Results tagged ‘ MiLB ’

Q and A With Adam Brett Walker II

Adam Brett Walker II was drafted by the Twins in the 3rd round of the 2012 draft, after batting .343 with 12 home runs and 42 RBI’s in his Junior season at Jacksonville.

Walker 2Since the draft, Walker has posted some good numbers, with his best season thus far coming back in 2013, when he blasted 27 home runs and drove in 109 runs to go along with a .278 batting average.

This past season, Walker saw his number fall a bit, batting only .246 and driving in 15 fewer runs than the previous year, but he still managed to knock 25 balls over the wall throughout the year.

With power being the number one tool that Walker possesses, it’s likely that his home run totals will be the one thing that stands out from season to season as his career progresses. A right handed power hitter, which is currently one of the most prized assets at the big league level, it shouldn’t be too long before Walker sees himself up in Minnesota with the Twins if he can continue to record solid numbers.

Adam Brett Walker II — top prospect in the Twins’ organization — took the time recently to answer some of my questions:

1.) At what age did you first become interested in baseball? Who was your biggest baseball influence growing up?

I have been playing baseball since before I can remember. I’ve [played] organized ball since tee ball. My dad loves the game as well, so he let me play baseball along with other sports. My cousin Damion Easley played in the big leagues, and I have always looked up [to him] as someone I know that can make it.

2.) Who was your favorite baseball player growing up? Why?

My favorite player growing up was always Ken Griffey Jr. I love the way he played the game. It always looked like he was having fun, and I love his swing.

3.) You were drafted by the Twins in the 3rd round of the 2012 draft. What was that process like for you? Where were you when you first found out? Initial thoughts?

It was a very exciting feeling for my family and I. I was sitting at home and some of my family came into town to be with me. It is a pretty crazy feeling to sit there and listen to other names getting picked before me. When the time came and I finally heard my name called by the Twins it was very emotional for me, knowing that I have worked my whole life training to have this opportunity. I dreamed of having this chance for my whole life and it was an amazing feeling.

4.) Talk a little bit about life on the road: What’s the most difficult aspect of it? What do you do to pass the time?

Life on the road isn’t the most fun but it helps a lot to have been with such great teammates during my professional career. We spend a lot of time on the bus traveling during the season, that is for sure. You really start to find ways to entertain yourself, from watching movies, listening to music, reading, and playing cards with the guys. It definitely isn’t the most idea way to spend hours of your time every couple days, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

5.) Known for your power, you won the 2014 Florida State League’s All-Star Game home run derby. Did you approach the derby with any different of a swing than you do in an at-bat during the season? After the derby, did you notice a negative change in your swing that many big league home run derby participants complain about?

I had a blast this year in the Florida State League home run derby. I didn’t try to change too much in my swing, though. When we take BP during the season I usually try to take a few swing and have my own home run derby. I definitely swung a little harder during the home run derby than I do in game, though. Of course, I was trying to pull the ball in the derby, so the main adjustment I tried to make after was making sure I could hit the ball to the opposite field. After the All-Star break, I don’t believe that being in the home run derby hurt me.

6.) You made it to the playoffs this season with the Fort Myers Miracle, winning the Florida State League title for the first time in their franchise history. What was the overall experience of the playoffs like?

This year has been a lot of fun for me, so to be able to end the year with a championships just makes it so much better. We had a great team this year, and we were all pulling together to win the league. I had a great group of teammates to play with throughout the summer, so to win with them was awesome. I love playoff baseball, though. The intensity of the games is unbelievable. We all know that every game is going to come down to executing the last out every game of the series. I just hope to be able to experience playoff baseball a few more times in my baseball career.

7.) Is there any one stat that you pay attention to throughout the season? Or do you try to steer clear of them altogether?

I try to stay away from checking out the stats. Every night I just try to go out and do what it takes to win the game. I know if I’m helping the team then my stats will be in a good spot at the end of the year. Winning baseball games makes the season a lot easier to handle as well. Even if you are doing great but your team keeps losing day after day it is still hard to be happy.

8.) What do you feel went well in 2014? What are your goals for 2015?

