MY TAKE : An Evening with the Stars at the Bluegrass World Series
My Take : An Evening (2 actually) with the Stars at the Bluegrass World Series
by Chuck Feist
Every kid growing up playing baseball would love to play in the Major Leagues. As you get older, if you can’t do that then you want to be around them to watch and share their experiences and achievements. That night has happened for me many times since I became a sports photographer and last Monday and Wednesday I added another one to my bucket list when I covered the Bluegrass World Series at Louisville Slugger Field.
It was a series put together with seven baseball teams which were the best collegiate Wooden Bat teams in the country against a group of former MLB stars which included Johnny Damon, Nick Swisher, Adam LaRoche, JD Drew, Jake Peavy, Roy Oswalt, David Ross, Tim Hudson, Chipper Jones, Joe Nathan, Jonathan Papelbon, Jayson Werth, Brad Penny, Corky Miller and Aaron Harang. Just as impressive was the coaching staff of Johnny Bench, Doug Flynn, Tom Browning and Ron Oester. Many of these guys I had the pleasure of watching during their playing days. I still remember my first Reds game in 1980 against the Dodgers in September and I disappointment when Bench wasn’t in the lineup instead it was Joe Nolan. Now, here he was as big as life and enjoying the moment.
The one great thing I took from this was an opportunity to not only photograph this momentous event (because this was the first time it was done at Slugger Field and hopefully not the last), but to converse with several former Major Leaguers (only because there were only about a million questions I would love to ask them). So on game day which happened on Monday as the Louisville Stars (as they were so named) there were many questions to be answered and some were.
For instance, I was pleasantly surprised to see the Stars come out clad in their former MLB uni’s and it made identification so much easier. There was Johnny Damon wearing the pinstripes and J D Drew wearing the Red Sox uniform. Nick Swisher was in pinstripes also which meant shooting them would be so much fun (the Yankees usually won’t wear their whites except at Yankee Stadium. Although Bench and Chipper (because of the HOF ceremony) weren’t in attendence, there was still so much to enjoy. In fact, I asked one of the Star’s how they decided which jerseys to wear since many were with several teams and I was told it was each individual players choice. Some were with as many as five or six so it had to be quite a choice.
One player I was really looking forward to interviewing was Damon, who had quite a history over his playing career. Starting out in the minors in Witchta Kansas and eventually played on nearly six teams during his tenure, but will best be remembered for his grand slam in game seven of the 2004 American League Championship which eventually helped end the CURSE for the Red Sox’s as they won the World Series. Then he went to New York and won another World Series for the Yankees. I finally got a chance to aske him if he ever got tired of accomplishing great things and he said he never really looked at it that way. That he really just enjoyed being a part of the teams he was with and the great people as well. He also mentioned that he played a hand in getting several guys signed for the 2009 season which was New York’s WS season and that getting guys as C.C. Sabathia in the fold was very important along with A J Burnett and Mark Texaria as well. I closed by asking him if when he went in the HOF what team would he like to represent and he surprised me by saying Kansas City.
If Damon was very retrospective, Nick Swisher was a little over the top. I don’t think any player on the Stars had as much fun or acted like it than Swish. He clapped, cheered his teammates and told jokes the entire time he was out there sometimes running the bases with the exuburance of a ten year old. Swish told stories about every player on the team (and he was with quite a few during his career), but he always made sure that everyone was entertained whether in the dugout or the crowd.
Another player that I had a chance to converse with was Kenny Sullivan, who was a former Atlanta Brave for several seasons and was an artist doing sports paintings which were hanging all over the Atlanta Sports Area. Sullivan seemed to be enjoying himself as much as anyone there and during the course of the evening had a chance to talk about his interest in art as well as incorporating it in sports venues.
The first game the Stars played Monday was against the Jasper Reds and then on Wednesday against the Hattiesburg Black Sox, which were both wins for Louisville. After a sparse crowd on opening day, a much bigger one showed up Wednesday when Chipper, Bench and David Ross were there and the stars did everything they could to entertain the crowd signing autographs and posing for photos.
Because this was a promotional event, it did seem like the former big leaguers went out of their way sometimes to sign autographs and converse with the paying audience more so than you might see at a MLB event. Poor Alex Mayer, who was in charge of media relations for the Bats and this event did a splended job of making sure everyone was happy (which is harder to do than you think especially in an event like this). I can’t imagine what Friday and Saturday was like with even bigger crowds and more media.
Oh! By the way, After reaching the Finals on Saturday, the Louisville Stars were beaten by the Dubois County Bombers from Indiana, 6-4. In fact, despite outpitching and outhitting the Stars, all the Bombers could tak about afterwards was playing against the collection of former major leaguers.
So hopefully everyone had a great time during the six day event of the first (hopefully) annual Bluegrass World Series and hopefully we will get a chance to see that happen again next year and many afterwards as for one week near the end of summer we all get to take a step back and watch time stand still for a moment for baseball fans.
After all, when it comes to the sport of baseball, we all are kids at heart. Right?