By Bob Behre
So many of us cherish those memories of watching the MLB All-Star Game on television as a kid as we absorbed the collection of talent brought together for one day of amazing baseball. Actually we still cherish the game as adults.
The MLB All-Star Game experience has grown exponentially over the years and is, indeed, a nearly week-long celebration of the sport. There’s one big event after another, be it the Celebrity Softball Game, Home Run Derby, the Futures Game or the GEICO All-Star FanFest, capped off by the 89th MLB All-Star Game itself.
The 16U Finch’s Aces had the rare opportunity to take in much of the All-Star Game festivities as a participant in the first-ever Jennie Finch Classic, an eight-team tournament that consisted of seven teams from MLB Youth Academies around the country and the 16U Finch’s Aces. Olympic softball gold medalist Jennie Finch is the MLB Youth Softball Ambassador. She spearheaded the tournament in D.C. and invited the Finch’s Aces out of Diamond Nation to participate.
The Aces were the only non-Youth Academy team to compete in the tournament and the girls ran into to some excellent competition. The 16U Aces won their first four games before falling, 6-2, in the semifinals to an outstanding Nationals squad in the semifinals. The Aces had edged the Nationals, 3-2, in an earlier tournament game. Compton of Los Angeles went on to win the tournament.
“Major League Baseball is promoting softball and the youth academies,” said Jackie Spina, Diamond Nation’s Director of Softball Operations. “The academies help underprivileged kids. The academies are free and offer a hot meal and after-school help with homework. The girls also receive classroom knowledge of the game and training in skills and drills on the field.”
For Kayla Cosentino, a rising junior and middle infielder from Hunterdon Central, the tournament and All-Star festivities were an amazing experience.
“My teammates and I shared dorms, which helped us bond as a team,” said Cosentino. “And not only did we become closer friends, we made friends with other players from all over the country.” The teams were housed in dorms at George Washington University and were transported together on buses to games and the various festivities.
When Cosentino and her teammates were not playing softball and outscoring their five opponents 44-8, they were taking in the All-Star festivities, which certainly left an indelible mark on the Aces.
“The All-Star game and Home Run Derby were both incredible to watch,” said Consentino. “It showed me that once you put hard work into your sport, anything is possible. Seeing the stars and walking on the Nationals field was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I will remember forever.”
The players had a meet and greet with Jennie Finch, who spoke on a panel, emphasizing the importance of the mental part of the game as well as the importance of young players’ honing their specific skills.
“The girls even had an opportunity to meet the MLB commissioner (Rob Manfred in photo),” said Spina. “He came to a couple of the tournament games.”
Mia Robb, a rising sophomore pitcher and outfielder at Ridge High School, certainly embraced the experience both as an athlete and a baseball fan.
“There was all around great competition in the tournament,” said Robb. “You could tell how excited everyone was to be there and to come together for the first ever Jennie Finch Classic. It was surreal having Jennie in our dugout keeping our energy up making it a learning experience.”
Robb was also caught up in the activities surrounding the All-Star Game.
“Going to events like the Home Run Derby and seeing big players like Bryce Harper and Kyle Schwarber was amazing,” said Robb. “I will never forget walking out onto the field at the Nationals’ stadium to represent our team before the game started. My team and I are so grateful to have been part of something so big.”