2014 was a pretty good year overall. There were ups and downs throughout the season but I am happy now looking back at it. I believe I did a pretty good job of driving the ball and being able to bring in runs. Run production is a big part of my game, and I take a lot of pride in doing that. I will always keep working on being a better defender and having more plate discipline. That is always a goal of mine going into every season. I have felt I have grown in these aspects of my game, but feel I could still be better. Having plate discipline will help cut down on strikeouts, and I believe help [me] be able to get on base more.

9.) Favorite TV show? Favorite food?

I don’t watch a whole lot of TV but I am a big Netflix guy now. I just finished watching ‘How I Met Your Mother’. I loved watching that show, so I’m pretty upset that it is over now. I can’t lie, I am a pretty big fan of watching some HGTV every once in a while. My favorite food is pizza, though, by far. I love it all and I could eat it everyday!

10.) Lastly, what advice would you give to kids who are just starting out that dream of playing professional baseball one day?

My advice to kids that have dreams of playing professional baseball is to always have fun! I think about how when I was little all I wanted to do was go out and play with my friends. I know as I got older I started putting more pressure on myself to perform, which is good because you want to be the best you can be. I have had times when I was doing well and I looked back and I wasn’t having fun. I was putting a lot of pressure on myself and had to step back and enjoy the game and take it one day at a time. You will have to work hard but remember you are playing the game you loved for so long. Never forget that.

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Big thanks to Adam Brett Walker II for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can follow him on Twitter: @walkoff28

Q and A With Tyler Danish

Tyler Danish was drafted by the White Sox in the 2nd round of the 2013 draft, after not allowing an earned run over 94 high school innings in Florida during his senior year, in which he struck out 156. Danish

Since the draft, Danish has posted some fantastic numbers between three different levels, proving why he was worthy of a high draft pick. Possessing a good mid 90’s fastball, along with a slider and changeup — a combination that keeps hitters off balance — one of the things that makes Danish so deceptive is his mechanics. Throwing from a 3/4 arm slot, many people see Danish as being perfect for a high-leverage situation major league reliever, but Danish wants to be a starter if at all possible.

Danish certainly made a strong case this past season for being a starting pitcher moving forward, as despite some struggles at times, he went a combined 8-3 with a 2.08 ERA over 25 starts between Kannapolis and Winston-Salem, holding opponents to a .237 batting average.

Either way, as a starter or reliever, it’s likely not going to be too much longer until Danish makes it to the big leagues if he can continue to perform at the level he has to this point in his career.

Tyler Danish — top prospect in the White Sox’ organization — took the time recently to answer some of my questions:

1.) At what age did you first become interested in baseball? Who was your biggest baseball influence growing up?

Baseball was my passion ever since I could remember. I started playing at three years old. My parents were huge influences in my baseball career. They [were] there through it all with me.

2.) Who was your favorite baseball player growing up? Why?

The Captain [Derek Jeter]. Just the quiet swagger he had on the field. I just loved it.

3.) You were drafted by the White Sox in the 2nd round of the 2013 draft. What was that process like for you? Where were you when you first found out? Initial thoughts?

The draft process is a very stressful process. It’s an interview with 30 teams to show why you should be picked, but it’s also a fun process to go through. It’s a dream at 18 years old to even be considered as one of the best in the country. When I first found out, I was at home watching the draft when I saw my name come across the board. It was one of the best feelings, knowing all this work and time you put in finally showed up.

4.) You were promoted to High-A Winston-Salem in May after performing so well at Single-A Kannapolis. Upon your promotion, you struggled a bit, finally finding your groove towards the end of the season. What about High-A was initially hard to adjust to? What changes, if any, did you make to become effective once again to finish the year?

Me struggling in High-A was me over-thinking the game of baseball; thinking I had to make perfect pitches, pitches that moved more, and pitches that were unhittable. But that wasn’t the case, as all the game of baseball is the same game from tee-ball all the way to the big leagues. Once I got my mental game back things went smooth. So the one change I made was me going out there and doing what I have done all my life, and that was enjoy playing the game of baseball and having fun.

5.) You were used primarily as a relief pitcher in 2013, but made 25 starts in 2014. Why was it important to you to prove that you could be an effective starter when so many people see you as a future reliever?

