KANSAS CITY -- Much of Monday's introduction to the All-Star dance will be about the parallel tracks taken by Mike Trout and Bryce Harper to get here, their astonishing, meteoric rises and the hopes and dreams that the next decade will bring to the unlikely rivalry being played out in Anaheim and Washington.
Which is right and good for baseball, which needs its own LeBron and Kevin Durant. But what we watched Sunday at Kauffman Stadium at the great, fun event known as the Futures Game gave us more reasons to believe the sport is steaming forward with a cast of talent, like Trout and Harper and Stephen Strasburg, to take our minds off the images from Congress to courtrooms to beer-can evidence.
Sunday's Futures Game, by itself, was hardly nail-biting baseball. The U.S. team won 17-5, but the fact is when you are there three hours before the first pitch and see the more than a hundred scouts and executives -- for whom this is holiday-watching batting and infield practice -- you understand that this is the ultimate showcase, one that gave the nation the Trout and Harper shows the previous two Julys.
There were the big arms. Baltimore's Dylan Bundy, Seattle's polished left-hander Danny Hultzen, Pittsburgh's big Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon, Kansas City's Jake Odorizzi, Boston's Matt Barnes, the Mets' Zack Wheeler, Seattle's Taijuan Walker, Arizona's Tyler Skaggs and Miami's Jose Fernandez are all big-time young pitchers.
We could see why Wil Myers will be in Kansas City soon, and why the Rangers believe Mike Olt may come up to give them a right-handed bat at first base and occasionally third. We saw Billy Hamilton's legendary speed, Toronto's Anthony Gose make a circus catch, Tigers third baseman Alex Castellanos get three hits and listened to other players talk about the prowess of Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado.
But from the time the players sauntered onto the field and began their workouts, what stood out was the generation of shortstops that is moving toward the Major Leagues. There was a time in the 1990s when the sport knew Barry Larkin was headed for Cooperstown and the Alex Rodriguez/Derek Jeter/Nomar Garciaparra troika dominated the American League. Now Jeter remains the All-Star at the position at age 38, and the average team production from shortstop is a .309 on-base percentage and six homers. The way it was.
But we got to see the Rangers' 19-year-old Jurickson Profar, who at 19 years old is hitting .292 with a .370 OBP and .846 OPS in Double-A. Repeat: At 19. As if he were announced as the best prospect in the sport his first time up, he homered to right.
Then we saw Baltimore's 20-year-old Manny Machado, who has a .765 OPS in Double-A in his second full professional season, rope a double to left.
And Boston's 19-year old Xander Bogaerts, who may end up with a Justin Upton body and have to move off shortstop, whose 12 homers, .364 OBP and .842 OPS in the Carolina League is comparable to the numbers posted by Jason Heyward at the same age.
And Cleveland's Francisco Lindor, playing in the Class A Midwest League at 18, getting on base 35 percent of the time and posting a .720 OPS.
Lindor is not as physical as the other three, but he is a remarkable talent. Like the other three, he is articulate and intelligent.
So as years from now we will remember that this is the All-Star Game that brought Trout and Harper together on The Big Stage for the first time, so those who rejoice in the Futures Game will look back and recall that this was the first time we saw Profar, Bogaerts, Machado and Lindor together.
It's why we love this game, why we love the game.