Albert Pujols, Derek Jeter, Ichiro and Me
In my previous blog I wrote about how, because of the great work of Seacology, I was selected to be to be honored by Major League Baseball (MLB) at the All-Star Game in St. Louis. After throwing out the first pitch at an Oakland A's game it was time to pack my bags and head to St. Louis. Right from the beginning it was obvious that MLB was going to treat me and my fellow All-Stars Among Us (ASAU) honorees like royalty. A driver came by my house to pick up me and my son, Robb, and of course a driver was waiting at the airport in St. Louis to take us to the Riverside Hyatt Regency. The hotel has a terrific location just beneath the Gateway Arch. We were shown to our room which was, shall we say, a bit impractical in that it did not have any (and I mean zip) drawers. When I called down to the front desk to ask if they had forgotten to put in a dresser they said "No, sir, this is the new European style." I know that some Europeans are naturalists but this was news to me that they did not travel with any clothes. For the next several days we literally lived out of our suitcases and books and magazines we were reading were left on the floor. Considering the hotel rooms were just remodeled this is one interior designer who certainly is no all-star.
We had time to do a bit of sightseeing. The Gateway Arch is spectacular and much bigger than you might expect. The nearby Old Courthouse, the site of the infamous U.S. Supreme Court Dred Scott decision, was both fascinating and beautiful. That night it was time for the ASAU reception which took place in Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, arguably the restaurant chain with the world's oddest name. Having been there I still can't answer the question - what is a Chris Steakhouse and why did Ruth not change the name when she bought it? We arrived at the reception to find that the People magazine staff, cosponsors of the ASAU campaign, decorated the carpet with stars a la the Hollywood Walk of Fame except with the names of my fellow honorees rather than movie stars.
The reception featured speeches from the editors and publisher of People and Tim Brosnan and Jacqueline Parkes, two high level MLB executives who were responsible for the All-Stars Among Us program. Of course the highlight was getting to meet the other ASAUs, all of whom were extremely dedicated, inspiring people. On the way out of the reception we ran into Justin Verlander, the all-star pitcher of the Detroit Tigers who kindly consented to have his photo taken with Robb.
The next morning we were off to a photo shoot with Commissioner Bud Selig and Bob Costas. Bob made a bee line to fellow honoree teenager Gary Lynn who despite having cerebral palsy and being wheelchair bound, is raising money to cure this disease. The smile on Gary's face spoke volumes about how much Costas's gesture meant to him. Next it was off to the official All-Star game press conference featuring the managers and starting pitchers for the game. We were all wearing the uniforms of the teams we represent and we were introduced to the media who quickly turned their attention to probing questions such as "How does it feel to be the starting pitcher?", "How did you choose your lineup?" and "Who the heck are these people in the front row wearing baseball uniforms and what are they doing here?"
Afterwards a few players joined us for photographs. Joe Maddon, manager of the Tampa Bay Rays, was particularly accommodating and very nice.
That night we attended the Home Run Derby. I certainly can't complain about the seats as we were in the Bank of America Club which comes with unlimited food and drinks. After the homerun derby it was off to the All-Star Gala. Located in a huge tent adjacent to Busch Stadium this was quite a party. There were several different food stations each with a different theme, e.g. St. Louis blues or Chicago jazz with music and food to go along. The highlight of the evening was an appearance by Nelly. I was six feet away from the stage when he performed - not my typical concert seat in which I need binoculars to tell the headliner from the sound check person. Nelly was great but my ears are still ringing from the sound.
The next morning we took part in the traditional All-Star red carpet parade through downtown St. Louis. The streets were lined with fans (only five of whom wore A's gear) who greeted us with a combination of cheers and looks that said "speed up this float so we can see the real players." Then it was finally game time.
We were ushered onto the infield as a tribute video to the All-Stars Among Us was played. This is the first video in history in which all five living presidents took part which was quite an honor. All 44,000 fans gave us a tumultuous and prolonged standing ovation. After which the all-star players came onto the field to thank us. As a baseball fan it was a lot of fun to have Albert Pujols, Derek Jeter, Ichiro, Joe Mauer and many other players thank us for what we were doing. The players could not have been nicer and more sincere. The players stayed with us as Sheryl Crow sang the national anthem right behind us. It was then time to march off the field to a final great round of applause. Many of the fans were overcome with emotion and were crying.
This was quite an experience. Only two things would have made it better. First, it would have been nice if Seacology was mentioned in the video, though I understand there was not time to highlight all 30 recipients. Second, it would have been terrific if President Obama visited us but this was not possible due to tight security restrictions. The group of honorees has drafted a letter to President Obama offering our help for his new service initiative and hopefully he will invite us for a meeting at the White House in the near future.
To cap off a great night MLB had us all sign a ball that is headed for the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
All in all this was a wonderful event which will hopefully reap benefits for Seacology in years to come. One benefit is already apparent. I have made 29 new lifelong friends.