This year was huge to show people I could be a starter because so many people doubt me and say I can’t. But with my personality — I love that. I feast on when people say I can’t do something. So that was my thought every time I took the mound this year: “Prove doubters wrong”.

6.) Part of the reason people envision you as a future major league relief pitcher is your unique delivery of throwing out of a three-quarters arm slot. Where and when did you first develop your delivery? How much do you attribute your deceptive delivery to your success on the mound?

That motion came from me playing shortstop since I was little. It was a natural feeling on the mound, but I didn’t start throwing like that until my junior year in high school. I used to be your traditional right hander, straight over the top, but my ball didn’t move, and I was topping out at 86 my sophomore year. One day at practice in a bullpen session I dropped down to the 3/4 arm slot and my ball moved everywhere. So I stuck with it and my velocity went up. I think that there is a little deceptiveness with how I throw just because it’s funky and a new look to hitters.

7.) Talk a little bit about life on the road: What’s the most difficult aspect of it? What do you do to pass the time?

Life on the road has its up and downs. Downs are definitely the bus rides; they can get very long and boring. But other than that you see new places, you play at different stadiums and you’re also playing professional baseball. To pass the time I watch Netflix constantly. That’s what I do all day, every day. Let me just say: Thank God for Netflix.

8.) What do you feel went well in 2014? What are your goals for 2015?

My 2014 year couldn’t have gone any better. I became a better pitcher in all aspects. I finally failed in pro ball, and I show myself that I can bounce back from that. So later on down the road when I struggle again I know it’s not the end of the world. I also had a lot of success, but I handled that very well too. I didn’t get too high, and I continue to work everyday to be better at what I do. Goal for 2015 is to continue to work and get better. My top goal, though, is to pitch in the big leagues next year.

9.) Favorite TV show? Favorite food?

Favorite TV show has to be ‘Law & Order SVU’. Favorite food is Chipotle.

10.) Lastly, what advice would you give to kids who are just starting out that dream of playing professional baseball one day?

For kids just starting the dream to hopefully one day play professional baseball — never give up no matter what happens in life. Don’t give up on your dream. Dreams do come true. But always work hard. Always give everything you have, even if you don’t want to. Respect your parents; they do a lot for you. Even if you don’t see it right now, they do. Make good grades, and stay out of trouble!

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Big thanks to Tyler Danish for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can follow him on Twitter: @danish_Tyler7

2014 Arizona Fall League TTM Requests Update

Around a month ago I blogged about the through the mail (TTM) autograph requests I was planning to send off to players during the Arizona Fall League. At the end of the post I stated that I was going to be publishing a blog post every time I received back a few autographs, and now that I’ve successfully gotten back some of the requests I sent, I figured I’d go ahead and type this entry up. Of the seven total TTM’s I sent off, I’ve received three of them back, with them being from:

DANIEL ROBERTSON — ATHLETICS’ ORGANIZATION

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Daniel Robertson is the number one prospect in the Athletics’ organization, and the number eighty-five prospect in all of baseball. At just 20 years old, Robertson still has plenty of time to develop into the future big league star that many feel he’s destined to become, but he made great strides towards that in 2014. Batting .310 with 15 home runs and 60 RBI’s on the year, Robertson will be a big part of the A’s future.

JACE PETERSON — PADRES’ ORGANIZATION

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Jace Peterson (who, unfortunately, signed this card in ink pen) is no longer a top prospect for the Padres, however, he is expected to be a big part of their team moving forward. Going back and forth between the majors and Triple-A this season, Peterson’s bat didn’t stick in the big leagues, batting just .113 in 53 at-bats, but his glove and speed should allow him to stick with the Padres starting in 2015 while his bat catches up.

LANCE PARRISH — FORMER MLB ALL-STAR

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No longer playing, Lance Parrish is currently the manager for the Glendale Desert Dogs. The former first round draft pick and eight-time MLB All-Star, Parrish blasted 324 home runs and recorded a couple hundred hits shy of 2,000 for his career. Winning six career silver slugger awards, and picking up two gold gloves, Parrish may not be an all time great, but he was a solid player in his day.

I still have autograph requests out for Hunter Renfroe, Byron Buxton, Trevor Story and Brandon Nimmo. When/if I get any of those back I’ll be sure to post another update. Although there’s no guarantee I’ll get any more back at all.

