TROY — Another chance to get better.
For Hunter Martin and the rest of the players at Tuesday’s New York-Penn League All-Star Game, that’s what the night’s action at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium represented.
“The main goal here is to learn and get better because the ultimate goal is to make it to the big leagues,” said Martin, a Tri-City ValleyCats pitcher who worked a scoreless third inning for the North all-stars in its 5-2 loss against the South. “It’s a cool honor to be an all-star and to get to play, but I’m here learning and enjoying the process.”
That process playing out landed Martin in the all-star game. Multiple players originally named to this year’s all-star game’s rosters were removed from them after earning recent promotions, such as pitcher Nathan Thompson, who was promoted from the ValleyCats to Quad Cities. Martin took his place for the North.
ValleyCats pitcher Reggie Johnson, who ended up taking the loss in the game after allowing three runs in the ninth inning, said his selection to the all-star game did make him dream a bit harder about a potential call-up of his own in the future. Such a thought process, he said, is inevitable — but has to be fought.
“It definitely crosses your mind,” Johnson said. “But at the end of the day, you can’t get ahead of yourself. You can’t do too much thinking about that.”
The focus, as Martin stressed, is just on getting better each day — especially since being a New York-Penn League all-star is not a guarantee of future success. Go back five years, and the rosters from that year’s all-star game haven’t produced many recognizable MLB names to date. That’s a reminder the best New York-Penn League players are generally several years still away from getting a shot in the big league, and that starring in Class A short season ball is not a prerequisite for future success. Just looking at the ValleyCats’ history, the team’s alumni that have become the biggest stars — current Houston Astros players Jose Altuve and Dallas Keuchel — were not all-stars during their time with Tri-City.
Martin said he kept in mind that an all-star appearance in his first professional season only means so much.
“The first year, I’m not looking at that,” said Martin, a 20th-round pick earlier this year. “My goals are to stay healthy and to learn.”
That first goal is what ValleyCats manager Morgan Ensberg said was his focus Tuesday in his work as the North’s manager. As much as some guys wanted to go hard during warmups, his top priority was making sure all of his players made it back to their real teams in good shape for the rest of the season.
“They’re so new in their career and you know you want to get a lot of reps, you want to get as many reps as possible,” Ensberg said. “I also think that these guys have been playing, basically since February 1st [with] many of them coming out of college. That’s a long workload, so we wanted to take it easy.”
A crowd of 5,012 attended the event, which featured a home run derby that ValleyCats first baseman Jake Adams won. ValleyCats second baseman J.J. Matijevic had two hits in the all-star game, while outfielder Andy Pineda went hitless.
The North’s Colby Bortles of the Connecticut Tigers and Zac Law of the Hudson Valley Renegades each homered, as did the South’s Tristan Gray from the West Virginia Black Bears. Gray was named the game’s MVP.
The ValleyCats are back in action tonight at Bruno Stadium against Hudson Valley. Martin said the approach to that game will be the same as it was for Tuesday’s all-star game, even if the pregame routine will be a bit different. Hours before the first pitch was thrown at Tuesday’s all-star game, nearly every player took advantage of the barbers brought into the stadium’s clubhouses. The free haircuts qualified as the glitzy perk of the day for the all-stars
“That was the special treat for today,” Martin said. “That was pretty cool.”
South 000 010 103 — 5 8 3
North 000 001 010 — 2 10 2
Castano, Young (2), Hanifee (3), Lowther (4), Schlabach (5), Alcantara (6), Oller (7), Ramirez (8), Teague (9), Summerville (9) and Stafford, Lopez (5); York, Dunshee (2), Martin (3), Engelbrekt (4), Reyes (5), Strotman (6), Perez (7), Kelliher (8), Johnson (9) and Devencenzi, Law (6).