MIAMI – In the afterglow of procuring the most famous – and, fine, the only – cell phone picture ever taken during an All-Star Game, Nelson Cruz pulled out his iPhone, tapped on the Messages app, created a new one, punched in 10 digits and added the photo in question. Before sending it, he attached a message.
When he hit send, Cruz, the Seattle Mariners’ designated hitter, laughed. Within seconds, the photo would pop up on the phone of 64-year-old umpire Joe West, whose emoji game, presumably, includes neither biceps nor smiling monkeys nor, for that matter, anything. West puts the old and school in old school, and it’s for those reasons Cruz, during the sixth inning of the American League’s 2-1 victory over the National League on Tuesday night, stepped to the plate, whipped his cell phone out of his back pocket and asked St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina to provide baseball with its Ellen-at-the-Oscars moment.
“He’s a legend, you know?” Cruz said. “I think that’s the only shot you have to take a picture with Joe West.”
Weeks after umpiring his 5,000th career game, West drew the home-plate assignment at the first All-Star Game in 15 years that didn’t count for home-field advantage in the World Series, and the in-game photo reminded baseball how much fun it could have when no stakes were involved. AL manager Brad Mills did a televised interview with a wad of gum and a deflated bubble on his cap. Mic’d-up outfielder George Springer spoke with the Fox broadcasting crew from the field during an inning. And the 37-year-old Cruz, in his fifth All-Star Game, did something he’d been thinking about for nearly half a decade.
In 2013, Cruz said he wanted to take a selfie if he got on first base. When he walked, he didn’t have his phone on him. When he did have his phone on him, he made an out. This time, getting on base wasn’t going to be an impediment. Realizing he couldn’t take a selfie because his batting gloves were incompatible with the screen, he asked Molina in Spanish to do it for him. Cruz told West what he wanted to do, West took off his mask, Cruz put his right arm around him and Molina snapped a perfectly framed picture without a whit of blur, every bit the photographer he is the catcher.
Cruz stepped into the batter’s box, the phone on silent, just to make sure if someone called it didn’t interrupt his at-bat. Phone nestled in his back left pocket – “I slide on my right side always,” Cruz said – he proceeded to line out to center field off pitcher Zack Greinke. He didn’t worry about damage, either, because for someone who busts out a cell phone in the middle of an All-Star Game, Nelson Cruz is rather pragmatic.
“I have insurance,” he said.
Twitter ate up the moment. Instagram hearted it tens of thousands of times after Cruz posted the picture. Players loved it, too.
“It’s the All-Star Game,” Houston starter Dallas Keuchel said. “If you’re going to have fun, it’s the time to do it.”
This All-Star Game wasn’t fun in a classic sense. The teams struck out a combined 23 times and left 16 runners on base. It took an 10th-inning home run from Cruz’s Mariners teammate, Robinson Cano, to tie the all-time All-Star Game series at 43 wins apiece (with a pair of ties). The 88th All-Star Game was more about baseball remembering that even someone like Joe West, whose propensity for ejections is well-known and who takes it upon himself to impart lessons of on-field decorum to younger players, can be part of something that doesn’t involve balls, strikes or out calls.
“With the game not meaning home-field advantage anymore, I thought what Nelson did was hilarious,” Detroit pitcher Michael Fulmer said. “Especially with Joe West behind the plate. Anything with Cowboy Joe is funny.”
“Joe’s got a sense of humor,” said Tigers teammate Justin Upton.
“I haven’t been around long enough to figure it out yet,” Fulmer noted. “But everybody tells me.”
Cruz tapped into it Tuesday night, and the 88th All-Star Game’s most memorable moment was captured not by those concerned with aperture or lighting but a catcher from Puerto Rico helping out a slugger from the Dominican Republic and an umpire from North Carolina. Together they came, in the middle of a Midsummer Classic that was lacking the latter, and created something by which it would be remembered.
It was unscripted. It was organic. And it encapsulated what baseball, a game that really does bring people together, should be.