2014 Arizona Fall League TTM Autograph Requests

We’re just a few days into the 2014 MLB postseason, but it’s certainly been exciting so far. A lot of unexpected and equally exciting things are sure to take place over the course of the coming weeks, and it will be something worth watching to see which teams perform as predicted and which teams fail to live up to their full potentials.

afl_logoHowever, regardless of that, I’m not going to discuss anything related to the playoffs in this blog post. Instead, I’m going to focus on the Arizona Fall League. More specifically, the through the mail (TTM) autograph requests that I’m sending out to various participating players.

Taking place every October/November — this year it’s October 7th through November 15th — the Arizona Fall League (AFL) provides top Minor League players who didn’t get a full season of playing time, for one reason or another, a chance to show their organization what they can do, as well as provide them with a little more baseball experience. With several of this year’s MLB All-Stars being former AFL players, the best of the best certainly travel through the fall league.

I usually only send off autograph requests in March, for Spring Training, and October, for the Arizona Fall League. Some people send requests to players throughout the season, however, I’ve never really wanted to do that — they’re too busy going around from ballpark to ballpark. In Spring Training and the Arizona Fall League players stay in the same relative area for over a month. In my mind, that provides a better chance of success.

There is a ton of great talent in this year’s Fall League, but I’m not sending to all of them. That would take dozens of stamps to complete, and I simply don’t want to put the money and time into addressing all of those envelopes, only to receive back a few. Last year I sent seventeen autograph requests to the AFL and got back six. That’s right — six. Therefore, I’m only sending to a select group of players this time around, beginning with Hunter Renfroe, Jace Peterson, Byron Buxton, Lance Parrish, Daniel Robertson and Trevor Story.

All of those players (with the exception of Parris) have bright futures ahead in the big leagues, and Lance Parrish had a successful major league career already. In addition, they all have a history of signing through the mail for people. While that doesn’t guarantee that they will sign during the fall league, I’m willing to take that chance.

I may or may not send off a few more requests in the next couple of weeks, depending on who is signing for people. But no matter what, I plan to post an update every time I receive back a few autographs, as I did this year during Spring Training; assuming I get any autographs back at all. So be sure to check back over the next few months to see updates of the autographs I successfully receive.

My Final Baseball Game of 2014

On Thursday, for the 20th and final time of 2014, I’m heading out to a baseball game.

More specifically, a minor league playoff game, which just so happens to be a rematch of last year’s International League finals, with the hometown Durham Bulls set to take on the visiting Pawtucket Red Sox. Both teams are very evenly matched in numerous ways, however, while I’ll surely be rooting for the Bulls to win the game, and subsequently take three of the five games against Pawtucket to head to the Triple-A National Championship like they did last season, I’m going to be attempting to snag a few autographs from the Red Sox.

Although I saw the Red Sox earlier in the year, back in June, they’re an even better team than they were then, which is truly saying something. While they’re now without Mookie Betts, Allen Webster and Matt Barnes, who were with the team back when I previously saw them, the Red Sox now have six of their organization’s top ten prospects on the team, with Garin Cecchini being the only one who was with the team in June.

The biggest addition to the team since I last saw them is their top pitching prospect, Henry Owens. Going 17-5 with a 2.94 ERA in the regular season, Owens looks to be a big part of the Red Sox’ future down the road, and is at the top of my list for players I want an autograph of.

Other additions to the team that I’m looking to get an auto from include Eduardo Rodriguez and Edwin Escobar, both of which came over as part of a trade from another team; Cuban phenom Rusney Castillo, who signed a record breaking contract with the Red Sox earlier this year; and Blake Swihart, Brian Johnson and Deven Marrero, who are also a few top prospects who look to be headed for bright big league futures.

As I did last season, I’m planning to post a recap of my year out at the ballpark sometime in the week following Thursday’s game, so be sure to check back for that. With all of the talent that’s going to be there on Thursday, it’s sure to make for an exciting conclusion to an amazing minor league season.

Blogging Plans for Remainder of 2014 Regular Season

We’re quickly approaching the final month of the 2014 Major League Baseball regular season, and that means that the playoffs are just around the corner. With only a few dozen more days until the end of the season on September 28th, I figured I’d do a blog post — as I do from time to time — covering what I’m planning to write about over the course of the next month or so.

