North Tops South In Florida State League All-Star Game
CLEARWATER, Fla. — The North Division has been the Florida State League's better half this season—South-leading St. Lucie would be tied for fourth in the six-team North—and the same was true Saturday night as the North beat the South 5-3 in the FSL All-Star Game before a crowd of 5,134 at Bright House Field.
Bradenton first baseman Aaron Baker—who hit a two-run home run in the fourth and walked twice—earned the game MVP in a losing effort. He said he was much more relaxed than a year ago as a South Atlantic League all-star.
"This was a lot of fun—last year, I was pretty nervous and didn't play like I would like," said Baker, who was a ninth-round pick out of Oklahoma in 2009. "I think having gone through that, it was more enjoyable and was able to get a nice little hit."
Daytona Beach has dominated the leaue, with a 46-21 record and seven-game lead in the North, and Cubs batters had three straight hits to bring in the deciding runs in the fifth. Third baseman Matt Cerda put the North ahead with an RBI double, then scored on catcher Mike Brenly's single. Designated hitter Justin Bour, who won the league's home run derby before the game, followed with a single.
"It's been a great year, not only personally but as a team," said Bour, a former 25th-round pick who is second in the league in home runs (16) and RBIs (53). "It's exciting when you see the guys in front of you getting on. You don't want to be the only one that doesn't get a hit in that one."
Brenly had his father, former major-league catcher and manager Bob, in the stands, something that normally only happens during the major-league All-Star break. The elder Brenly, now a Cubs broadcaster, also caught a few games when Chicago was playing the Marlins.
"This is something we'll never forget," Brenly said of the All-Star nod. "Some people might think a couple days off would be good, but to be here is an honor. On Monday, we'll be back against each other, but this was fun."
No pitcher threw more than an inning—Clearwater's Jonathan Pettibone, Jarred Cosart, Trevor May and Julio Rodriguez each threw a perfect frame on their home field. Dunedin ace Deck McGuire, a 2010 first-round pick, needed 28 pitches for his inning, striking out three with two walks. St. Lucie's Matt Harvey, another 2010 first-rounder, was held out with the Southern Division first-half title on the line in the next few days.
Dunedin catcher A.J. Jimenez brought in two runs with what looked to be an inside-the-park home run in the first, but it was ruled a triple and error.
Perhaps the best story of the night was North closer Wes Etheridge, who retired in 2008 to become a youth pastor, only to return in independent ball in Hawaii last year before getting signed by the Blue Jays. As Dunedin's closer he has 23 saves and 1.08 ERA, and he came in with the tying run at the plate and two outs in the ninth, the 20th pitcher in the game.
He needed only two pitches to get a game-ending groundout for the save, and said he has been blessed in his return to baseball."I was praying about what to do, and I got a phone call from a random guy," the 26-year-old said. "He was a buddy, but I hadn't talked to him in a while. He said 'God doesn't really want you to be a pastor. I think you're supposed to play baseball.' God told me to go play baseball, so I did. Everyone has their calling in life, and mine wasn't to be a teacher, even though I wanted to be."