Game On: Spot the next Jeter on July 11
The list is a who’s who of baseball royalty: Derek Jeter, Justin Morneau, Mike Piazza, Chase Utley, Bernie Williams, Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Ian Kinsler, Ryan Klesko, Paul Konerko, Pedro Martinez, Alex Gonzalez, Tino Martinez. And that’s just scratching the superstar surface.
In fact, the Triple-A All-Star game has been a showcase for future Major League stars from its very beginning. Since its inception twenty-five years ago, some 900 players have participated in the game, and nearly all have gone on to play in the “Show.” Baseball fans will enjoy a glimpse into that future stardom when the Buffalo Bisons host the game, featuring the top players in the International league and the Pacific Coast League, on Wednesday, July 11 at Coca-Cola Field, the site of the very first Triple-A Baseball All-Star game.
“This game was born in Buffalo in 1988, so it’s only fitting that it returns to Coca-Cola Field in its twenty-fifth year,” says Bisons’ Vice President and General Manager Mike Buczkowski. “We’ve seen how this game has evolved over the past quarter-century from a single contest to a three-day celebration, and the Bisons’ organization is eager to host this great event once again.”
Since baseball is a game surrounded by statistics, here’s another to get fans excited: Of the game’s graduates to the big leagues, seventy-seven have also played in the Major League All-Star game. “Fans at the game will get to see the top players that Triple-A has to offer,” says Buczkowski. “Most players who have played in this game will continue or begin their major league careers in the very near future. [It’s] a unique window into the future of baseball.”
While some of the aforementioned stars are still playing in the Major Leagues, Derek Jeter may be the most recognizable and the most accomplished. Drafted in the first round—sixth pick overall—in the 1992 free agent draft by the New York Yankees, Jeter was quickly promoted through the minor leagues and, while playing for Columbus in the International League, was selected to the 1995 game played in Moosic, Pennsylvania. The Yankee figurehead’s two-hit performance that night contributed to his team’s 9-0 win and to his Hall of Fame career.
While he played fifteen games for the parent club in 1995, the shortstop was promoted to the Yankees on a full-time basis in 1996. Since then, he’s been a twelve-time All-Star (expectations are he’ll play in his thirteenth this year), has captured five Gold Gloves for fielding, and owns five World Series rings. Last season, Jeter became the twenty-eighth player in major league history to record 3,000 hits. And age hasn’t slowed him. While his playing days are far from over, the thirty-seven-year-old is already considered a Yankee legend, alongside the likes of Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Joe DiMaggio, and Thurman Munson. All have been enshrined in baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
Chipper Jones is another star emblematic of Triple-A success. Now in his nineteenth season with the Atlanta Braves, Jones has a career .304 average, is a seven-time All-Star, was the National League Most Valuable Player in 1999, and has a World Series ring. But in 1993, while batting .325 for the Braves’ minor-league affiliate in Richmond, he was selected to play in the Triple-A All-Star Game, as was his teammate—and future Major League—Ryan Klesko. In fact, Klesko was named that game’s “Star of Stars.” He went on to play sixteen seasons in the majors, finishing with a .279 average.
For the fans, the game represents the future of Major League baseball. For the players, it’s a near certainty that they’ll be playing in the Show soon. And for Western New York, it’s another chance to shine in front of a national audience.
“I think that the All-Star Game and the national television broadcast on the MLB [Major League Baseball] Network give us a fantastic opportunity to showcase the great baseball community we have here,” says Buzckowski. “From the cultural importance of Coca-Cola Field to the all-time attendance records set by our fans, we have plenty to be proud about in Buffalo.”
Gates open at 5 p.m. on July 11 at Coca-Cola Field, with the first pitch at 7 p.m., and post-game fireworks to follow. Tickets are on sale at the Coca-Cola Field box office or buffalo.bisons.milb.com. The Home Run Derby is at 7 p.m. on July 9, and a luncheon featuring Mets legend Tom Seaver will be held at noon on July 11.
Tom Koller is the senior associate athletics director at Buffalo State. A freelance writer, Koller spent twelve years as a sportswriter, columnist, and editor at the Niagara Gazette.