First up, on August 28th, I’m going to be publishing an entry on the top five story lines worth keeping an eye on in the final month. There are several dozen potential points of interest that people around the baseball world will be keeping an eye on throughout September, but I’ll do my best to narrow it down to a mere five topics.

Once that’s up, I’ll, obviously, post an entry on the first day of September with the latest statistical leaders (something I’ve done every first day of the month throughout this season) from around baseball, and will likely do the same toward the end of September, or, perhaps, on the first day of October. I haven’t decided yet.

Either way, around a week or two into the month, after the Minor League Baseball season has ended, I’m going to be publishing a recap of sorts from my time spent this past season out at local minor league ballparks. I did the same things last year, going over each game briefly and displaying the autographs/game used items I picked up, but I did remarkably better this time around, so I’m looking forward to publishing that.

When the playoff teams have been finalized at the end of the season, I’ll be giving my postseason predictions, starting with the Wild Card games and working my way all the way down to the World Series. Though I was extremely far off yet again this year with my preseason predictions, I was able to successfully pick the World Series matchup in 2013 — unfortunately, I had the Cardinals winning instead of the Red Sox — so hopefully I’ll be able to do it again.

Other than that, it’s all up in the air.

Wil Myers Returns to Durham for Rehab Stint

Over a year since leaving the Durham Bulls to begin his major league career, Wil Myers is returning to Durham. After injuring his wrist back in late May up at Fenway Park in Boston, Myers is set to serve as the Bull’s designated hitter tonight against the visiting Buffalo Bisons, in game one of his rehabilitation process.

vertical-wil-myers-apWinning the 2013 American League Rookie of the Year award by a wide margin, after putting together a season of 13 homers and 53 RBI’s to go along with a .293 batting average, Myers got off to the start that was to be expected out of a top five prospect. At just 23 years of age, Myers is looking to make his way back to Tampa as quickly as possible to continue that great kickoff to his career.

But first, as stated, he’s going to spend a bit of time with the Bulls, which is quite fine with me. After seeing Myers play in half a dozen games in 2013 at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, I’m looking forward to seeing him again. As luck would have it, I had already planned to attend tonight’s game around a month ago. It just so happened that Myers is starting his rehab today.

Although I got Myers’ autograph three times while he was with the Bulls last year, after winning the rookie of the year award, and with a bright big league future still ahead, I’m going to be trying again. While the visiting Bisons have a decent team, including manager Rich Hebner, outfielder Kevin Pillar, and pitcher Sean Nolin, no one on the entire team comes close to the talent level that Myers possesses.

Though there have been rumors that Wil Myers could be sticking around in the minors for around two weeks, this is the best chance I’m going to have to once again snag his autograph in the foreseeable future. The Bulls head out of town after this weekend, and when they return the following weekend, despite the fact that Myers could still be a part of the team, the visiting Charlotte Knights are a too good of a team to pass up. Therefore, I’m going to be trying for their players and not Myers. It’s basically tonight or not at all.

Even if I don’t get another Wil Myers autograph, seeing the most recent rookie of the year after the fact is still something of significance that I’m looking forward to. Assuming it doesn’t rain out the game, tonight is going to be a fun night.

Red Sox Down, But Not For Long

No matter how you look at it, the Boston Red Sox are having a poor season. Despite a great deal of anticipation surrounding the team for 2014 after winning the World Series last year, the Sox currently hold the last place position in the American League East division. With a better win-loss record (13 games under .500) than only the Astros and the Rangers in all of the American League, the Red Sox have lost all their hope for the 2014 season being a memorable one — memorable in a good way, that is.Red Sox

Any remaining hope that the Sox did have was diminished last week just before the trade deadline when they made several trades that sent some of their key players off to other teams. Most significantly, Jon Lester being sent out to Oakland in exchange for Yoenis Cespedes, who should provide some pop to a struggling Red Sox outfield, was a big blow to the team.

While Cespedes is a fantastic player, and will undoubtedly help the Sox moving forward, Lester was an ace, and aces are extremely valuable. A team simply isn’t the same after loosing such a valuable asset, and it will certainly show.

