. The guards were pleasant and friendly but the process did take substantially longer as they looked through each bag and parcel entering the stadium.
At the gates we were met by many of the same friendly faces we normally see manning the turnstiles at Chase Field. It was like seeing old friends or relatives you’ve missed seeing for a while. As with the security personnel, the guest relations staff were dressed in All-Star apparel. The color of shirts signifying which department they were working in.
Given the amount of people entering the stadium the concourses were relatively empty which was at first rather confusing. As we began to make our way down the section to our seats it became apparent why. Nearly all of the fans entering had rushed down to the field level walls hoping to get an autograph from one of the players that were warming up.
Looking around the stadium it was amazing how much work had been done. The centerfield grass had the All-Star game logo in large letters. The left-field wall sported several new signs as did the RideNow Pool area. In fact, the RideNow signage in the pool has been covered up with MLB Fan Cave logos and signs.
All around the stadium were signs for Taco Bell and Sirius/XM who were sponsoring today’s event. There was also a curious white line that went towards left field. It took us a little while to figure out the line was acting as a beacon to the auxiliary press area, which has been set up in what is normally the picnic pavilion in Left Field. I guess journalists can’t follow directions or get distracted easily so they need a line to follow to get them where they need to be.
The teams on the field were dressed in Sedona Red jerseys with Navy sleeves for the players on the USA squad and Navy jerseys with Sedona Red sleeves for the World players. For the Futures game the team is divided up based on birth country. Half the players are from the United States and the other half were from countries outside of the US. The teams were led by former All-Stars Mike Piazza managing the USA team and Diamondbacks legend Luis Gonzalez managing the World team.
The game itself was exciting to watch as some of the best minor league players demonstrated their skills on a grand stage. I was expecting a capacity crowd but there appeared to be some 10,000 seats open mostly in the upper deck.
The USA squad was victorious after squandering an early lead then battling back to come from behind to win. The crowd cheered wildly rooting for their favorite players. Diamondbacks representative Tyler Skaggs started the game pitching one inning allowing one hit (which should have been an error in my opinion) while giving up one walk and striking out one.
Diamondbacks minor league slugger Paul Goldschmidt played the entire game at first base. He made several nifty scoops in the field but bobbled a couple leaving Diamondbacks fans to still wonder whether his fielding will catch up to his hitting abilities before he reaches the Major Leagues.
Everyone was hoping to see some of his legendary power with a home run in front of the hometown fans but the World pitching kept him in check most of the night. In all the Diamondbacks should be proud of their representatives and it gave everyone some insight into what should be a bright future in Arizona.
After the Futures game, temporary fences were installed and the Taco Bell All-Star Legends and Celebrity Softball game was played. This was obviously a game for fun and the crowd loved it. Several Hall of Fame players were in attendance including Ricky Henderson who led off the game with a home run, which seemed appropriate.
The highlight of the game was Luis Gonzalez who made a home run robbing catch in left field and added a home run to help pace the National League to a victory. Olympic softball pitcher Jenny Finch pitched for the National League which also featured such luminaries as Mike Piazza catching, Mark Grace at first, Ozzie Smith at shortstop and Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald in center. Recording artist Jordin Sparks who will be singing the National Anthem on Tuesday played right field and seemed to be loving every second of being on the field.
The night ended with a Celebrity and Legends home run derby. Henderson and recording artist Nick Jonas represented the American League team. Jonas was by far the best celebrity ballplayer on the field and had clearly played baseball in the past. He was also the most focused taking the game much more serious than some of his other celebrity friends. The National League derby participants included James Denton and Gonzalez.
With the contest all tied up, Luis Gonzalez stepped to the plate and as he did so many times at Chase Field, he hit the contest winning home run over the right field fence as the crowd erupted in celebration. Gonzalez was named MVP of the softball game capping off a perfect evening of baseball.
So now the festivities have begun. Next up at Chase Field will be the Home Run Derby on Monday followed by the All-Star game on Tuesday. It is indeed a great time to be in the desert.