An All-Star experience in Buffalo
So you can bet that each and every player from the International League and Pacific Coast League are taking this week is and treating it as something unique and special in their careers.
On July 11 the stars of the IL and PCL will square off in Buffalo's Coca-Cola Field for bragging rights as to which league is better.
The IL has won the last three All-Star Games and holds an 8-6 lead since the IL v. PCL format started in 1998.
"To be able to represent the PCL that's a great honor," said Graham Godfrey of the Sacramento River Cats who was tabbed the PCL's starting pitcher. "It's something that's really important to me. I've worked pretty hard and to have it pay off in this way is pretty special and I know I'm gonna remember it for a long time."
But the game itself was just one of facet of All-Star event as the Buffalo Bisons did an outstanding job of organizing the three-day celebration that made sure the players-and fans-experienced something far more exciting than just one baseball game.
Monday's Home Run Derby-which saw Bison's big man Valentino Pascucci beat out the likes of Dan Johnson and former Bison Mike Hessman, drew 17,244 fans. Winning the event was just one part of the thrill for Pascucci, who will always carry the echo of fans chanting his name that night.
"It was a blast," Pascucci said with a smile. "You couldn't ask for anything more. Getting to represent your hometown...the fans showed up and it was a great event. When they started chanting out there in my final round, it was great. It was a great event. I had a great time."
The packed house also got a charge out of the celebrity derby that featured Sabre coach Lindy Ruff, Sabre forward Pat Kaleta, Bills great Jim Kelly, Buffalo actor/writer Nick Bakay and WNY native/New England Patriot Rob Gronkowski
"I couldn't believe home many people were here for the Home Run Derby," said Buffalo native Jim Negrych, who plays for Syracuse, and was a late addition to the IL roster on July 9. "And obviously for me being here and being excited to meet guys like Jim Kelly. When you grow up in Buffalo you grow up a Bills fan. So to be able to sit there and talk to him and meet guys like Russ Brandon...Lindy Ruff is great and I've known Pat and I know Rob a little bit. It was just very nice, very welcoming. It was a great atmosphere."
Players from both leagues and their families also enjoyed a day trip to Niagara Falls on Tuesday morning before returning to Coca-Cola Field in the afternoon for team photos, workouts and the chance to share a few laughs.
While every player obviously wanted to play his best and show the world what he is made of, players did take time to soak in and enjoy the experience of playing in the Triple-A All-Star Game.
"It's kind of neat thing. The camaraderie of it all," Godfrey said. "Finally to meet some of these guys that have done so well against me. It's been a lot of fun."