DURHAM They came from places like Rochester and Buffalo, Tacoma and Reno, from minor league teams in minor league towns, all hoping to shine among the best of the best in the closest stop there is to Major League Baseball, without being there.
Some had spent time in the majors. Others were hoping to get there for the first time. There were no financial bonuses for the players in the Triple-A All-Star game on Wednesday night at Durham Bulls Athletic Park. The bonus was just being here, with another chance to be seen.
The International League All Stars – those from the same league in which the Durham Bulls play – won the game, a 7-3 victory against the Pacific Coast League that was largely inconsequential. There was no postseason home-field advantage on the line, as there is in the big leagues.
For individuals, though, there were greater stakes. A chance for veterans to prove they still have something left. A chance for younger players to prove they might belong on a brighter stage. A mix of old and young led the International League.
And best of all, Bulls and International League manager Charlie Montoyo said, “I got everybody in (the game). That’s what I wanted to do.”
Wilson Betemit, the Durham Bulls’ 32-year-old infielder who was among the oldest on the rosters, drove in two runs in the first inning with a single off the glove of Mike Jacobs, the Pacific Coast first baseman who has spent parts of seven seasons in the majors.
An inning later, Jhonatan Solano, a 28-year-old infielder in the Washington Nationals’ farm system, hit a two-run home run over the fence in center field. Solano, a native of Colombia, has played in 36 major league games.
The first two innings provided the International League with all the offense it needed. Its first four pitchers, led by starter Liam Hendriks, combined to allow three hits and no runs in five innings.
Hendriks, 25, plays for the Buffalo Bison in the Toronto Blue Jays’ organization. He began his professional career when he signed a free agent contract with the Baltimore Orioles in 2007 and he appeared in three games with the Blue Jays earlier this season.
He’s hoping his performance could be a catalyst for a return. He’s anxious for another chance after leaving the Blue Jays with an ERA higher than 6.00 in three starts.
“I’m giving it all I’ve got trying to get back up there now,” said Hendriks, an Australian native who speaks with the accent of his homeland. “It’s just a matter of hoping God shines on me and I get back up there now. Me and my wife are trying to get back up there.
“She loves Toronto; she’s half Canadian, so that always helps.”
Hendriks smiled and laughed and said, “(We’re) hoping it helps, at least.”
His story wasn’t uncommon on Wednesday night. Players on the margin filled the Triple-A All-Star game – guys hoping for another chance at the next level, or maybe their first chance, and hoping that this time they can stick.
Hendriks was named the MVP for the International League team, and Chris Taylor, a former standout at Virginia, earned MVP honors for the Pacific Coast League. Taylor, who hit a pair of doubles, hadn’t played in Durham since helping Virginia to the 2011 ACC tournament championship.
Now he’s in Tacoma, Wash., and his family back in his hometown of Virginia Beach, Va., rarely gets to see him play. They were all there on Wednesday night.
“The best part was my family was here, a lot of friends and family,” Taylor said. “And to play well in front of them – a lot of them haven’t seen me since high school, even.”
So Wednesday night was about that – about players on the rise making the most of an opportunity and finding their own meaning amid a final score that was ultimately meaningless. The exhibition also allowed Durham a chance to showcase itself, and its revamped, redone stadium, which underwent renovations before the start of this season.
“When we did the renovations, we didn’t want this just to be Durham Bulls stadium,” Mike Birling, the Bulls’ general manager, said. “We wanted this to be a place where we can put events on, unique events. Where fans from the Triangle can come.”
There weren’t many recognizable names in the lineups. People might have heard of Betemit, whom the Atlanta Braves signed years ago when he was 14, and they might have heard of some others who have spent time in the big leagues.
For the most part, though, this was a game for players still trying to make their names. Nonetheless, an announced crowd of 10,274 came to watch. One of the loudest cheers of the night came before the start of the seventh inning, when members of the grounds crew broke into a choreographed dance while music blared over the speakers.
When it ended, there was a fireworks show and players cleared their lockers. It was back to Sacramento and Memphis and Omaha. Back to a long schedule in a long season and, for some, back to long odds of making it to the majors.
“Here we go again,” said Montoyo, the Bulls manager, who was already looking forward to the second half of the season. “Here comes the grind.”
Carter: 919-829-8944; Twitter: @_andrewcarter
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