An all-star game presents its managers and its participants with a particularly sticky paradox. It is a meaningless game that - for one summer evening - means everything.
The Triple-A all stars were brought to Toledo in order to let them shine in tonight's ProMedica Health System All-Star Game at Fifth Third Field. But an injury could damage an individual or his team for the second half of the season, or ruin a career.
So before they can plot a strategy, the managers must first play Catch-22. They want to showcase the players, but they don't want to mess with someone's legacy, or his ligaments.
"You take all of that into consideration, and you try and balance everything as best you can," said Mike Jirschele, manager of the Omaha Royals who will run the Pacific Coast League team in tonight's game against the stars of the International League.
"For me, every time you go out and play a game, you play to win. But you also know that every guy on the field wants to have a major league career ahead of him, and you don't want to do anything to jeopardize that."
Jirschele and Mud Hens manager Larry Parrish, who will handle the IL stars in the game, know they are caught between a rock and a third base. They will be cautiously competitive, if that's not too much of a jumbo shrimp-like oxymoron.
"In my mind, this game is an exhibition, and it should be treated like that, but when you get out there and start playing, every guy in that dugout is going to want to win. That's the nature of the beast," Parrish said.
"Everybody wants to see these guys play, but you don't want it to get to the point where guys get hurt. There's a lot of baseball yet to be played, for every one of them."
Durham shortstop B.J. Upton said it is especially hard for the players to ease back on the throttle, since they know the All-Star Game gives them a national stage on which to showcase the talent they hope will get them to the big leagues.
"Sure, you want to have fun, but since this is an all-star game, a lot of people are watching, and it's something you'll remember for a long time, so you really want to win it as well," Upton said. "It's just instinct - these are all real competitive guys, and once you step out on the field, your competitive nature just kind of takes over."
Nashville pitcher Ben Hendrickson said the light, casual, and relaxed atmosphere of the past few days will likely change with the first pitch tonight, since the players are acutely aware of how every appearance on the baseball field in some way affects their future in the sport.
"We're here to have fun and put on a show for the fans, but we're also here to perform, and to win," he said. "Most of the guys will tell you they are going to take it easy, but if the game is on the line, I expect you will see guys going all out. When the ultimate goal is to get to the big leagues, it's tough to play less than full speed."
Both managers indicated their intention to get everyone into the game, while protecting their pitchers by limiting their work to two innings or less.
"This game is for them - the fans voted them here, and they earned it - so you want every guy to have an all-star experience he'll remember," Jirschele said.
"For some guys, this might be their time - their only time - in an all-star game, so you do everything you can to let them experience it," Parrish said.
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