On Wednesday afternoon at Busch Stadium, representatives of Major League Baseball, the Cardinals and local government all held a news conference to unveil many of the details about policies, procedures and practices as the 2009 All-Star Game approaches. Heralded primarily as an event to release the All-Star ballot, the event featured a great deal more than that.
"As we celebrate the beginning of All-Star Summer," said Bill DeWitt Jr., the Cardinals' principal owner, "the Cardinals and Major League Baseball are excited to share a vision that the Midsummer Classic provide us with even more than just memories for generations to come. The All-Star Game this year will leave behind a great legacy for residents and visitors to St. Louis so that we will remember in a tangible way that the All-Star Game was here and what it meant to the city."
The dignitaries announced many of the charitable endeavors that will highlight the coming three months. They announced ticket information, and of course they released the ballot. Balloting got under way immediately, with fans able to vote online at MLB.com now and in ballparks starting as early as Wednesday. Busch Stadium welcomed the first in-stadium voting, of course, with ballots available to fans who arrived for Wednesday night's Cardinals-Mets game.
Tickets, meanwhile, are not on sale yet, but a lottery begins on Thursday. Fans may enter themselves in drawings to get the chance to buy tickets for Taco Bell All-Star Sunday, Gatorade All-Star Workout Day and, of course, the All-Star Game.
But perhaps the most intriguing development was one that was released quietly. For the first time, fans will have a say in who participates in the State Farm Home Run Derby.
The 2009 All-Star ballot will allow fans to vote for three players in each league, from a list of eight. Those players are not guaranteed to appear in the Derby, nor are they bound to. But they'll certainly be encouraged to, and MLB will consider the vote when it sets the rosters.
"It's a poll for the fans, who they would like to see in the Home Run Derby," said Tim Brosnan, the league's executive vice president for business. "Every time we talk to the fans about anything on the business side, they tell us they'd like to be closer to the game. So whenever we can, we solicit their opinions. That's what this is. This is an opinion poll of who the fans would like to see in the Home Run Derby."
One player, they already know. Cardinals superstar Albert Pujols has committed to participate in the Derby -- assuming that he is healthy and that he's selected for the National League All-Star team. Brosnan indicated, however, that it's conceivable that in some cases, a compromise could be reached to allow a player not on the All-Star team to take his swings in the Derby.
In addition to DuPuy, Brosnan and DeWitt, the announcement featured three of the region's leading political figures. St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley and Missouri Governor Jay Nixon all attended. Nixon estimated that the events of the All-Star Summer will bring an economic impact of approximately $60 million to the St. Louis area.
"This summer, the eyes of the world will be on our state and this very stadium," Nixon said.
The extended nature of the events was one major theme of the afternoon. All-Star week gets longer and longer, to the point that many of the souvenirs and signs around St. Louis refer to it as "All-Star Summer," rather than just the game or the week. Brosnan and DuPuy also emphasized the community-wide flavor of the All-Star Game -- especially in a city like St. Louis.
"Every All-Star Game is special," Brosnan said. "We think this one is extra special. At this All-Star Game, we're going to celebrate what baseball means to America. We're going to celebrate baseball's cultural significance. We're going to celebrate what the Cardinals and the other 29 Major League franchises do around their communities, day in and day out. We're going to celebrate what great players like Albert and Ozzie [Smith] have done for their communities, day in and day out throughout the United States and Canada."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.