Familiar names common in Florida State League All-Star Game history

jlembo@bradenton.comJune 13, 2014 

BRADENTON -- The Bradenton Marauders' motto "It All Begins In Bradenton" applies to the high Single-A team's impact on the Pittsburgh Pirates, the parent club.

It has to do with Tony Sanchez and Jeff Locke and Starling Marte and the other guys who cut their teeth at McKechnie Field before reaching the ultimate goal of playing big-league ball for the Buccos.

On Saturday night, however, fans of the Pirates won't be the only ones catching a glimpse of their favorite teams' future.

McKechnie Field plays host to the 53rd edition of the Florida State League's All-Star Game, which gets underway at 7:05 p.m. Saturday and pits the North Division's best players against their counterparts from the South.

It's the first time the game will be played in Bradenton, the Marauders' home since playing their inaugural game in 2010. But the all-star game's history is rich and full of familiar names.

Robinson Cano, Joe Mauer, Jonathan Papelbon and Ryan Howard are some of the players who participated in the Florida State League's All-Star game en route to terrific major-league careers.

"You're getting all-stars," said Chuck Murphy, the FSL's president since 1990. "Sometimes you're not getting the top ones. But they're all-stars."

The game began modestly in 1936, when a recorded crowd of 324 fans headed to Daytona Beach to watch a team of All-Stars beat Daytona Beach, 24-2. The league was composed of six teams -- the DeLand Reds (Cincinnati Reds), Gainvesille G-Men (no known affiliate), Palatka Azaleas (Detroit Tigers), Sanford Lookouts (Washington Senators), Saint Augustine Saints (no known affiliate) and Daytona Beach Islanders (St. Louis Cardinals).

Not every year featured an all-star game, with biggest gap coming between 1965-82. Teams were picked, but games weren't played.

"Maybe they wanted to save some money," Murphy said.

The game has been played every year since, however, with Jupiter, Dunedin, Fort Myers, St. Petersburg and Port Charlotte among the cities sharing host duties.

Currently, the league is split into two six-team divisions, the North and South, making it easy to split up the stars. It wasn't as simple in the 1980s, however, when the Florida State League had three divisions of five teams. So All-Stars were divided into American and National League affiliates, or teams from the east or west parts of the state.

Regardless of the formats, the game has spawned its share of stars. Long before he became one of the most prolific hitters in Seattle Mariners history -- and a piece of "Seinfeld" lore -- Jay Buhner was a 20-year-old prospect with the Fort Lauderdale Yankees who had three hits and two RBIs in the East's 5-2 win in 1985.

Playing third base that night for the East was Ken Caminiti, who had 73 RBIs that year -- his first in pro baseball -- for the Osceola Astros.

The 1987 game featured a pair of future New York catchers -- Jim Leyritz (Yankees) and Todd Pratt (Mets), though Pratt was with the Winter Haven Red Sox at the time.

Sometimes the biggest performances come from the most unlikely All-Stars. Marc Griffin never made it past Double-A, but that didn't prevent him from going 4-for-5 with three RBIs in the 1991 game. The game was played at Vero Beach, Griffin's home park with the Single-A Dodgers.

Murphy's most memorable All-Star moment happened in Fort Myers in 2009, when he watched Starlin Castro, currently the Chicago Cubs' shortstop, go 4-for-4 with an inside-the-park home run that went over the head of outfielder Ben Revere, now with the Philadelphia Phillies.

"Castro hit a liner to center. (Revere) moved in, realized he was in trouble and the ball was over his head," Murphy said. "That was really exciting to watch."

The one drawback of a minor-league all-star game is the best players have already moved past Single-A. Derek Jeter was named the Florida State League Most Valuable Player in 1994 with the Tampa Yankees, but was already in Double-A by the time the game rolled around. And the Marauders had three players voted into last year's game, but outfielder Gregory Polanco and pitcher Nick Kingham were already members of the Double-A Altoona Curve.

Shortstop Alen Hanson represented Bradenton well, however, hitting a three-run home run to win the game's MVP award.

"You have to have guys fill in," Murphy said.

The 1992 game in West Palm Beach was canceled after three innings because of rain. A crowd of 5,047 watched the National League jump to a 4-0 lead before the weather got hairy, stopping a game that included future big-leaguers Carlos Delgado, Jose Lima and Fernando Vina.

"The field was very poor for drainage, and we got quite a lot of rain that day," Murphy said. "Most of the field was pretty well-saturated. Normally, what we plan to do (if it rains) is plan to play on Sunday, but we couldn't get on the field even then. The field didn't drain."

That's baseball. You never know what's going to happen. That's what makes baseball, especially the all-star game, special.

"It's a great group of ballplayers," Jeff Smith, the South Division's manager in 2009, told MLB.com. "There are a lot of guys who have played only one or two years of pro ball. You're going to find a few (future big league) stars from this game. You just don't know who they are yet."

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