Next generation of All-Stars catches action in anonymity
NEW YORK -- Had the All-Star Game gone even deeper into the night and managers Terry Francona and Clint Hurdle made a desperate call for arms, there were a pair of dandies sitting in left field's upper tier box 662, row F.
Sitting nondescript amongst the 55,632 baseball fans at Yankee Stadium were a pair of pitchers selected in the top 10 picks of this year's June draft, left-hander Brian Matusz from the University of San Diego who went No. 4 to the Orioles and right-hander Aaron Crow from Missouri who went No. 9 to the Nationals. Talk about an auxiliary bullpen. They were joined by No. 5 pick Buster Posey, a catcher from Florida State (Giants); No. 8 pick Gordon Beckham, a shortstop from Georgia (White Sox); and No. 13 pick Brett Wallace, a third baseman from Arizona State (Cardinals).
Clad in an array of collared shirts, tees and cargo shorts, none wore a single team logo, and no one in the area seemed to recognize the athletic but unimposing quintet of first-rounders. USA Baseball had brought the five finalists for the Golden Spikes Award, given to college baseball's national player of the year, to New York City for today's presentation ceremony. Coincidentally, Pedro Alvarez, a third baseman from Vanderbilt picked No. 2 overall by the Pirates was sitting one section over, and so there were six of the top 13 picks -- and three of the top five -- chatting away without anyone seeming to realize who they were.
"We're all getting ready to start pro ball, so being here definitely makes us feel closer [to reaching the big leagues] and gives us extra motivation to do well this season," said Crow.
Though so much of this All-Star weekend has been about histories and memories, here were some of the future stars of the game. Actually, make that the future Future Stars, guys who are still a year or two away from the prospect showcase game and a few more years after that from the major-league All-Star Game. Each was making his first trip not just to Yankee Stadium but to anywhere in New York City.
"It's crazy and so crowded," said Beckham. "I live in Atlanta, but this is a lot bigger."
Posey, who led the nation with a .463 batting average and was third in home runs with 26 (two behind Beckham and LSU's Matt Clark), ultimately won the Golden Spikes Award.
"For me, this is award I grew up hearing about," he said. "Of all the national awards, Golden Spikes is the one I remember, as early as high school and maybe before, college players winning."
Posey would have been the perfect addition to any roster in a lengthy extra-inning game because of his versatility. He began his college career as a shortstop before converting to catcher. In a game against Savannah State on May 12, he played all nine positions on the field. As a pitcher, he struck out both batters he faced.
"It went," said Posey, when asked how the experience had gone. "I didn't have any rockets hit at me anywhere, so I was okay."
Though these 20-somethings obviously would have fared better than the average fan had a home-run ball reached their section, they were just like everyone else in expressing their awe over the night's event.
"Bringing out all the Hall of Famers and all the All-Stars at the same time was a very cool moment," Matusz said. "It's something I'll remember for the rest of my life."
All-Star News, Notes, and Observations
After the game, American League starting pitcher Cliff Lee was in the clubhouse, packing a duffel bag, feeling like yesterday's news -- literally. "I guess it's been a while," he said, and he was right. At that point, he had been out of the game for almost five hours.
Josh Hamilton said the biggest problem with the long game was not having eaten anything since the pregame meal. By the time the game ended, the clubhouse spread was a distant memory, nearly seven hours ago for some players, and keeping one's energy up was no small matter. The Fox cameras spied Kevin Youkilis downing a Red Bull in the late innings, and he was long since out of the game.
Before the game Rangers special assignment coach Johnny Narron, a close friend of Hamilton's, was asked if he had seen anything like the show Hamilton put on in the Home Run Derby. "Every day," he replied. "But it was great for everyone else to see it too."
AL manager Terry Francona was zinging one-liners postgame:
On Scott Kazmir's pitch count: "We were going on hours, not pitches."
On executive vice president for baseball operations, Jimmie Lee Solomon entering the dugout to check on the AL's pitching situation: "I asked him if he could pitch."
On J.D. Drew's MVP performance: "He might have been a bit MVP-er if the game had gone longer. He was going to pitch."
On the stress of managing the late innings: "I have acne on my forehead. I told [AL coach and Tigers manager] Jim Leyland I'd quit cursing and chewing [tobacco] -- I lied."
Oddest sight of the night wasn't so much that Red Sox and Yankees were sharing the infield but that Francona was wearing a uniform top. There was no word whether he even knew his own jersey number before last night.
Those in the right-field loge's auxiliary press box were treated to several clever offering of the Bleacher Creatures, including chants of "You still suck!" to Drew after his homer and "Hit the ball to Uggla" on multiple occasions.
On Monday Braves catcher Brian McCann, while answering questions during an interview session at the Grand Hyatt, said of the All-Star Game, "This is going to be the greatest sporting event I've ever been to. And just to be a part of it -- words can't describe how excited I am." McCann almost wasn't a part of it before finally entering in the bottom of the 15th inning. He immediately played a key role in the game's conclusion, nearly slapping a tag on Justin Morneau that would have pushed the game into the 16th inning.
Also on Monday, Diamondbacks ace Brandon Webb was resigned to not pitching in the All-Star Game. "I don't know if I'm going to get a chance now to throw in that game. I threw almost 110 pitches [Sunday], so I'm probably not going to see the field." But, sure enough, there he was entering the game in the bottom of the 14th at about 1:10 a.m. The extra "day" of rest seemed to help, as he retired the side in order with a pair of strikeouts.
Both left fielders, Carlos Quentin and Ryan Ludwick, entered the game in the seventh inning, figuring to get an All-Star cameo. Instead, each played a full nine-inning game.