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The baseball gods may have had me in mind when they made the 2018 baseball schedule. While I had planned to be in the nation’s capital for this year’s All-Star Game, the icing on my baseball cake was the Texas Rangers playing in Baltimore the weekend before the midsummer classic.

For me, it was five fun-filled days of exciting baseball activities. When my wife Sandy and I boarded the American Airlines flight that would take us to the Baltimore-Washington International Airport, I noticed many of the passengers wearing Texas Rangers hats and shirts. As a fan of baseball and the Rangers, I was in good company.

Our first stop after picking up our rental car at the airport was nearby Ellicott City, where my wife and I stayed in the home of her childhood friend, Diane, and her husband Ryndy. Ellicott City had been in the news recently as torrential rains flooded the downtown area for the second time in two years. Fortunately, our friends’ home was spared from any major damage. Diane said that “Ellicott City is like a bowl” and that their house “sits on the lip of the bowl.”

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Baltimore has always been one of my favorite Major League cities, and I have great memories of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.  During the time that I lived in the Washington, D.C., area, I would frequently drive the 40 miles to Baltimore to see Major League games since Washington did not have a team then. It was in Baltimore that I saw Cal Ripken, Jr., tie Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game streak on Sept. 6, 1995.

Going to Baltimore reminds me of Charley Pride’s “The Streets of Baltimore,” when he sings that “The prettiest place on Earth is Baltimore at night.” It is a beautiful city.

The weekend before the All-Star Game, I was fortunate to be in the Orioles press box assisting Rangers Spanish broadcaster Eleno Ornelas, who is in his 19th year as the Spanish voice of the Rangers. For the three-game series, I worked with Eleno announcing both lineups and providing some color and analysis during the broadcasts.

Four months earlier, I had been to the Orioles’ spring training facility in Sarasota, Florida, to see them play. What I found interesting was the number of former Rangers who are now with the Baltimore club, including manager Buck Showalter and some of the other coaches as well as players Chris Davis, Darren O’Day, Craig Gentry, and Louis Sardines.

The Rangers took the first game of the series 5-4 only to lose the next two by one run apiece. Still, there was some excitement for Rangers fans as All-Star Shin-Su Choo extended his on-base streak to 51 games.

For Orioles fans, it would be the last time they would see their All-Star shortstop Manny Machado at home in an Orioles uniform. He was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers the day after the All-Star Game, where he was the lone Orioles representative on the American League club.

Prior to the final game before the All-Star break, Rangers manager Jeff Bannister encouraged his players to use the four-day break to sort of have a “mental reset” and a “physical refresh.” The manager felt it was important for the players to get away from the game and relax with family. 

Bannister also talked about Choo, who was selected to the All-Star Game for the first time in his 12-year career.

The author asked Choo how he learned English so well. “From listening to my teammates all these years,” he replied.

“I want him to soak in the whole experience and appreciate the fact that he is an All-Star,” Bannister said. “This is the highest recognition you can get as a player.”

The manager encouraged Choo to enjoy the experience with family and know that he is representing himself, his family, his country, and his team.

*****

It had been nearly half a century since the All-Star Game was played in the nation’s capital. The year was 1969, and heavy rains forced the postponement of the game. It was played the following day at the old Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium.

I have fond memories of that historic stadium because that is where I saw my first Major League game. On a cold April evening in 1970, I accompanied a few of my Army buddies to see the Washington Senators play the Detroit Tigers. Unbeknownst to me, the Senators would move to Arlington, Texas, two years later to become the Texas Rangers, leaving D.C. without a Major League club

It would be 33 years before RFK Stadium would once again be the home of a Major League team, when the Montreal Expos franchise relocated to Washington, D.C., and became the Washington Nationals in 2005. That lasted three years, as the team moved a few miles away in 2008 to their new state-of-the-art stadium named Nationals Park.

Ten years later, it would be the site of one of the most popular sporting events: the All-Star Game, the midsummer classic, baseball’s summer showcase. By whatever name you want to call it, the city of Washington went all out to make this annual sports spectacle, which is viewed by millions worldwide, a cherished and memorable event. 

For five days in the nation’s capital, politics took a backseat to the National Pastime. As my good friend Rick Legon said, “It was like a baseball fans convention.”

Appropriately, the All-Star fest was held at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. It featured pitching tunnels, batting cages, PlayStation videos, and more. There were also a lot of artifacts from the National Baseball Hall of Fame. There was a Negro Baseball League exhibit as well as an exhibit detailing the history of Hispanic ball players. It was there that I learned that baseball icon Ted Williams, a Hall of Fame member and the first Texas Rangers manager, was of Hispanic descent. The San Diego native’s mother was Mexican-American.

Across town, the Library of Congress was showcasing Baseball Americana. The exhibit chronicled the history of the game, which has not always been called “baseball.” Early on, it was called “town ball” or “round ball.”

