Tacoma Rainiers

Triple-A All-Star notes: One manager was not even in the country Sunday

Monday was a travel day for the Triple-A All-Star game participants. They came from all over the country.

But only one had to travel through customs to eventually get to Tacoma — Pacific Coast League manager Tony DeFrancesco.

That is because for the past week, DeFrancesco, who is normally the Fresno manager, was up with the big-league ballclub, serving as the Houston Astros third-base coach.

He stepped in for Gary Pettis, who was out because of knee surgery.

“Before I knew it, I was in three cities quicker than you can turn it around,” DeFrancesco said.

DeFrancesco, who served as the Astros manger the final 41 games of the 2012 seasons — Houston’s final season in the National League — saw plenty of activity waving around baserunners. Houston tallied 63 total runs in seven road games at Atlanta (three) and Toronto (four).

On Sunday, Houston blasted the Blue Jays, 19-1.

“That is a very powerful offense the Astros have right now,” DeFrancesco said. “It happen real quick up there. Coaching third ... that was fun.”

The 54-year-old New York native returned to Houston at 11 p.m. Sunday, then had a 4 a.m. wake-up call to get on a flight to Sea-Tac Airport for the Triple-A All-Star game.

DeFrancesco also coached the Triple-A All-Star game in 2005, when he managed for host Sacramento.

“I was a young manager. It was my third year in the PCL,” DeFrancesco said. “But we won the game.”

DeFrancesco surely would have preferred to keep his feet up on the desk in the manager’s office at Cheney Stadium for most of Monday. Instead, he was out throwing batting practice for home run derby participants.

“It’s no different for a coach as it is for a player — you’ve got to really grind it out,” DeFrancesco said.

FAMILY TRIP TO TACOMA

Tacoma may be hosting this week, but the All-Star festivities have drawn fans from far beyond Pierce County.

One family of four traveled from Michigan to see top upper minor-league prospects in action.

“A lot of these guys will have an impact on a major-league roster before the end of the season,” said 38-year-old Ben Helms.

This is the third Triple-A All-Star game Helms, his wife and their two children have attended.

“We make a family trip out of it,” he said.

Madison Helms, 11, said her family has traveled to several places following the Detroit Tigers organization.

“We do that for all of our vacations,” she said. “We go see ballgames.”

This is the family's first trip to Tacoma, and they plan to attend all three days of events at Cheney Stadium.

They've enjoyed the city — and the stadium in particular — so far.

“This one’s cool,” Madison Helms said. “It's huge.”

NASHVILLE SLUGGER HAPPY TO SEE FAMILY

Renato Nunez, the Nashville Sounds first baseman who leads all minor-league hitters with 24 home runs, said he was excited to participate in Monday’s home run derby.

But seeing his family — something he says rarely happens during the season — made the trip even better.

“I’m pretty glad I’m here,” Nunez said. “My family was able to come here so that makes it a little more fun. … I’m happy that they’re here.”

Nunez, who ranked second among home run derby participants with a .551 slugging percentage, played nine games for Oakland last September in his first big-league appearance.

“It was amazing,” Nunez said. “ . . . like a dream come true. When we were kids, we always wanted to play there.”

TACOMA WAS ALMOST SHAFFER’S HOME

Columbus Clippers first baseman Richie Shaffer was a Seattle Mariner for all of 10 minutes last winter.

He was part of the trade that brought Taylor Motter to Seattle in November. A month later, Seattle designated Shaffer for assignment to make room for Chris Heston, and lost him to Philadelphia. Cleveland then picked him up on a waiver claim just before spring training.

“At the time I was disappointed that I kept getting moved around, and it was a lot to take in,” Shaffer said. “Having all that happen helped me get my head back on right, and focus on the things I can control.”

In 82 games with Columbus, Shaffer is hitting .258 with 62 RBIs. His 18 homers this season lead the International League.

SHORT HOPS

Less than 250 tickets for the All-Star game Wednesday are still available. Most of them are standing-room only tickets ($20.50). ... The home plate umpire on Wednesday is Nick Mahrley from the PCL. The three other umpires are the PCL’s Billy Cunha (second base) and the IL’s Nic Lentz (first) and Jeremy Riggs (third).

Staff writers Lauren Smith, Luke Garza and Terrence Holmes contributed to this report.

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