SAN FRANCISCO - Durham Bulls right-hander Jeff Niemann was content with being one of 10 elite Minor League pitchers selected to represent the U.S. Team at the 2007 XM Satellite Radio All-Star Futures Game on Sunday.
Little did he know heading into the weekend that he would join an even more exclusive club by game's end.
Niemann, along with Rick Vanden Hurk of the World Team, became the 17th and 18th pitchers who have gotten the start in a Futures Game. And the experience is one Niemann will not soon forget.
"It's definitely up there, definitely top five," Niemann said. "It will be hard to ever re-create this. I was honored just to get the start. It was a lot of fun and very exciting."
While his inning in the game didn't go exactly as planned --he allowed two runs -- one earned -- Niemann remained positive about the experience as a whole.
"It was fun to get out here with all of these guys on both teams," he said, "just go out there and have a good time."
It didn't help Niemann's performance that the World Team base runners weren't giving an inch.
"They stole bases," Niemann said. "That's why they got the runs. It's an exhibition game, so I'm not worried about people stealing."
And besides, when Hall of Famer and 12-time All-Star Dave Winfield, who managed the U.S. Team, pats you on the back after a tough inning, any frustrations quickly evaporate.
"It's kind of comforting to come back into the dugout," Niemann said. "[Winfield and World Team manager Juan Marichal] know what's going on. He told me, 'Good job.'"
Niemann has little to worry about when it comes to the somewhat inflated stats. Last year, U.S. starter Phil Hughes gave up three runs on three hits, including a homer, during his inning on the mound. Hughes remains the Yankees' top pitching prospect.
A spot on a Major League roster looks quite enticing to Niemann, like it no doubt does for all of the Minor Leaguers who participated in the Futures Game. The 48 players got the Major League treatment from their hotels to the ballpark.
"It's different, it's nice," Niemann said. "You're comfortable whatever you do, whether you're at the hotel or here [at the ballpark]. Everything is pretty much taken care of."
Niemann has been a fan of San Francisco since he played college ball with Rice, and he said his third visit to the city has been just as enjoyable.
"We played San Jose State when I was at Rice," he recalled. "We were pretty lucky at a program like Rice because every Sunday we would come into San Francisco and just hang out, see the city.
"The atmosphere here [at AT&T Park] is amazing. It's a great feeling. We were here when [Jose] Cruz Jr. was here and we had his younger brother, Enrique, on our team, so we got to go to some of the games."
Niemann admitted that seeing AT&T Park from field level was a bit better than enjoying it from the stands. And with the visit to the West Coast came a bit of sightseeing; it's not all about baseball for the 48 Minor Leaguers in attendance.
"We already went down to Fisherman's Wharf," Niemann said. "I was hoping to see some seals or sea lions, but apparently they go to mate in the summer months."
Niemann has had an impressive season in the International League. He's 9-5 with a 3.75 ERA in 18 starts. In 98 1/3 innings, he has 93 strikeouts.
"Things are coming around pretty nicely," he said. "I'm just getting comfortable and I just try to go out there every time and be consistently good.
"I'm just going to keep going -- keep going and things will work out."
Mark Shugar is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.