What started out as a cloudy, rainy day, turned into a beautiful night for the 2014 PGCBL All-Star Game at Historic Dunn Field in Elmira, N.Y. 4,289 fans saw the East Division All-Stars, coached by Amsterdam manager Keith Griffin, defeat the West Division All-Stars, led by Elmira's Matt Burch, 3-1.
PGCBL President Jeff Kunion said the All-Star Game showcases the best of the league.
"We award the game to a franchise that will be able to put on a great show for the fans, provide all the necessary support for MLB scouts, can handle surprises, like yesterday's rain and still put on a game with the best players in the PGCBL," he said.
While the rain did affect the Scout Day activities, All-Stars were still able to run the 60-yard dash in front of more than a dozen Major League scouts. John Razzino (Amsterdam) led all runners with a 6.40 time. Nick Walker (Elmira), Luis Silverio (Newark) and Josh Gardiner (Amsterdam) all finished with a time of 6.50.
Hudson Belinsky, an associate scout with the Tampa Bay Rays, said the pre-game workout activities are very important when scouting a player.
"It helps you identify, initially, what you are looking for and who you need to look at more closely," he said. "In this format, they're only going to face a pitcher one time so they won't be able to make adjustments and stuff like that, so it's nice to see what they offer skills-wise."
Following the 60-yard dash, a representative from each team took part in the Home Run Derby, in which the top two sluggers from each division moved on from the opening round.
Each hitter was given ten outs and the big boppers from the East Division were Jake Salpietro (Amsterdam) and Zach Collett (Mohawk Valley), who clubbed four and three home runs, respectively. For the West Division, Zac Bellinger (Elmira) crushed six long balls and Mark Williams (Adirondack) stroked two.
The top two from the semi-finals would move on to the championship round and the two sluggers from the West Division, Bellinger and Williams, each clubbed five bombs to move on.
In the finals, Bellinger hit first and crushed four home runs, most of them being no-doubters. Williams needed four to tie and five to win, but came up short, hitting two over the left field fence. Elmira-native and hometown favorite Zac Bellinger won the 2014 Home Run Derby.
"I couldn't have asked for a better performance out of myself," he said. "I was a little nervous at first, but once I settled in, my pitching coach, Coach Hill, put 'em right down the middle and I hit them over the fence."
Home runs are nothing new for Bellinger. At Thomas A. Edison, the left-handed slugger hit 38 career home runs, which is tied for second all-time in New York State. Bellinger has enjoyed showcasing his power for his hometown fans.
"It's been great, playing for my local team in my hometown with these amazing fans, it's something I'll never forget," he said.
After the All-Star lineups and rosters were introduced, Bryson Hough (Elmira) took the mound for the West Division All-Stars. He tossed a scoreless inning, a common theme throughout the night.
The East struck first, scoring a run in the top of the second on a Demetrius Webb (Albany) RBI groundout, scoring Dutchmen teammate Cameron Miller. The West answered in the home half of the inning as Chris Kalousidian (Elmira) scored on a wild pitch after reaching on a JaVon Shelby (Amsterdam) throwing error to lead off the inning.
After the second, it was all zeros until the top of the seventh when the East took a 3-1 lead. Sean Aspinall (Albany) was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to bring in the first run of the inning and Trey Stover (Mohawk Valley) drove in the second run with an RBI groundout.
The West didn't notch its first hit until the bottom of the eighth inning, when Cedric Mullins (Utica) singled to center field. The hit moved Nick Walker (Elmira) to second with no one out. After a wild pitch and a walk loaded the bases, Kyle Zurak (Albany) struck out Hayden Kelly (Utica) and reliever Thomas Hackimer (Amsterdam) got Justin Korenblatt (Adirondack) to ground into a fielder's choice to escape the threat.
After Hackimer retired Joe Ogren (Watertown) to lead off the bottom of the ninth, Lucas Godlewski (Mohawk Valley) retired Tanner Giesel (Newark) and Samm Wiggins (Newark) to end the game. Wiggins hit a ball down the left field line for a single, but was thrown out at second by Jayson Sullivan (Mohawk Valley) to end the game.
PGCBL-leading hitter Josh Gardiner (Amsterdam) went 1-for-2 for the East. Fellow Mohawks Jonathan Pryor and Shelby each had a hit apiece and Colin Hawk (Mohawk Valley) got the fourth hit of the game. Mullins and Wiggins got the only two hits of the game for the West. A full box score can be found here.
The East Division is now 3-0 in All-Star Game play. In 2012, there were no divisions in the PGCBL, but Keith Griffin did coach the winning team, making him 4-0 in PGCBL All-Star Games.
"It was a very competitive game, our pitching was really good," Griffin said after the game. "Our side only allowed two hits and one unearned run so you can't ask for much more out of your pitching staff."
Griffin said he wanted to make sure each player on the East got the same amount of playing time.
"We want to make sure it's fair. We want each pitcher who was able to pitch to get some work and for each position player to get at least a couple of at-bats," the Amsterdam manager said.
Kevin Cowan (Glens Falls) picked up the win for the East and was named All-Star Game MVP. Cowan tossed a scoreless bottom of the sixth inning, in which he worked around a leadoff error and set down the 2-3-4 hitters for the West to preserve the then no-hitter and keep the game tied at one.
"I had a great time playing for the East and representing Glens Falls and to be able to take home MVP is truly an honor," Cowan said.
2014 is Cowan's third season in the PGCBL, with the 2014 All-Star Game being his first time as an All-Star.
Said Cowan: "After everything I've been through, it feels like I've persevered a little bit and I've been able to improve each year and it's been nice to be able to get to this point."
Cowan played with Glens Falls in 2011, but tore his UCL and had Tommy John Surgery in 2012. He played with the Golden Eagles last summer and is back again this year for his third season with Glens Falls. The Glens Falls Post-Star wrote this on the right-hander.
Hudson Belinsky, the Rays scout, said there is lots of depth within the PGCBL talent pool.
"Every year it appears the league gets more deep and this year there appears to be lots of depth," he said. "It looks like there is more quality all-around, rather than just a few stand-out guys."
PGCBL President Jeff Kunion said the athleticism of the players stood out at this year's game.
Said Kunion: "You could see players who could run, hit, hit for power and pitchers who could really bring it. I was particularly impressed with the power arm of Jon Escobar (Watertown)."
While the game was the highlight of the night, other festivities, including hot air balloon rides and wood sculpturing gave the 4,289 fans in attendance an even more enjoyable experience. The Home Run Derby wasn't the only set of fireworks fans enjoyed. After the game, the overflow crowd enjoyed fireworks over the left field fence.
Representatives from other PGCBL franchises made the trip to Dunn Field, including Brian Connell of the Newark Pilots, who said the All-Star Game shows just how strong the PGCBL is.
"The All-Star Game shows how strong the franchises are, it shows what kind of support they get from the communities they're in, and how well this league has grown over the last four years," Connell said.
Don Lewis, co-owner of the host Elmira Pioneers, thought it was an outstanding night for Elmira and the league.
Said Lewis: "It was a great night. It was an exciting event to host for the PGCBL and we were lucky to have it in Elmira. Everything was great, from the attendance to the fans to the product on the field, it was a great night overall."
The PGCBL is affiliated with Perfect Game USA, the largest independent scouting service in the country. This year, more than than 1,250 professional players have either worn the uniform of a PGCBL team or participated in a Perfect Game USA event.
For more information on the PGCBL, visit www.pgcbl.com.