- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Billed as “48 Hours of All-Star Fun,” fans got unpredictably more than what was advertised of the Atlantic League All-Star experience — which began with a festive kickoff Tuesday — thanks to Wednesday’s game lasting much longer than ever imaginable.
At 12:21 a.m. Thursday morning, the all-star showdown finally concluded at Waldorf’s Regency Furniture Stadium as the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs had one of the more memorable hosting situations in the 16-year history of the league’s midsummer classic.
Former Major League Baseball superstar Roger Clemens threw out the first pitch in front a large turnout of 7,128 fans, as his son, Koby (Sugar Land), was among the all-stars as the starting catcher for the Freedom Division.
“We love it,” Clemens said in an exclusive interview with Southern Maryland Newspapers about him and his wife, Debbie, eating up the experience as proud parents when their son was acknowledged with the rest of the all-stars before the game. “I get to be a dad, and she gets to be a mom.”
Debbie Clemens could be seen from just outside her suite with the iPad in full record mode during the pregame all-star introductions.
“She captures a lot of our fun moments, not only sports moments but our vacations and times we have alone as a family,” Clemens added. “A few years later, we look back on this and say that was cool.”
Then Mother Nature also decided to make a grand appearance, unleashing a heavy downpour right before the action started that resulted in a near 2 1/2-hour rain delay.
After a pitcher’s duel dominated all nine innings that yielded a one-all score between the host Liberty and Freedom divisions, the league’s newly implemented homer-off was used to determine the winning side.
Freedom cleanup batter Corey Smith (Somerset) cranked the only long ball during the homer-off to win the All-Star game for his side in the first frame of the deciding format, which saw each player representing their team get three outs during their turn to hit balls out of the park.
Blue Crabs slugger Cyle Hankerd — the league’s leading Most Valuable Player candidate and most dynamic hitter with the most extra-base hits (46), doubles (25) and highest slugging percentage (.647) along with being No. 2 in home runs (21) and RBIs (56) and third in average (.331) — was blanked during his first frame of the homer-off as Liberty’s representative in the all-star game’s deciding format, effectively ending the game.
The result of the homer-off made Freedom the winning team for a third straight year while Smith earned All-Star game MVP honors.
“Better than playing another five innings,” Freedom manager Butch Hobson (Lancaster), formerly the Blue Crabs skipper and still a beloved figured in Southern Maryland, said about the homer-off around 1 a.m. Thursday morning as he was about to partake in a postgame meal with the rest of the all-stars from each side. “It’s been a long day, a long day [but] an enjoyable experience. It’s a great place, love it here. [The all-star experience] was outstanding.
[Blue Crabs general manager Patrick Day] and his staff did a great job [hosting it].”
He simply added about being the victorious manager in a crazy, unconventional All-Star game, “A win’s a win.”
How the other Blue Crabs all-stars fared
The Blue Crabs boasted a league-best eight all-star selections with Renny Osuna providing the host club’s only hit at the plate in the game on a leadoff single in the sixth. He eventually came around for Liberty’s only run when he stole second base and then scored on an RBI single from Daniel Mayora (Bridgeport).
“I’m lucky I got a hit and then scored,” said Osuna, Liberty’s starting shortstop who made a couple of quality plays defensively. “We were ready for [a 7 p.m. start time] and then we had to start a little later [at 9:33 p.m.]. It can confuse you [in terms of preparation] but we had to play the game. I just tried to play the right [way].”
He added about Hankerd being unable to erupt in the homer-off against batting-practice tosses the way he has during the regular season against much tough pitcher, “That happens because it’s different than when you play in a real game.”
There were just nine combined hits in the nine innings of game action, Liberty having five of them.
Liberty carried a perfect game into the sixth when Freedom’s Blake Gailen (Lancaster) led off with a walk. He stole second with no outs, then third with one away and scored his side’s only run in the nine innings on an RBI double by Jerry Owens (Somerset). That was the only extra-base hit in the contest prior to the homer-off.
Blue Crabs pitchers Daryl Thompson and Jim Ed Warden each had scoreless all-star stints on the mound.
Thompson, a Hughesville native who was the only Liberty pitcher to throw two innings, retired all six batters he faced in dominant style during the third and fourth with two strikeouts as his curveball was in devastating form to complement his heater.
“One thing I didn’t want to do is just go out there and throw a bunch of off-speed pitches,” said Thompson, a 2003 La Plata High School graduate who noted that pitching in his first professional All-Star game where he grew up was the biggest thrill of his Blue Crabs tenure since joining the team in July of last year. “It’s an All-Star game, so I wanted [to throw my best stuff], let it go and see what [the opposing hitters] could do with it. And whatever happens, happens.
“The results were good and everything. I felt good, my arm felt good. It was fun.”
He added, “My first time making the all-star team and playing for the Blue Crabs in my hometown and all that. ... My family was able to come see me, friends, people I’ve grown up. As soon as I got out there, the adrenaline started going.”
Warden, who’s enjoying a resurgent season as the Blue Crabs closer, allowed one hit while fanning a pair during his appearance in the ninth.
Blue Crabs outfielder Sean Smith was not notified of his all-star selection until the last minute, earning the lofty nod on Monday to replace another player who could not make it.
Smith came off the bench to get a couple of at-bats.
Blue Crabs all-star pitcher Ian Marshall did not play in the game to keep his arm fresh.
“To be here is a blessing. A lot of people don’t get this opportunity,” Smith said. “It’s not just on the field [as a player]. You want to be able to take everything in. I was appreciative of [being asked] to do the dance [during the half innings]. We’re here for the fans, here to have fun. I enjoyed it.
“Wish we would’ve won. We really tried to win but tip your hat to the other guys on the other side. This is the best of the best, and they came out on top.”
|Freedom 1, Liberty 1|
|Freedom 000 001 000 — 1 4 0|
|Liberty 000 001 000 — 1 5 0|
|Freedom wins in homer-off after scored tied through 9 inn.|
|WP Cody (York), LP None (Since game decided in homer-off)|
|Extra-base hits: 2B — Owens (F, Somerset); HR (during homer-off) — Smith (F, Somerset)|
|Game Most Valuable Player: Smith (F, Somerset)|
|Blue Crabs all-star notable contributions for Liberty:|
|Renny Osuna, SS: Single, run scored|
|Daryl Thompson, P: 2 IP, 2K, no hits allowed, no runs allowed|
|Jim Ed Warden, P: 1 IP, 2K, 1 hit allowed, no runs allowed|