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:
Down 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:
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:
If 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, . . . . :
. . . . 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:
Not surprisingly, that’s as far as Villanueva was allowed to go, being replaced by Spencer Patton after 1.2 innings pitched:
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, . . . . :
. . . . 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:
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.