All-Star Game ushered in baseball’s new era amid a farewell

Forget "This One Counts."

Forget the fan voting.

Forget the Home Run Derby and national anthems (please forget that) and pregame ceremonies.

Tuesday’s All-Star Game wasn’t just an exhibition game — it was a delineation point, a clear juncture between the old guard and the next era of baseball stars.

The man who bridged the gap was the last holdout of the prior era’s greats. Jeter and Rivera are retired, A-Rod and Pujols aren’t far behind them, but Ortiz remained part of the baseball zeitgeist, refusing to fade away in the final years of his career.

This will be Big Papi’s last season. He made that clear again Tuesday. If that promise comes to pass, he’ll leave at something resembling a peak.

That alone is something to celebrate. Add in the unparalleled impact of Ortiz’s career, in Boston and across the league, and all eyes had to be on him.

Tuesday night, he bid adieu to the All-Star Game. He has next to no history in San Diego, but that didn’t make the moment any less special. Ortiz left to a rousing and deserved standing ovation after a walk in his second at-bat.

"I was supposed to hit a home run," Ortiz joked after he was pulled from the contest.

Ortiz was referring to the agreement they had with Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez, who said that if he squared off with Ortiz in Tuesday’s game, he was going to feed Big Papi some batting practice fastballs to help give him the storybook sendoff he deserved.

"The first pitch was a changeup," Ortiz said with his trademark smile. "We’re going to discuss that later."

The first pitch wasn’t a changeup — according to Fernandez, it was a batting practice fastball, just like the 23-year-old flame-throwing righty promised.

Ultimately, the competitive juices flowed — "This One Counts" after all — and Fernandez abandoned his plan to hand Ortiz a round-tripper.

Don’t bother getting upset about Fernandez undermining the sanctity of the All-Star Game — you’ll just look cold.

That’s because Fernandez’s threat to serve up a gopher ball to Ortiz was a play from the heart.

Fernandez said he will never forget where he was when he first saw Ortiz hit — his seventh-grade classroom in Cuba, watching the World Baseball Classic on TV. The Dominican Republic was playing Cuban national team in the second round — an afternoon game, as Fernandez correctly remembers.

In that contest, Ortiz hit a homer in the fifth inning. From that moment, Fernandez says, Ortiz became his favorite player.

When Fernandez arrived in the United States after a harrowing defection from his birth nation, the first jersey he bought was Ortiz’s. It’s the only jersey he wants hanging in his house, and he was able to get it signed by Ortiz in San Diego, an emotional moment for both players.

Fernandez isn’t the only young star who revered Ortiz growing up — Cubs star Kris Bryant, when he ran into Papi in the hallways of Petco Park, told him that he was his hero.

Baseball’s new stars — the ones who made huge impacts in Tuesday’s All-Star Game — grew up watching Ortiz, loving his larger-than-life persona and his knack for coming up in the clutch. Whether you grew up in Cuba or Las Vegas or anywhere in between, Ortiz was an idol.

He’s also the last of the old guard. Ortiz wasn’t able to grasp that fact Tuesday, noting that when Mariano Rivera or Derek Jeter gave a speech before previous All-Star Games — like Ortiz did Tuesday — it was like "daddy’s talking." That’s the same way Fernandez, Bryant, Francisco Lindor, Xander Bogaerts, Manny Machado, and Salvador Perez surely viewed Ortiz on Tuesday, whether Big Papi liked it or not.

Ultimately, despite Fernandez’s effort, Ortiz didn’t leave his 10th and final All-Star Game with the storybook ending. But while the world reflected on the impact of the big man from Santo Domingo, the new guard made their presence known in a big way.

The 24-year-old Bryant, batting third for the National League, hit a no-doubt homer to left field off the first pitch he saw from American League starter Chris Sale (27). Eric Hosmer (26) hit a homer to tie the score for the AL in the second inning, and his teammate, Perez, came up two batters later and hit a homer of his own, scoring Mookie Betts (23) to give the American League a 3-1 lead.

Hosmer added an RBI single in the third, scoring Ortiz’s pinch-runner, and was named MVP of the game. Marcell Ozuna of the Marlins (25) drove home the National League’s only other run.

The 2016 All-Star Game might not have seemed like the most decorated contest in recent history, and frankly, it wasn’t. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t special. It was. The key players on the diamond Tuesday might not have careers of accolades to their names, but they will. The 87th All-Star Game in San Diego will be remembered as a farewell to a hero, but it was also a welcoming party to the new stars of the game.

"I get really impressed with the talent MLB has right now," Ortiz said. "It’s not like it used to be. When I first got to the big leagues, the face of baseball was a guy my age, maybe a little bit younger. Now, the face is baseball is 21, 22, 23 years old. That tells me that this game is in unbelievable hands — great future. It made me happy."

And when Big Papi is happy, everyone is happy.