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Pride resonates among All-Stars

Midsummer classic is first for many New York-Penn Leaguers
August 17, 2010
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Amid the excitement of playing alongside new teammates and the thrill of representing their clubs at the New York-Penn League All-Star Game, the emotion most prevalent in the dugouts was pride.

Many All-Stars have only been playing professional baseball for a few months and for them the game represents a major milestone in their quest to make it to the big leagues.

Batavia Muckdogs outfielder Nick Longmire was delighted when he learned he'd made the roster of the National League affiliates.

"It means so much to me," he said. "This is definitely one of the coolest things, baseball-wise, that I have ever been a part of. To be in my first year of pro ball and be here playing in the All-Star Game definitely means a lot. Making the All-Star team was definitely one of my goals."

Becoming an All-Star also was a goal of Brooklyn Cyclones third baseman Joe Bonfe, who said he always imagined playing good, fundamental baseball from Opening Day on.

"It means I've met one of my goals," he added. "It's midway through the season and I hoped to start hot and then stay hot for the rest of the year. To be in the All-Star Game is a big honor and I thank God it happened. And, hopefully, I can finish the season strong."

Hudson Valley Renegades right-hander Austin Hubbard added, "If we win, that's awesome, but it's the other things like signing these fans' autographs that make it special."

But it wasn't only the players who were happy to be at Richmond County Bank Ballpark.

"It's fun and it's exciting and it's an honor to be here and come and do this," said first-year Brooklyn Cyclones manager Wally Backman. "It's a proud moment for me and it's nice to see some of the players who I haven't seen in the league yet."

In brief

An All-Star first: Williamsport's Cesar Hernandez became the first National League representative to hit a triple in the All-Star Game when he roped a 2-2 pitch down the right-field line in the first inning.

Hernandez tried to score one batter later on a squibber by Brooklyn Cyclones RF Cory Vaughn that rolled between the pitcher's mound and home plate. But RHP Casey Lawrence barehanded the ball and flip to Auburn Doubledays teammate Carlos Perez for the fielder's choice.

Slugger trouble: The pregame festivities included Home Run Derby. And while there were a few monster shots, the league leaders struggled. Marcell Ozuna of the Jamestown Jammers, who leads the NYPL with 15 longballs (including one at Boston's Fenway Park), launched a titanic shot to center field. But it was his only one that cleared the fences.

Longmire, who has eight homers in 50 regular-season games, failed to hit any during the derby. Not known for his power, Phillip Wunderlich of the Hudson Valley Renegades hit the longest shot of the competition when his second homer cleared the right-field fence, bounced and ended up in The Narrows, the body of water that separates Staten Island from Brooklyn.

Dave Freitas became the first member of the Vermont Lake Monsters to win the derby, following in the footsteps of Garrett Groce (Hudson Valley), Chris Vinyard (Aberdeen), Torre Langley (Jamestown) and Adam Amar (Auburn). In the one-round, winner-take-all event, Frietas slugged four homers, one more than Jeff Lanning of the Williamsport Crosscutters.

No joy, five years later: Wunderlich fell short of winning the derby, just as he did as a high schooler. "I haven't done a home run derby in a long time, so it's pretty exciting. Hopefully, I can hit a couple balls out, but it's going to be fun either way," he said before the competition. "The last time was probably four or five years ago in high school. I did OK, but I don't think I won it. It was a lot of fun though."

Homefield advantage: Preston Claiborne was one of five Staten Island Yankees excited to perform in front of the home fans at Richmond County Bank Ballpark. "It's a huge honor, especially here at our home field," he said. "It's a great feeling and this is the first All-Star team I've been a part of, and I'm really excited about it. The crowd is filling up and I can't wait to go out there and do my thing for them. I have the support of the fans and that's all I could ever ask for."

All-Time Team announced: Three Hall of Famers are among the greatest players in the 72-year history of the New York-Penn League. Voting began April 20 and concluded Aug. 1, with fans and experts from all 14 teams determining the team. Current players on the All-Time Team are Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte of the New York Yankees and closers Jonathan Papelbon of Boston Red Sox and Billy Wagner of the Atlanta Braves. The rest of the team is comprised of Don Mattingly, Pete Rose, Robin Yount, Wade Boggs, Jim Rice, Kenny Lofton, Bernie Williams, Curt Schilling, Randy Johnson and Dwight Gooden. Buck Showalter of the Baltimore Orioles is the manager.

Almost perfect: The Cyclones boast a league-leading 3.02 ERA at the All-Star break. Three Brooklyn pitchers combined to work 2 2/3 innings Tuesday without giving up an earned run. But Ryan Fraser blew a save in the eighth inning by issuing a walk and giving up a sacrifice fly and the go-ahead single. The runs, however, were charged to Williamsport's Chase Johnson.

Ulterior motive: Bonfe had other reasons for wanting to get up close and personal his All-Star teammates. "I'd like to get to know some of the guys and their tendencies so that when we play them in the playoffs we can use their weaknesses against them."

Fuggedaboutit: Actor Vincent Pastore of The Sopranos fame, got lost in the moment after a cameo appearance in the celebrity home run derby. "I'm excited to be up here at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx ... wait, wait. I'm excited to be here at Staten Island with the guys who will eventually be up in the Bronx at the All-Star Game."

This and that: The NL's four hits were the fewest in the six-year history of the All-Star Game. ... The AL committed just one error in the first five All-Star Games, then made two in the span of three innings. ... This was the quickest midsummer classic at 2 hours, 21 minutes, five minutes faster than the 2007 edition.

Ashley Marshall is a contributor to