But Lester wasn’t the only Red Sox pitcher who changed uniforms. Also getting sent packing were John Lackey and Jake Peavy, who brought back Allen Craig and Joe Kelly, and a couple of minor league prospects, respectively.

Though David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Mike Napoli, and breakout Brock Holt, have been big parts to the Red Sox team this year, coming through big in games, there have been too many injuries to have the Sox make any sort of run towards making the playoffs. Last season everything seemed to go right every single day of the year, but this season things are just the opposite, with players not being able to get on a roll.

With a mere 51 games left to their season, the Red Sox are beginning to look to the future for signs of better things to come. And, fortunately for them, they have an unbelievable amount of young talent set to contribute to the Sox as soon as the 2015 season, leading many to envision big things for them next year.

Consisting of Mookie Betts, Henry Owens, Blake Swihart, Garin Cecchini, Allen Webster, Anthony Ranaudo and Christian Vazquez, all of which are age 24 or younger, the Sox have seven of their top ten prospects currently at Triple-A or in the major leagues, leaving them with numerous options to help improve their ball club shortly down the road.

Two of those multiple options were just recently promoted to Triple-A, in Henry Owens and Blake Swihart, however, they are arguably the most talented of any players in the Red Sox farm system.

052414_6847-MOwens holds a 15-4 record between Double-A and Triple-A this year, with an ERA of 2.47, after an outstanding Triple-A debut on Monday night. Swihart is hitting an even .300, with a career high 12 home runs and 55 RBI’s to this point in the season.

Though it isn’t likely that either one will be a September call up, seeing that the Red Sox are out of things, both could play huge roles in a resurgence for the Red Sox in 2015.

As far as Mookie Betts, Garin Cecchini, and the remaining, previously mentioned prospects go, all have seen some major league time at some point this season, and while none of them blew people away by posting amazing stats, they each are expected to have bright big league futures.

Once the Red Sox’ top prospects begin to reach the big league level and stick, combining their talents with the likes of the always consistent David Ortiz, newcomer Yoenis Cespedes, and star second baseman, Dustin Pedroia, the Sox should begin to see things turn around.

With there being rumors that the Red Sox could potentially resign Jon Lester this coming offseason to a deal for 2015 and beyond, despite 2014 being a down year, next year could wind up being the year the Red Sox begin to see that expected major turn around to their overall team. If all goes as predicted (given, that hardly ever happens), 2015 could turn out to be a very special season.

2014 Triple-A All-Star Game

While Monday night’s Triple-A Home Run derby was extremely exciting, with Minor League Baseball’s top sluggers putting on a home run hitting show, Wednesday’s Triple-A All-Star game was the event that everyone had been waiting for. With the stars of tomorrow from both the Pacific Coast League and the International League set to take on each other in what was sure to be a thrilling game, many people (myself included) showed up to the ballpark fairly early.

Normally I’d be getting to the ballpark early because I was going to try for autographs. But thanks to an autograph session that was held at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park on Tuesday afternoon, I was able to get an auto from every player that I wanted, and thus, it wasn’t a top priority at this game. Even so, I still arrived to the ballpark right before the gates opened, getting inside in time to watch the last portion of the Pacific Coast League’s batting practice:

DSCN7230Down on the field (as seen in the picture) was Stephen Piscotty (in the batting cage), Andrew Susac and Max Stassi, among others, with numerous players in the outfield shagging balls. With me not trying that hard for autographs, I wasn’t down near the dugout at this point, but after seeing arguably the best player of both teams, Joc Pederson, gesturing that he’d sign autographs after he came back out of the clubhouse, I decided to head down to the field anyway.

Despite having gotten Pederson’s autograph the day before, with him being listed as the number 30 prospect in all of baseball by MLB.com, it was worth another shot. Unfortunately, although he kept his promise of signing autographs once he came back out, Pederson signed for everyone but me. Skipping over me twice, apparently he remembered me from the day before; at least, that’s all I can think of. But that was okay.

