Matt Erickson is ready to manage the West Division in the 2013 All-Star Game. Consider this a job that was fifteen years in the making.
The last time the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers manager had a chance to be in the Midwest League All-Star Game was 1998. He was in his first full season as the third baseman for the Kane County Cougars. Erickson, who would finish third in the league in hitting that season and be named to the MWL Post-Season All-Star team, was left off the West Division squad for the league's Mid-summer classic.
"I was snubbed!" Erickson kiddingly exclaimed. "I didn't have a very good first month of the season offensively and then things clicked in that second month and I got on a nice little streak and I think I was leading the league in hitting at the All-Star Break. Unfortunately I wasn't able to go be a part of it. But, I was able to get away from the game for a little bit and came back rejuvenated and came back ready to go for the second half."
Erickson is the manager of the Western Division for the 2013 All-Star Game because he guided the Timber Rattlers to the 2012 Championship. It sounds like his philosophy for this game isn't much different from his first two-and-a-half years as the manager of the Timber Rattlers.
"I just got done telling our guys in the clubhouse, 'Hey, priority number one is to stay healthy. But, they're playing here in a great atmosphere and it's the best talent in the Midwest League. So, I know that I'm excited."
"Priority number two is to have fun," he continued. "Make sure you're smiling and don't take things to seriously. The third thing that I'd like to see with this talented group is once the game starts to have their competitiveness take over because what makes these guys great [is that] not only do they have some ability, they also love to compete and hopefully that shines through with their effort tonight."
The starting lineup that Erickson has for this game is impressive. The fact that Dario Pizzano, an outfielder for the Clinton LumberKings who has tormented Timber Rattlers this season, is batting ninth is a testament to the depth of the batting order.
"Especially the [guys from the] Cedar Rapids ballclub," Erickson noted. "They have four players in our starting lineup today and I think all four of the guys are in the top five in RBI in the league. Obviously we have some offensive production from the whole Western Division when you look at the numbers they put up. Hopefully we can do that in this game."
Lance McCullers (3-4, 2.08 ERA) of the Quad Cities River Bandits was a bit of a surprise as the starting pitcher for the West in this game. Raul Alcantara of Beloit went 7-1 with a 2.44ERA for Beloit in the first half and will appear later in the game.
"He's a guy that's got electric stuff (NOTE: 68 strikeouts in 60-1/3 innings pitched) and he's limited to twenty pitches today, explained Erickson. "I know he's got a unique pregame routine and we decided to go with him and get that out of the way and his teammates will back him up in the first inning if needed."
As for how he plans to use the three Timber Rattlers pitchers in this game, Erickson noted that he would probably only use Damien Magnifico. Austin Blaski is a scratch and Ryan Gibbard may only be used in an emergency.
"Magnifico is going to come out and pitch the fifth inning," said Erickson. "Blaski was going to back him up in the fifth. Unfortunately, we just got some news that Blaski's is scratched. There's some tenderness in his shoulder and we're going to get that checked out. Obviously we don't want to hurt him in this game. So we're going to keep him out."
"Gibbard will be a late inning guy just depending on how the game flows," noted Erickson. "He could use some time off, too. If we blow up a little bit on the backside with the pitching you'll see Gibbard. If not, hopefully we can give him this time off."
Erickson is the fourth Timber Rattlers manager to be at the head of a squad at the Midwest League All-Star Game. Mike Goff (1996), Gary Varsho (1997), and Scott Steinman (2005) were the others and all were on the losing side. Erickson will try to turn that piece of history around tonight as he gets on the field for a Midwest League All-Star Game after that disappointment of not making the 1998 team.
When asked if he remembers who beat him out for the starting nod for the Western Division in the 1998 All-Star Game at Clinton, Erickson responded, "I have no idea."
For the record it was Luis Figueroa of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers.