In less than two weeks, the top players in the American Association will descend on Shaw Park -- and the Winnipeg Goldeyes are gearing up to bring a big contingent.
No fewer than six Goldeyes were named to the league's 2014 all-star team, which was revealed on Monday. That's the most of any club on the North team, which includes players from Winnipeg, Sioux Falls, Sioux City, Gary Southshore and Fargo-Moorhead, as well as Quebec and Trois-Rivieres from the Can-Am League. (The league-leading Wichita Wingnuts also saw six players named to the South all-star team.)
The first two choices were obvious: First baseman Casey Haerther's .401 average leads the league and shortstop Tyler Kuhn's .358 has him tied at No. 2. Catcher Luis Alen made the cut too, and so did unrepentant base thief Donnie Webb, who is tied for the league lead in stolen bags with 22. Chris Kissock got tapped for the all-star pen thanks to 11 saves and a 2.82 ERA in his 28 games, and infielder Ryan Pineda was chosen by managers as a "utility" all-star.
In total, fully half the starters on the North all-star team are Fish, and Goldeyes skipper Rick Forney is set to manage the North squad.
"That's our team, though," Kissock said. "We got a bunch of good players, and there's a lot of guys who are deserving of it."
Really, the results speak for themselves -- despite stumbling in their last two series, the Goldeyes' 35-19 record is still the second best in the league and tops in their division. Still, there's always something nice about a little extra recognition, especially for a player such as Pineda, who doesn't often crack the headlines.
"Ryan's a guy that you cheer for," Kissock said. "He stays under the radar, and he does a great job... that's something the guys on the team cheered."
Unfortunately, Pineda broke his hand last week and won't be able to play. Still, it's a feather in the cap for a guy who has quietly batted .302 with solid defence when called upon this season. He's also, at 25, the youngest player in a very seasoned Goldeyes' batting order.
For Kuhn, perhaps the call on Monday morning wasn't a huge surprise. He joined the Goldeyes fresh off playing part of 2013 in AAA ball, and has played 199 games at that high level. In Winnipeg, he got right to work, earning the league's first player of the week award. This isn't his first time being singled out, either: He was named to A-level South Atlantic League all-star team in 2009, and the AA Southern League all-star squad in 2011.
"It was a lot of fun," he said on Monday, noting the honour gives players a chance to mingle. "I remember I played with a bunch of guys who are in the big leagues now. You get an opportunity to play with guys you don't normally get a chance to, but everybody's really awesome during the activities that happen before the game."
Meanwhile, Kissock wasn't exactly expecting his name to be called. But as the reliever mulls his future in baseball, the honour was especially welcome. "It was quite a shock to me," said Kissock, whose first child, Kyran, was born last month. "I thought maybe a long shot... but I wasn't really thinking about it. To get that call... was pretty special. To get picked out of all the players in the league, and especially on our team, there's pitchers that are well-deserving of it too."
When the all-star celebrations kick off on Monday, July 28, Goldeyes fans will also see another familiar face: Last year's Fish ace Matt Rusch is coming back, this time with the Trois-Rivieres Aigles of the CanAm League. Rusch hurled two years in Winnipeg and was the pitcher of record in the 2012 championship-winning game. He returned to Quebec last year with his partner, who is from La Belle Province.
In Trois-Rivieres, Rusch has held down a firm 2.39 ERA in 10 starts and has posted one of the best strikeout rates in his career, with 61 kills in 60.1 innings on the bump.
The all-star party kicks off July 28 with a fan festival and skills competition at Shaw Park. On July 29, major-league legend Fergie Jenkins will be the guest of honour at the all-star luncheon at the Fairmont, followed by a skills camp.
Finally, the 2014 American Association All-Star Game will kick off at night, with the league's top players facing off for fun and bragging rights.