Although I would’ve liked to have gotten his auto again, seeing the future Dodgers’ star outfielder (assuming they can figure their outfield situation) up close was cool in itself:

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After failing to get an autograph from Pederson, I made my way to my ticketed seat (the same one I had for the home run derby) to watch the pre game introductions. While every player seemed thrilled to be there and honored to have been selected to participate, no other player seemed quite as happy to be taking part in the All-Star game as the Clippers’ first baseman, Jesus Aguilar:

DSCN7256If that’s not pure excitement by Aguilar, I don’t know what is.

Shortly after all of the players had been introduced from both the Pacific Coast League and the International League, and after a flyover during the National Anthem, . . . . :

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. . . . the 2014 Triple-A All-Star game got underway.

The starting pitcher for the International League, Liam Hendriks, had been fantastic heading into Wednesday’s game. Having gone 7-1 with a 2.19 ERA so far this season for the Buffalo Bisons (Triple-A affiliate of the Blue Jays), Hendriks picked up right where he left off, keeping the Pacific Coast League off the board in the top of the first inning.

On the mound for the opposing Pacific Coast League was Elih Villanueva, who didn’t fare nearly as well. In the bottom half of the first inning, Wilson Betemit drove in a pair of runs, taking the score up to a quick 2-0 International League lead. Then, in the very next inning of swings for the International League, Jhonatan Solano (with a man on base) blasted an impressive shot over the left field blue monster, bringing the score up to 4-0:

DSCN7277Not surprisingly, that’s as far as Villanueva was allowed to go, being replaced by Spencer Patton after 1.2 innings pitched:

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Patton would finish out the inning, with the Pacific Coast League once again bringing in another pitcher for the third, in Kyle Hendricks, who was finally able to keep the International League off the board, after they had scored a couple of runs in each of the previous two innings.

Neither team would score for the next few innings, with the first run of the game for the Pacific Coast League, and the first run of the game since the bottom of the second inning, coming in the top of the sixth inning thanks to a Joc Pederson home run. Pederson, who had struck out in his first two at-bats of the game, took out some of his frustration, absolutely demolishing a ball deep into the right field stands:

Having attended dozens of Bulls games, I’ve never seen a ball hit that well to right field. For that matter, I’m not sure any of the participants in the home run derby a couple of nights prior hit a ball quite that deep. Though I’d heard a lot about the extreme power that Pederson possesses, I was still amazed at how far the ball traveled.

Getting back to the All-Star game, which, on a side note, was being broadcasted live on MLB Network with Darryl Hamilton and Paul Severino doing the play-by-play, . . . . :

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. . . . despite Pederson finally getting the Pacific Coast League on the board and bringing the score to within three runs, the International League would ultimately put the game out of reach in the bottom of the sixth. A two-run triple by Felix Perez, followed by a double from Steven Souza Jr. that scored Perez from third, took the score up to 7-1 in favor of the International League.

Though the Pacific Coast League would attempt a comeback, scoring a run in the top of the eighth as well as the top of the ninth, Merrill Kelly was able to record the final out of the game to secure the 7-3 win for the International League, which has now won seven of the last ten Triple-A All-Star games:

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For their contributions to the game, Liam Hendriks of the International League and Chris Taylor of the Pacific Coast League were named the “top stars” of the game. Hendriks’ two shutout, one hit innings, in which he struck out four, got the International League off to a great start, which they were able to continue. Taylor, going 3-4 with a couple of doubles, was one of the few bright spots for the Pacific Coast League (other than Joc Pederson), being one of only three players from either side (Jose Pirela and Ivan De Jesus were the others) to record more than one hit.

Though I’ve never attended a Triple-A All-Star game at any other ballpark, it’s hard to imagine that it could’ve been done any better than the one on Wednesday in Durham, North Carolina. The entire week — from the home run derby, to the autograph session, to the All-Star game itself — seemed as though it was planned out specifically with the fans in mind. While it will likely be a long time before Durham ever hosts these events again, after the experience from this week, whenever it returns to the Bull City, I’ll certainly be sure to make the trip.

