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Sluggers heat up Derby in Modesto06/21/2011 10:23 PM ET
By Chris Martinez / Special to MLB.com
MODESTO, Calif. -- It was in triple-digit heat at John Thurman Field that the best from the California and Carolina League circuits prepared for their annual All-Star Game showdown Tuesday.
San Jose center fielder Gary Brown, scheduled to lead off in the midsummer classic, threw his support behind hometown hero Mike Zuanich of Modesto in the Home Run Derby. But the Nuts first baseman only hit two dingers and failed to advance to the final round.
Even so, the Rockies prospect enjoyed the Derby. He said he wasn't feeling pressure for All-Star festivities or the second half of the season.
"This is only one day of the full year where we train," Zuanich said. "All we do is to get back to line drive swings and get back to the game approach. [I'll] enjoy this now, let it fly and worry about tomorrow when it comes."
Kinston's Aaron Holbert served as the pitching coach for the Carolina League squad, and he thought Winston-Salem's designated hitter Ian Gac would slug his way to the crown. But the White Sox prospect only hit two in the finals and five total to fall to Lancaster's Kody Hinze, who blasted five in the final round and 10 total. Hinze had 19 longballs in the first half of the season.
Holbert enjoyed seeing the wide array of talent in both clubhouses. He believes the All-Star format prepares the young players for life in the Majors.
"When they get called up they're not going to know some of the pitchers," he said. "Let's say they get to the playoffs or the World Series. It's a seven-game series and the season is on the line. It's a matter of making adjustments and doing what you can to get whatever information you can with the few pitches you've seen on the mound or between innings. [It's about] going out there and making the proper adjustments to succeed."
Catch as he can: Rancho Cucamonga's Gorman Erickson was eager to catch the talented Cal League pitchers as the home team's starter behind the plate. Starting pitcher Tyler Skaggs of Visalia was one of the more intriguing of those candidates to him.
"We've faced him a few times and he's appeared to be unhittable," Erickson said. "It would be really nice to be on the opposite side of that."
When he returns to the Quakes, the South Division's first-half champs will be trying to continue what they started, despite some nagging injuries. They probably get a boost from Erickson's positive attitude.
"I love what I do," he said. "I play baseball. I love it every day."
Sometimes you feel like a Nut: Mike McClymonds drove 700 miles from Twin Falls, Idaho for the game. He moved away from Modesto in 1990, but hasn't lost his love for the Nuts or for the area.
He bought his ticket to the midsummer classic in March and said he enjoyed watching one of his favorite former Modesto players, Charlie Blackmon, make his Major League debut earlier in the month.
The game proved to be perfect timing for McClymonds, who will remain in the area for a nut-buying trip. He purchases Modesto grown pistachios and sells them at Twin Falls area farmers' markets as "Mike and Tyson's Modesto Nuts," named in part after McClymonds' late dog, Tyson.