The ascension of baseball’s next true superstar can — and should — revive America’s past time
The J-Rod Show is officially here, and not just for fans in the PNW. Just as many Mariners fans suspected, Julio Rodríguez put on an absolute show during the All-Star game and especially the Homerun Derby. Julio, in the backdrop of Hollywood, has cemented himself as a bonafide superstar. His on field play leading up to the event which included AL Rookie of the month honors and leading his team to a 14 game winning streak certainly garnered the attention of most baseball fans. However, his display at the nationally televised All Star events made him a name to know within the entire sports landscape.
Julio’s on the field ability speaks for itself. After a rough first month of the season, Julio has simply been one of baseball’s best players. Since May he’s hit 16 homeruns and driven in 46 runs while hitting to the tune of a .292 batting average and .887 OPS (on base % plus slugging %). These are MVP-caliber numbers when projected over an entire season. With 21 stolen bases (3rd in all of baseball) and elite defense in centerfield (92nd percentile in outs above average), Julio Rodríguez is playing his way into the conversation of best overall players in baseball and perhaps the most exciting. His performance at the homerun derby made that as apparent as ever, with fellow all stars in awe as he hit homeruns at a rate never seen before in the competition. With a Mariners team that looks poised to end the longest playoff drought in North American Sports and Seattle being the destination of next year’s All Star week, Julio’s stardom will only continue to grow.
Talent aside, Julio has one of the best personalities in all of sports. He has already captured the hearts of Mariner’s fans with his infectious smile, fan interactions, and outlook he brings each and every day. As one of his HR Derby opponents, Pete Alonso, approached the event with utmost seriousness, Julio looked as though he was there to simply have fun and express joy in a way that us as an audience could not help but fall in love with. During the actual All Star game, a mic’d up Julio shared a moment with White Sox pitcher Liam Hendricks that showed just how fun the game of baseball can be as he pretended to throw away a ball that Liam was asking for. Julio played a significant role in making All Star week one of the more memorable in recent memory. For a sport that often takes itself too seriously, it gave us a glimpse as to what Julio — and the young generation of stars — can bring to the sport.
For Mariners fans, Julio Rodríguez represents a new face of the franchise and the potential of a generational athlete. For most, lofty expectations like these may be unwarranted or even unwanted, but for Julio they’re welcomed with open arms. The Mariners have had their share of homegrown stars; including (King) Felix Hernandez, Ichiro, Edgar Martinez, and a young Alex Rodriguez. However, if watching a young and mega talented Mariner (with a personality that matches his talent) reminds you of a certain 1st ballot hall of famer then you’re certainly not alone. Ken Griffey Jr., perhaps one of the biggest stars in North American sports history, is a rare example of a baseball player that transcended into an outright celebrity. Since then, baseball has yet to truly have an athlete achieve that same level of image. Let me prefact this by saying that Julio and Griffey are two entirely different players and individuals, which means that Julio is his own person on and off the field. However, what can be compared is their impact on the game of baseball. A rare combination of charisma, off the charts talent, and an ability to truly seize the moment. In other words, exactly what baseball needs.
Despite still topping other North American all star events, this year’s iteration set a record for lowest viewership and ratings according to Sports Media Watch. This is both an indication of baseball’s steady decline in broad viewership and its reluctance to make the changes necessary to recapture the national spotlight it once occupied. Perhaps that is changing, as this year’s All Star game gave fans some incredible mic’d up moments that brought us closer to the game than ever before. And yes, J-Rod was at the center of it all. MLB needs to fully commit to highlighting the personality of their stars just as the NBA has done with their young stars (i.e. Anthony Edwards and co.) via social media promotion and off-the-court content. The inevitability of lower stakes regular season baseball games means that highlighting the personality of stars is all the more important to make these players household names. Julio has the electricity and persona to be at the forefront of this league-wide effort. Let’s see nationally televised marquee player matchups — filled with interviews and mic’d up moments —between J-Rod and other great personalities like Jazz Chisholm. Give us engaged coverage of head-to-head awards races like AL ROTY between J-Rod and Jeremy Peña or a player achievement watch as J-Rod approaches a 30 Homerun/30 Stolen Base season, something that echoes the days of the Sosa vs. Maguire homerun title chase or Ichiro’s quest for the single-season hits record. The stage is set for next year’s All-Star events in Seattle where baseball has a chance to show the world who J-Rod is and what he can do on a baseball field, similar to Griffey Jr. in his iconic Home Run Derby moments.
Baseball is a game of attrition and gradual build up, but is filled with spectacular moments and personalities. Its superstars must transcend the every-day grind of 162 games and bestow the national sports landscape with those spectacular moments and personalities. J-Rod and the rest of baseball’s younger generations are poised to do just that. It’s up to Major League Baseball to help make it happen.