2014 Triple-A Home Run Derby

After over a year of anticipation, the day finally arrived. Taking place last night in Durham, North Carolina, and showcasing some of the minor league’s premier power hitters, the 2014 Triple-A Home Run Derby is something that I’d been looking forward to witnessing for a long time. As always, I made the decision to show up to the ballpark early to try for a few autographs. Thus, despite a gate opening time of 5:30 for the 6:35 derby, I made my way to the All-Star themed Durham Bulls Athletic Park at around 4:50:

DSCN7169Even though I still had a good amount of time until I could go inside, I went ahead and jumped in line. The extremely hot sun was beating down on myself and the fans around me, but I was glad I made the choice to get my place in the line, as it wasn’t long afterwards that it became fairly long. Thankfully, the time in the heat passed fairly quickly, and upon the opening of the gates, I took off for the Pacific Coast League’s dugout.

With the Pacific Coast League being such a loaded team of top prospects and former big leaguers, there were already a lot of people down by the dugout when I got there, making it difficult for me to get down to autographing level. But when Nick Franklin (the first player to emerge from the dugout) popped out . . . . :

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. . . . I was able to (with a little help from fellow auto seekers) get him to sign a couple of cards for me.

Soon afterwards, tons of players began to flood out of the dugout, and items to get autographed were passing by me right and left. The next player I got to sign a few cards for me was Wednesday night’s All-Star game starting pitcher, Elih Villanueva. But autos from Franklin and Villanueva was all I was able to acquire before the game, as the ushers made us all go back to our assigned seats to clear out the aisle.

Before the derby got underway, the well known softball slugging long haul bombers, who have been known to hit softballs up to 500 feet, took to the field to show off their amazing hitting skills:

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There were three total sluggers, each of which were impressive. Though I had seen the long haul bombers last season up in Seattle, they were just as good this time, slamming two total home runs onto the roof of a four story building, some 450+ feet away. But while they were great, the event that everyone came to see was the Triple-A home run derby, which began shortly after.

Despite losing Mike Hessman (the all-time International League home run leader) and Dan Johnson from the derby roster due to an injury to Hessman and a big league callup for Johnson, the lineup was still decent. Consisting of Francisco Pena, Matt Hague, Allan Dykstra, Jesus Aguilar, Mike Jacobs and Mikie Mahtook, there were sure to be a good amount of homers hit, and after the participants posed for a group photo down around home plate . . . . :

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. . . . the derby got underway.

The famous bull sign (“hit bull, win steak”) down the left field line at the DBAP was originally predicted to play a big role in the derby, with the incentive to hit it being that if it was hit 15 times one lucky fan would take home $15,000. But unfortunately, the Bull was hit only once (everyone in attendance received a free steak taco as a result), with the low number of bull-hitting home runs coming thanks in part to a pair of zeros posted in the first round of the derby by Mike Jacobs and Mikie Mahtook — each of which were eliminated.

The second round of the derby saw a cut to four players, as well as a change in my location. For this round, I made my way out to the outfield, with the slight hope of catching a home run ball, but mainly with the reasoning to see a few batters take their turns from a different perspective:

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A few balls were lofted in my general direction, but nothing came too terribly close. While I was in the outfield, Matt Hague and Jesus Aguilar posted rounds that didn’t hold up in the end (though Aguilar did nearly drill me with a foul ball, had it not have been for fans who knocked it down). Meaning, the final round of the derby was going to be between Francisco Pena and Allan Dykstra.

Clay Counsil — the BP pitcher who threw to Josh Hamilton in his historic 28 home run first round of the 2008 derby up at Yankee Stadium — was on hand to throw the final round of the derby to both of the remaining players, and the crowd seemed excited to see him:

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In Francisco Pena’s set of swings to kick off the championship round, he failed to hit a single home run, leaving Allan Dykstra with just one homer needed to take home the title of 2014 Triple-A Home Run Derby champion. And he did just that. Slugging a home run to right field, Allan Dykstra wound up winning the derby in front of the sold out crowd:

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After the derby had concluded, there was still a multitude of players hanging around on the field, so I once again took off for the dugout with the hopes of getting some more autographs. I was able to get one more player to sign for me before I left the ballpark, being Andrew Susac, bringing my total number of player autographs to three for the game.

Although not everything went my way on Monday night, it was still a very enjoyable time. It’s likely going to be decades before the Bull City hosts these events again, and it’s one of those things you may only witness once or twice in your lifetime.

For the second half of the events, I’m planning to head out to the All-Star game on Wednesday, where I hope to do better in terms of autographs, but no matter what, I’m going to have a great time, no doubt about it.

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