All-Star Break Brings the Heat

MLB at the All-Star Break: Dust-Up in the Desert?

Baseball’s Midsummer Classic is upon us, and it’s a safe-at-home bet that Major League BaseballCommissioner Bud Selig is headed to the deserts of Phoenix to escape the heat … from his ongoing ownership dispute with Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, that is.

This summer the Dodgers saga is casting a longer shadow over the land of baseball than the 50-mile wide dust cloud that enveloped Phoenix and the Arizona Diamondbacks‘ Chase Field on Monday, the perjury trial of former pitcher Roger Clemens, or Arizona’s controversial immigration law, which has had some baseball fans calling for a boycott.

The Dodgers blame the financial woes that last month plunged them into bankruptcy on "abusive conduct" by MLB, claiming Selig is looking for any excuse to remove McCourt as team owner. Most recently, the team blasted the league in bankruptcy court for refusing to turn over key financial documents.

We can’t imagine that McCourt got an invite to the Commissioner’s annual All-Star party in Phoenix.

On a more blissful note, this year’s MLB All-Star weekend, for the first time in its history, will host the MLB All-Star FanFest Wedding. Contest winners Joe Curiale and Dolly West will enjoy a ceremony and reception on the diamond at the Phoenix Convention Center FanFest next Tuesday, the same day as the 82nd MLB All-Star Game.

It’ll be nice, for a change, to hear some folks around baseball saying "I do."

All-Star Stats

Average temperatures well over 100 degrees, along with monsoonal thunderstorms (not to mention the apocalyptical dust cloud), will keep many All-Star activities in Phoenix this weekend in the comfy confines of large air-conditioned buildings. Regardless, MLB is hoping to better the mediocre numbers it put up at last year’s event in Anaheim. After strong at-bats in San Francisco (2007), New York (2008), and St. Louis (2009), the Anaheim All-Star break saw a Home Run Derby that failed to sell out, even with last-minute ticket price discounts; a 22 percent drop in TV ratings on ESPN; and tie-ins to the nearby Hollywood scene that fell as flat as last weekend’s box office returns on Larry Crowne.

Ever hopeful, several MLB sponsors have taken the opportunity to renew their deals with the league. Among those re-upping are Bayer and Chevrolet, an MLB corporate sponsor since 2005. Chevy continued as a sponsor of TBS’s All-Star Game Selection Show on July 3, which was presented by Taco Bell.

Additionally, Fox has virtually sold out its ad inventory around the MLB All-Star Game at a 9 percent to 10 percent increase from last year’s rates, the network has reported. Fox has reportedly sold in-game 30-second spots for as much as $575,000, with the auto, movie, and telecomm categories buying strong and the only current ad inventory in a few spots in the bottom of the ninth inning—after many East Coast viewers have gone to bed.

ESPN will cover Monday’s popular State Farm Home Run Derby, which looks to be a slugfest manned by some of the best power hitters in baseball, including Boston’s David Ortiz, Milwaukee’s Prince Fielder, and Toronto’s Jose Bautista. Like most events surrounding the All-Star break, the Home Run Derby is also a charitable event, and as captains, Ortiz and Fielder will select a charity that their teams will support. State Farm and MLB collaborate to donate money to both teams, win or lose.

For the winning captain’s charity, a $150,000 donation will be made in the captain’s name, along with a $100,000 contribution to the Boys & Girls Club of America (BCGA). The losing team will contribute $25,000 to the charity of its captain’s choice, with the remaining money donated to BCGA on behalf of State Farm and MLB. Moreover, State Farm and MLB will combine to donate $18,000 for every home run hit with a Gold Ball, a dollar figure chosen because it coincides with the number of State Farm agents throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Besides the Home Run Derby, MLB and the host Diamondbacks will oversee charitable initiatives and activities throughout the Greater Phoenix area, starting Friday and leading up to Tuesday’s 82nd MLB All-Star Game at Chase Field. The All-Star Week community effort, with financial and volunteer support from some of the MLB’s major sponsors, supports children, U.S. veterans, cancer research, and environmental concerns, among other local groups.

MLB and the Diamondbacks will donate more than $5 million from a portion of the proceeds from Monday’s Gatorade All-Star Workout Day toward a variety of local and national charities, including Stand Up To Cancer, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the Prostate Cancer Foundation, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, the Arizona State Veteran Home, and the Foundation for Blind Children. (Since 1997, more than $45 million has been donated to nonprofit organizations from Gatorade All-Star Workout Day proceeds.)

As an extension of MLB’s commitment to "Welcome Back Veterans," on-the-spot renovations will be made to the Arizona State Veterans Home, including a greenhouse constructed for a therapeutic gardening program and shade covers for patient vans. The project is supported by MLB and the Diamondbacks with a $100,000 donation, as well as Bank of America, which is contributing $75,000 and providing nearly 100 employee volunteers for the project.

Scotts, the official lawn care company of MLB, is also donating Miracle-Gro materials for the greenhouse project, turning the center into a veritable baseball-supported oasis in the Arizona desert.

Jeter Fever

He’s three hits shy with three games to go before the All-Star break, and it’s looking like New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter will have extra reason to celebrate in Phoenix this weekend. While a lingering calf injury this season has hampered his production, Jeter is closing in on his 3,000th hit, an accomplishment that will put him into the rarified air of only 27 other MLB sluggers, including Cal Ripken, Jr., Wade Boggs, Tony Gwynn, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and all-time leader Pete Rose.

It’s taken Jeter 17 seasons to reach the 3,000 club, and his management team is trying to balance promoting the milestone with brand continuity and protecting their guy from guerilla marketers attempting to portray themselves as sponsors surrounding the 3,000th hit. Established Jeter sponsors, including Gillette, Gatorade, Movado, Tri-state Ford dealers, Steiner Sports and Jordan Brand, according to the New York Post, will get a "mix of special events on the ball field, personal Jeter appearances, and other media showcases." MLB also reportedly has a special commemorative baseball that will be put into play on the field after Jeter hits number 2,999.

Jeter is far from media shy: He agreed to cooperate with HBO and MLB Productions on Derek Jeter 3K, a one-hour, all-access program that will air a few weeks after he reaches his milestone. The documentary will reportedly take viewers behind the scenes to Jeter’s home, the Yankees’ dugout, and other locales, and include interviews with family and friends, including his girlfriend, actress Minka Kelly, as well as Yankee executives.

Jeter is currently playing under a three-year, $51 million contract, assumed at age 37 to be his last.

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