When the players take the field Wednesday night for the Triple-A All-Star game at Cheney Stadium, the top Triple-A prospect won’t be there.
Charlotte Knights second baseman Yoan Moncada won election to the International League team in a landslide, and planned to participate in the All-Star festivities. But at what amounted to the 11th hour, Moncada’s trip to the Pacific Northwest was rerouted to Miami for another event affiliated with another All-Star game.
The event is known as the Futures Game, where prospects from all minor league levels showcase their skills on ESPN. It’s an intriguing concept with a format – the USA versus the World – that mirrors what has become a pattern in real life.
Although the event was introduced in 1999, I’ve never watched more than an inning or two of the Futures Game for a simple reason: It is scheduled on a Sunday afternoon during the regular season, which means the exhibition almost always poses a scheduling conflict with a real game involving the Mariners.
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This past Sunday, 28 Major League teams were playing real games during the Futures Game. Now that the big-league All-Star break is four days, from Monday through Thursday, you’d figure there’d be a window to fit in a Futures Game that doesn’t require baseball fans to make a choice between watching the big league players of today and the big league players of, well, whenever.
Another problem with the Futures Game is that saps talent from the Triple-A All-Star rosters. Aside from Moncada, such well-regarded prospects as Norfolk catcher Chance Sisco, Albuquerque first baseman Ryan McMahon and Scranton right-handed pitcher Brent Honeywell – named MVP Sunday after using his screwball to strike out four hitters in two innings – were invited to Miami.
More enlightened thinking could have put them where they belonged: with their Triple-A cohorts, at Cheney Stadium. For that matter, more enlightened thinking could have allowed the Futures Game to be played, say, Tuesday afternoon at Cheney Stadium.
Staging a contest during a lull when there is no Major League baseball on the schedule, it seems to me, makes quite more sense than staging a contest while 28 Major League teams are busy.
But that’s somebody else’s problem. As for the Triple-A All-Star game, visitors from the Pacific Coast League and International League were offering thumbs-up reviews Tuesday afternoon, when they took batting practice and signed autographs at assigned tables in the the Cheney Stadium concourse.
“I got here Monday night and had the opportunity to walk around and see the city with my family,” said Lehigh Valley catcher Jorge Alfaro, who brought his parents, wife and newborn child to Tacoma for the game. “It’s a really beautiful city. The ballpark is really nice, too. You guys have good fans.”
The fans had a blast during the Bryce Brentz Show, aka the home run derby on Monday night. Previous versions of the derby have ranged from monotonous to intolerable, but the pace was crisp – it took two hours, or one hour shorter than the average game – and the mood was festive.
It didn’t hurt that Tacoma’s Dan Vogelbach kept the crowd engaged by advancing two rounds before losing to Brentz, whose remarkable display of power and endurance in the finale – four minutes, 18 bombs – left Vogelbach’s response moot.
“It was fun,” said the Rainiers first baseman. “They put on a great event. The fans were great, but they’re always great when we play here.”
For Vogelbach, who signed out of high school with the Cubs in 2011, the Triple-A All-Star game is akin to a class reunion. When you spend six years in the minors, you see some players on the other team less as opponents than old friends.
“The first thing you hear from the guys is, ‘This is a nice ballpark,’ ” said Vogelbach. “It makes it good for me to call it home.”
Participating in the Futures Game on Sunday didn’t discourage Las Vegas shortstop Amed Rosario from boarding a plane for the 2,700-mile trip. He’s 21, lives for baseball, and hungry to play in any game that requires him to swing a bat and wear a glove.
“I really like it it here,” said Rosario. “It’s not like Vegas, which is so hot right now.”
The Wednesday forecast in Las Vegas is calling for another 100-degree day, during an endless summer of 100-degree days.
A 2,700-mile trip to cool down?
“It feels so good,” he said.
Yoan Moncada doesn’t know what he’s missing.
John McGrath: @TNTMcGrath