All-Star Grand Tour, Stop 2

The second stop on my All-Star tour for 2008 was the Midwest League All-Star game in Midland, Michigan. First, let me say that Dow Diamond (home of the Great Lakes Loons) – where Jonathan & I stopped last year just after Opening Day – is among my favorites of the new minor league parks. Not quite on the level of the new Lehigh Valley park, which is outstanding but considering this is A-ball, it’s phenomenal.

Midland’s the home of Dow Chemicals (hence the name of the Loons’ home park), but it also sports one of the best burger joints we’ve come across in our journeys. I know Jonathan is going to mention it in his blog, so I won’t duplicate his stuff since (since we feel the same way about the place). It’s called Daddy-O’s Diner and is on Main Street a couple of blocks from the ballpark. If you’re in Midland for a Loons game and have a hankering for a good burger and/or shake, definitely check it out.

mwl_parker_tm.jpgAs in Florida, our mission in Michigan was to grab a few of the top players for the feature/interview treatment. With five first-rounders on hand, the pickings were prime. We decided to start with a feature on South Bend pitcher Jarrod Parker, who was the ninth overall pick last June by the Diamondbacks. He had thrown recently and wouldn’t be pitching in the game, but we shot him at the Fan Fest, signing prodigious amounts of autographs, as well as during BP, during the team photo, opening ceremonies and wired him up during the game itself. Look for this feature next week, it’ll be a good one.

mwl_tall_short.jpg One of the more amusing sights to be seen was Beloit’s All-Star duo of Loek Van Mil and Chris Cates. Van Mil, a pitcher from the Netherlands, stands at 7-1 while team mate Cates, an infielder from Florida, measures 5-3. Seeing them standing side-by-side during warmups made for an interesting contrast. Cates appeared in the game first, pinch-hitting in the top of the sixth after a 30-minute rain delay and struck out. Van Mil came on in the bottom half to pitch for the West. I can only imagine what he must look like to a batter in the box – all arms and legs, and releasing the ball right on top of the hitter. He did strike out the first batter he faced before giving up a single. He then went to the, ahem… stretch, showing a nice compact delivery for a man so tall. When he finished his one inning of work, he had allowed one hit, one walk and one strikeout, and escaped with no runs allowed.

mwl_ahrens.jpgIn addition to the feature on Parker, we grabbed three of the other first rounders for interviews. Kevin Ahrens, the switch-hitting third baseman for the Lansing Lugnuts, was the 16th overall pick last June for the Toronto Blue Jays. Seems the Jays are going away from their usual m.o. of drafting college players – Ahrens was drafted out of high school, where he played mainly shortstop, but seems to be making the transition to third without too much trouble

mwl_kozma.jpgPete Kozma, who was drafted by the Cardinals just two picks after Ahrens – and like Ahrens a high school shortstop – was the second in our trio of interviews. Kozma played in the Gulf Coast, Appalachian and NY-Penn leagues last season and, judging by his inclusion on the Midwest League All-Star team, is doing pretty well in full-season ball this year.

mwl_revere.jpgThe other interviewee was Ben Revere, the center fielder for the Beloit Snappers who was the 28th overall pick of the first round by the Twins last season. Revere has been hitting the cover off the ball this season, bringing a snazzy .413 average with him to the All-Star game. Though somewhat small of stature (listed at 5’9), Revere’s 13 doubles and 9 triples had him leading the loop in slugging and his OPS is a very impressive 1.028. During the interview, Revere came off as thoughtful, hard-working and honest. Definitely someone to keep an eye on as he climbs the ladder through the Minnesota system.

Though the game went into extra innings – and there was a rain delay thrown in for good measure (which I spent watching the Celtics finish off the Lakers in the NBA Finals), we had a successful trip to Midland. I survived the five hour drive each way by listening to a book on CD – my new favorite remedy for the boredom of long solo car trips. This trip’s selection (which I started in Florida for the drive from Orlando to Viera) was Imperium by Robert Harris. Good stuff if you’re like me and love historical fiction (it’s about the Roman senator Cicero).

My next trip, a scant few days from now, is to the Carolina/California League All-Star game. It’s in Myrtle Beach, always a nice place to visit, which takes some of the sting out of the triple-header effect of doing the FSL, Midwest and Carolina/California back-to-back-to-back.

Look for the Midwest League video stuff next week.

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