Managers, working with players they will compete against a few days or weeks later. Players, teaming up with guys they normally call their rivals - competing against a team of players from an entirely different league.
Seems counterintuitive? Perhaps. But it's the way the tradition works, and all involved make sure to soak in the atmosphere - along with the knowledge that they are regarded as Triple-A baseball's finest.
"It's great," International League starter Tyler Cloyd said. "To have the honor to come here and be involved, and also to get to start, I can't explain in words how it feels."
Surely, it feels pretty darned good.
The Pacific Coast League's best will square up with the International League's finest in Wednesday night's midsummer classic, right here at Coca-Cola Field. This year marks the 25th version of the Triple-A All-Star Game, and it will take place right back where it started - in Buffalo.
The All-Star Game brings prospects from all 30 MLB teams together to showcase their skills and demonstrate the talent that makes them a step away from becoming major leaguers. Young guns and old veterans converge - from 21-year old outfielder Will Myers of Omaha, to 34-year old infielder Mike Hessman of Oklahoma City - the all-time Triple-A home run king.
The All-Star Game is the only time all year - save for the one-game Triple-A National Championship Game between each league champion - when players and managers from the two Triple-A leagues can see each other in a baseball environment. Each league contains a mix of American and National League affiliations, and players frequently switch leagues when they are traded between organizations.
So All-Star Week provides an opportunity for reunion - such as one between International League manager Mike Sarbaugh of the Columbus Clippers (Indians) and former Indians prospect Matt McBride, who now plays for Colorado Springs of the Rockies organization.
"For myself to see Matt McBride, who came up through our system," Sarbaugh said. "Being able to catch up with him, and see how things are going. It's been a good couple days so far for me."
Aside from individual reunions, the All-Star Game serves as a chance to see how the game is played in the 'other' Triple-A League, and to consider the differences that may exist.
In past years, the PCL has been regarded as a hitter's league - in part due to higher elevations - while the IL has been known as a pitcher's league, PCL manager Marty Brown of Las Vegas (Toronto) said.
"In the past, a lot of prospects didn't go to the PCL, pitching-wise," Brown said. "Offensively, it's always been a good league to hit in."
But lately, not so much. More promising young pitchers have been eager to hone their craft in the PCL, and the effects are apparent.
"This year, there have been some really good arms and young prospects going through the PCL," Brown said. "They've accepted the challenge and done pretty well. So it's not as much of an unbalanced league, International League having all the good pitching, and the PCL having all the hitters. It's balanced itself out a lot better this year."
The proof is in the pudding, and Wednesday's results will put Brown's beliefs to the test.
As far as IL manager Sarbaugh is concerned, he still has plenty of solid pitching options to work with. One of the challenges of managing an All-Star team is making sure all players receive adequate playing time - the IL roster consists of 9 pitchers, 2 catchers, 7 infielders, and 6 outfielders.
For Sarbaugh, the task of fitting everyone in is an enjoyable one - even on the mound, with the intriguing mix of quality starters and relievers.
"It's nice to be able to try to put that staff together," Sarbaugh said. "I don't think you can go wrong."
With Cloyd getting the start, Sarbaugh says the Coca-Cola Field fans can expect to see Bisons starter Matt Harvey right behind him.
"For Cloyd to get the start, he's earned that," Sarbaugh said. "To have Matt Harvey, he's going to come in behind him tomorrow. We saw him three or four weeks ago - really good arm, good-looking pitcher. To have those types of players in this game, to showcase them, that's what this game's all about."
Each player has carved his own path in the world of baseball - figuring out what works and what doesn't, in an effort to someday make it to the big leagues. Based on their selection into the All-Star lineup, everyone here has learned well, and will get to showcase their talents for the Buffalo fans as a result.
Some have had a harder path than others. Cloyd, of Lehigh Valley (Phillies), struggled in college at Nebraska-Omaha before being placed on academic suspension. The adversity could have broken him, but the Nebraska native persevered - working to get his grades back up in community college, apologizing to coaches for letting them down, and playing summer league ball in Arizona to stay in baseball shape.
All set to return to Nebraska-Omaha, Cloyd got a surprise that accelerated his baseball career - the Phillies selected him in the 18th round of the 2008 draft. Although he threw a bullpen session for a few scouts a week before the draft, he hadn't thought too much of it.
"I had no clue," Cloyd said. "It was obviously good to throw in front of them (the scouts), but I didn't think anything was going to come of it. So when I got that call, it kind of took me a little second to realize what was going on."
From that point forward, Cloyd was a member of the Phillies organization, and he has quickly worked his way through the ranks. He comes into the All-Star Game with an 8-1 record for Lehigh Valley, with a 2.01 ERA - in his first Triple-A season, no less.
Cloyd's PCL counterpart, Graham Godfrey, comes from Sacramento of the Oakland organization. Godfrey is an old veteran in Triple-A ball compared to Cloyd - having spent much of the last three seasons in Sacramento, with accolades such as a 2011 Baseball America Triple-A All-Star selection to back up his merits.
Godfrey has continued to thrive in the PCL this year, coming into the break undefeated with a record of 8-0. The Tampa native feels he's on the brink of major-league success, but still embraces the All-Star environment.
"I've worked pretty hard this year," Godfrey said. "To have it pay off in this way is really special, and I know it's something I'm going to remember for a long time."
Players and coaches from all over the country (and world) are congregating in Buffalo for the week's festivities. Some are visiting Buffalo for the first time - and some are returning to a former home. Brown spent three years as Bisons manager - leading the Herd to the IL title in 2004 - and couldn't have been happier when he learned he would be coming back.
Brown came to Buffalo with his wife for the week's events, and said she was amazed by how many people he knew in the Niagara region.
"She's a little bit freaked out right now," Brown said, in jest. "Because everybody has come up, and was overly friendly, and knows me. It's like 'hey, I haven't seen you in forever' and hugging everybody, and shaking hands. And she's like 'wow, you did stay here for a while, huh'."
As a manager in the PCL, Brown's only chance to return to Buffalo in a baseball setting? To manage the PCL squad in the Triple-A All-Star Game, if it happened to be in Buffalo. The stars aligned, and here he is.
Along with plenty of talented players, ready to make their impact in the big leagues when they get the chance. Just like Brown did when he held court for three years in the Bisons dugout.