Chiefs All-Stars savor chance to relax

With Peoria hosting Midwest classic, Gomber, others get to stay home

Peoria's Austin Gomber went 6-3 with a 3.58 ERA and a complete-game shutout in 12 first-half starts. (Peoria Chiefs)

By David Allen / Special to | June 23, 2015 11:33 PM

PEORIA, Ill. -- Five members of the Peoria Chiefs had the excitement of playing the 51st Midwest League All-Star Game in front of their home fans at Dozer Park. But there also was some pragmatism, such as the rest that comes with the reward.

"Being able to stay home and not have to get on a bus or find a place to eat is really nice," said Chiefs left-hander Austin Gomber, who pitched a scoreless second innings for the Western Division All-Stars.

The midseason classic, won by the East, 5-0, was the first hosted by Peoria in 10 years.

"It's neat to get to meet a lot of these guys that you play against," Gomber said. "It's fun, a great time and it's fun to be able to play in front of our own fans."

The West squad was managed by Chiefs skipper Joe Kruzel, who was joined by his Peoria coaching staff.

"It's great to play for skip," said West starting shortstop Oscar Mercado, the Chiefs' lone position player on the team. "I let the [other West players] know that he's pretty laid back, he wants us to have fun, but he loves to win."

Kruzel started Luis Perdomo on his normal day to start, and the Peoria right-hander took the loss after allowing one run on one hit and one walk with one strikeout in one inning. But he saved his ace, right-hander Daniel Poncedeleon.

Poncedeleon was told by his manager that he wouldn't pitch Monday because of the way the Chiefs set up their second-half rotation.

"I was ready to go, but it was great getting to meet guys you face all year," said Poncedeleon, who visited the mound in the ninth to summon Chiefs closer Robby Rowland.

Rowland, who has nine saves and a 1.91 ERA, struck out the only batter he faced.

"It was fun playing in front of the home crowd," Mercado said. "There's so much talent here, it's great to play with them."

There was a cocktail party in downtown Peoria then dinner for the players, followed by a live band on Monday night at the stadium and post-game activities were planned for Tuesday.

"The Chiefs did a great job putting things together for us," said Gomber, who struck out two in a scoreless inning. "It's been really fun getting to do things with these guys."

"That was a lot of fun," Mercado said. "It was great, getting to see the other guys [in that setting]."

But the best feeling was getting to relax at home.

"It's a really long season, we've already played [68] games," Gomber said. "This gives us a chance to sit back, recharge our batteries and not have to go travel. Then we come out and have the first four games [of the second half] here at home. So this is a chance to relax, have some fun and, hopefully, come out and get off to a good start."

"It's great not having to travel and then have to travel back," Poncedeleon added. "This is a good time of year to get some rest."

Poncedeleon may have gotten his best rest of the season -- the Chiefs stayed in the same downtown hotel as their All-Star teammates.

"I share a place with four guys, so that was nice to be able to do," Poncedeleon said. "The bed was nicer, the shower was nicer."

"At first, you'd rather have the three days off, to be honest with you," Kruzel said. "But you want to embrace it and have fun with it, intermingle with the fans and give the players a chance to have a great experience. It was an outstanding atmosphere and the kids seemed to really have a good time with it."

David Allen is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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