An all-star for every team

The Cleveland Indian usually didn’t have much company.

There was no guarantee he’d even get in the game.

But when his name was announced, he’d look at the camera, grin and wave his hat.

And that, usually, was the highlight for me watching baseball’s All-Star Game.

There are so many problems with the current All-Star game, and frankly, most of them can’t be fixed.

There’s no undoing interleague play, no curbing the over-saturation of the sport on television, no hope of remaking the game into something really special.

But for all its issues, there’s one thing that needs to stay the same.

Baseball, unlike football and basketball, requires every team have a representative at its exhibition. But every once in a while, someone will speak up and say that every team doesn’t need to be represented at the All-Star Game. That person usually says that a bad team will have an undeserving player on the roster, and it takes away from someone – perhaps on a better team – who should be there.

Those are valid points, but the child in me doesn’t want to hear it.

Baseball is, at its heart, about loyalty. To your team, to your town, to the players who wear the uniform.

The All-Star Game is a chance to see how your guys stack up against the best.

When I was in grade school, and long before that, the Cleveland Indians were generally a doormat in the American League.

The All-Star game was a chance for our guy to have a shining moment on national TV, which was rare, since national games usually involved pennant contenders.

Sadly, it didn’t work out that way.

* It’s 1970. Pete Rose scores the winning run for the National League by turning poor Ray Fosse, the Indians’ catcher, into what in football is referred to a defenseless receiver. Fosse was injured and never the same. Rose was never one to treat anything like an exhibition, and the Tribe’s future star was, in an instant, turned into a regular.

* It’s 1981. Old Municipal Stadium gets the All-Star Game, only it gets pushed back almost a month by that year’s players’ strike. The game was actually the return of baseball itself from the break. Some fans booed the players, and even blew whistles, telling the players and owners to stop being greedy.

* It’s 2010, and Fausto Carmona (now Roberto Hernandez) is the only Tribe selection. He didn’t play.

Since 1970, the Tribe has had just one representative in the All-Star game 17 times.

You would think this might sour a kid to the game. But for me, I’d stay up as late as I could to see if and when a Cleveland player would get into the contest.

It’s why I like the representation rule. There would have been no reason for me to watch if no one from my team was there.

Some of my favorite All-Star memories involved some less-than-certain All-Stars.

* The first All-Star Game I remember was in Houston in 1986. The Indians had two All-Stars, third baseman Brook Jacoby and starting pitcher Ken Schrom. I know what you’re thinking: Was George Brett hurt?

Well, yes.

Schrom was a valid selection – as valid as a guy who finished with a 4.54 earned run average can be – but didn’t pitch. Watching Jacoby face Sid Fernandez and strike out, well, at least he played.

* The next season, Pat Tabler was the Indians selection. Hey, he hit better than .300 on a team that lost more than 100 games. What do you want?

In the bottom of the 13th, Tabler batted with the AL down 2-0 and a man on first. He faced Sid Fernandez, the same pitcher Jacoby did the year before. Tabler struck out.

* In 1988, no Indian struck out in his only at-bat, because no hitters were selected. That honor went to closer Doug Jones, who made Cleveland proud by striking out Montreal slugger Andres Galarraga. My mother stood up and gave Jones a standing ovation in our living room.

* In 1989, Jones, getting the hang of this All-Star thing, pitched 1 1/3 innings to close out an American League win. Greg Swindell also made the team, and he threw 1 2/3 scoreless. By the end of the night, I was delirious.

And then, it all changed. Sandy Alomar Jr. was traded to the Indians. In 1990 and ’91, he actually was voted in to the starting lineup, thus taking the “token Indians player” out of play. As the Indians got better, there were more and more deserving players on the roster, and suddenly, the All-Star Game became something where it wasn’t which Cleveland player made it, but how many.

Sure, the Tribe eventually got bad again, but by then, I was in my 20s, and all the problems with the game had arrived.

But there’s always a part of me that imagines a kid in Houston. His team is terrible, but he watches them every night. He’s tired of everyone ragging on the Astros.

That kid will tune in Tuesday just to see if Jason Castro (12 homers, .266 batting average, 31 RBIs), Houston’s representative, gets in.

For that kid, I hope he does.

And I hope every team always is represented at the All-Star Game.