Tuesday, July 13, 2010

All Stars to Me

Today is the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, saluting many of the best active players in the sport. The roster even includes a former Big South player, which makes it all the more special. That said, it should be noted that while fame and talent are relative, everybody capable of playing pro ball is a "star" in his own right. And while that may sound broadly optimistic or simplistic, I feel there's more to it than that.

So before I dig deeper into the subject of the Big South in pro baseball, a few digressions:
--remember when this was really the "All-Star Break"? It was a chance for a collective breath from an unending wheel of games, and the only ones who lamented the gap were sportscasters seeking content. Now it seems like the wheel never stops.
--while not as diluted as the NFL Pro Bowl pool seems to get, the overall collection of players that winds up involved in the game often feels like less than the game's true elite, thanks to a combination of injuries (both real and perceived), the compulsion for including every team, and the desire to get as many players in the game as possible (which, at its worst, produced an extra-inning TIE once the benches were laid bare). Taken separately, these things may appear logical; combined, they can be less than ideal.
--determining the World Series home field advantage via an isolated game played months before and likely resolved by players not involved in the championship makes about as much sense as setting Fall Classic start times based on the number of runs scored on Opening Day...one has nothing to do with the other. Would you do it based on the Home Run Derby results? They're both exhibition contests, so what's the difference?

And as for the "star" question, I fall back on some things from my days working in minor league baseball. Try to remember that everybody you watch on these rosters was all-city/all-state/all-star/all-conference somewhere, that each of them was chosen over countless other players, and that all of them have survived multiple cuts to get to the level they are playing at--from the lowest of the minors to the pinnacle of being MLB All-Stars. Getting paid to play ball shows talent greater than most...and of course, getting recognized as one of the best of the best demonstrates exceptional abilities and true GAME. Anybody who can do this for a living has certainly earned a modicum of respect for his game...not necessarily adulation and mind-boggling riches, although those seem to come with the package anymore.

Therefore, I offer an open SHOUT-out to all the players who made their way up through the Big South to the professional ranks--guys like Liberty's Shawn Teufel, who went from this year's Conference Championship tournament to the Tigers organization--playing first with the Connecticut Tigers and now the West Michigan Whitecaps...guys like VMI's Michael Bowman, who got drafted from the Keydets two years ago and pitched in the AA All-Star Game last night...guys like UNC Asheville RHP Justin Schumer, who will get his shot now that he's signed a free agent deal with the Giants organization....and guys like Ty Wigginton, American League All-Star.

Wigginton, who played his college ball for the UNC Asheville Bulldogs, got the lone Baltimore roster spot on the AL squad. He's been traded and cut multiple times in his career, but keeps plugging away, now with his 5th big-league team. It's not surprising that at 32, he gets labels like "journeyman infielder," but just don't forget to include "All-Star" as well. Here's a great profile--including his college years--from the Baltimore Sun.

So catch the game, watch Wigginton when he gets in at some point, and enjoy a smile for a player who's had a wild ride in a successful career.

And yes, there are a great many more players from all our member teams throughout professional baseball, I was just picking a few examples of individuals at different points in their careers (so please don't hit me with "what about Kevin Slowey, or x, or y, or z...").

Before I go, here's a nod to some extra special All-Stars: our Big South Conference Scholar Athletes of the Year! Just announced today, these selections embody the full nature of what it means to be a "student-athlete"...and both are from Coastal Carolina University--male winner Austin Fleet (baseball) and female winner Jill Nyhof (volleyball). It's worth pointing out that the last time both winners came from the same school was just two years ago--and it was also CCU. Congratulations to both deserving recipients on a tremendous year in competition and in the classroom!

No better way to end it than that, so that's SHOUT--out.

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