LITTLE ROCK - Before his old hitting coach, Springfield catcher Cody Stanley got the biggest hit of the Texas League All-Star Game. Stanley hit a two-run drive off Corpus Christi's Kyle Smith in the fourth inning for the 3-1 lead that held up and gave the North Division the victory over the South before 9,047 at Dickey-Stephens Park.
"It is a tough ballpark to hit in," said Stanley, whose feat earned him MVP honors. "But luckily tonight the wind was on our side, it died toward the end and it wasn't blowing straight in like it usually does. That was a huge part of it."
The homer helped make it a victorious night for Arkansas Travelers manager Phillip Wellman, the North manager who was Stanley's hitting coach in the St. Louis Cardinals system the past two years.
"Nobody deserves that award more than he does tonight and I'm so pleased for him," Wellman said.
Stanley, who finished 2 for 2 with 1 run and 2 RBI, said he and Wellman are still close friends. They sat together at Monday night's all-star gala and Stanley said they still speak frequently.
"Oh my goodness I couldn't ask for anything different man," Stanley said of hitting for his old coach. "He's a great guy and I couldn't ask for anything different."
As he spoke Stanley was sporting the jeweled, championship wrestling style belt he was presented as the MVP.
"I'm going to wear it all night," he said.
Stanley said it was an odd feeling to be in the more spacious, home clubhouse used by the host Arkansas Travelers and sit in the home dugout. But with Wellman in the picture, Stanley still had his comfort zone.
"Just go out there and play man," said Stanley when asked the best piece of advice Wellman had ever give him. "Give it all you've got, don't worry about your mechanics, don't worry about anything. Just go out there and give it what you've got."
Stanley entered the night with seven home runs and was among those who lost out to Frisco infielder Ryan Rua in the pregame home run derby. Rua hit eight in each round to finish with 16 while Stanley hit the fewest with one.
"I figured I might as well work on my approach in the derby then come into the game and really take some swings," Stanley said. "I wasn't disappointed at all. What happened happened and you can't change it."
Springfield left-hander Kyle Hald came on in the third and pitched two innings to get the victory. Hald gave up the South's lone run in the top of the fourth and struck out one. The right-handed Smith worked two innings in taking the loss, striking out two and getting out of a third-inning jam.
Trailing 1-0 entering the bottom of the fourth, the North got its first hits and took the lead when Arkansas' Brian Hernandez doubled off Smith and Stanley drove the ball over the right-field wall to make it 2-1.
"It's always a special night for these kids and, you know what, it's a just a joy to watch them perform and be a part of it," Wellman said. "It's an honor and it's an honor for them and to see them have good nights it's that much more rewarding.
The North padded the lead with a run in the sixth. Tulsa's Brian Humphries led off with a single, Tulsa teammate Cristhian Adames singled him to third and he scored on a wild pitch by Frisco's Alex Asher.
"One hit basically won the game, a home run and you give him credit," said San Antonio and South manager Rich Dauger. "He squared it up and put it out of here."
The South opened the scoring in the fourth when center fielder Rymer Liriano (San Antonio) singled off Hald, stole second and scored when Josh Whitaker (Midland) singled.
The North loaded the bases against Corpus Christi left-hander Thomas Shirley in the second thanks to a throwing error, a single by Stanley for the game's first hit and a one-out walk to Harold Riggins (Tulsa). But Shirley, who replaced starter Luke Jackson (Frisco), induced a double-play grounder from Northwest Arkansas' Cheslor Cuthbert to get out of the jam.
The South dodged trouble again after Liriano dropped a fly ball from Humphries in center for an error. But "Smith struck out Lane Adams (Northwest Arkansas), while Adames grounded out and Arkansas' Alex Yarbrough flew out to Liriano.
"What a great group of kids to be able to manage in an all-star game," Dauer said.
The toughest part of the whole experience, for Dauer and many of the South players, was getting to North Little Rock. He said he was stranded in Dallas for seven hours the night before, and the whole Corpus Christi contingent was stranded for 10.
"I guess if there was work it was getting here," he said.