Once I entered the exhibit hall on the eve of the All-Star Game, the first thing that caught my eye was a Ted Williams quote on the wall that read, “They invented the All-Star Game for Willie Mays.”

Another quote on the wall was by Cal Ripken, Jr., who said, “You can be a kid as long as you want when you play baseball.”

While it is not uncommon to see lots of tourists in D.C. during the summer, it is unusual to see many of them wearing baseball team jerseys and hats from various Major League clubs.

*****

The grounds crew preps Oriole Park at Camden Yards before the Rangers-Orioles series.

It was now time for me to head to Nationals Park to pick up my press credential and get ready for the players’ media availability. Each of the All-Star players was seated behind a table in a huge room. Hundreds of reporters had ventured into the room. 

I, of course, wanted to talk to Choo. As I made my way to his table, I saw dozens of reporters chatting up Jose Altuve, Mike Trout, Aaron Judge, and other high-profile players.

Being the only Korean in the All-Star Game, Choo was surrounded by a large number of Korean reporters. He answered their questions in Korean. He then turned and answered other reporters’ questions in English. Unlike most other foreign players, who use an interpreter, Choo speaks fluent English. I asked him how he learned English so well. “From listening to my teammates all these years,” he replied.

He also said that teammate Adrien Beltre gave him some useful advice about the All-Star Game and what to expect. “Just have fun and enjoy yourself,” Beltre told him.

As I walked past the table of former Ranger Mitch Moreland, who was named to his first All-Star Game, I stopped to ask him if he prefers being in the midsummer classic or having four days off. “I’ve had plenty of four days off over the years,” he said. “This is better.”

Later I sat in the press box to watch the Homerun Derby. Taking place the day before the big game, the derby began in 1985 and has quickly become a fan favorite. More that 42,000 showed up to witness hometown favorite Bryce Harper win the coveted Homerun Trophy is his home park.

After the pre-game events like the Futures Game, the Celebrity Softball Game, and the Homerun Derby, the day I had been looking forward to finally arrived. 

Media from all over the world descended on Nationals Park for the big game.

While I had been to two All-Star Games before, this was the first one where I had a press credential that gave me access to the press box, the clubhouse, and the field.

The festivities began early with the red carpet arrival ceremony of the players, many of them wearing some colorful and outlandish apparel. Harper modeled his jacket exposing the inner lining that was adorned with many of the Washington monuments. Choo was decked out in a white jacket and red shoes that matched the red carpet.

With game-time five hours away, rain clouds covered the sky as a storm loomed. People exiting the metro station were quickly urged to take cover. The heavy rains lasted about an hour. By then, both dugouts had about a couple of inches of water in them as the grounds crew worked feverishly to pump out water.

As I looked at the heavy rain that was falling, I prayed that history not repeat itself and force a postponement of the game like it happened 49 years earlier. Fortunately, the rain stopped, and the grounds crew began to remove the tarp that had been covering the field.

The field was now in pristine condition and ready for the pre-game ceremony. I watched in awe from the top of the press box the players’ introductions.

It had to be the most touching and beautiful pre-game ceremony I have ever witnessed as 29 Medal of Honor recipients were recognized for their heroics in time of war. One of them threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Afterward, the players walked over to personally thank and shake hands with these heroes.  

Also making this ceremony special to me was that the color guard was from my old Army unit, the Military District of Washington. 

Following the National Anthem, performed by a group of local choirs, and a military flyover that featured four F-18 jets, it was time to begin the 89th All-Star Game.

It was 10 innings of excitement that featured a record-setting 10 homeruns, five by each club. The American League team won 8-6.  Rangers’ Choo went one for two and scored a run.

The weekend before the All-Star Game, the author sat in the Orioles press box assisting the Rangers’ Spanish broadcaster throughout the three-game series.

Before packing up to head home, I returned to Camden Yards for a tour of the 26-year-old ballpark. Since I am currently a tour guide at Globe Life Park in Arlington, I wanted to see how other stadium tours are done. I learned that Orioles Park at Camden Yards became the standard for other new stadiums, including Globe Life Park.

As we approached DFW International Airport, I looked out the window of the plane bringing me home from my five-day baseball adventure to see Globe Life Park, the site of the 1995 All-Star Game. I also saw the construction of Globe Life Field, which is scheduled to be ready for Opening Day 2020.

The Rangers’ new home could very well host an All-Star Game in the near future. Baseball Commissioner Ron Manfred alluded to that at the groundbreaking ceremony last September. 

It would definitely be a welcome sight for baseball and Rangers fans like me.

Arlington-based freelance writer Ozzie Garza is a frequent contributor to the Fort Worth Weekly. A North Texas State University graduate, Garza served in the U.S. Army as a public information officer for the Military District of Washington in Washington, D.C. He also worked on Capitol Hill, at the U.S. Department of Labor, and for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. He has written numerous articles for the Rangers’ game program and other sports publications. He is in his second year as a Globe Life Park tour guide.

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