Rising Stars


I know I’ve been a little down on the M’s lately. I’ve griped about their offense, about their not understanding the DH, and just generally been in the dumps about the awful collapse of the second half of 2011. I must also admit that I was totally intimidated by watching the Rangers in the post season. They’re an incredible team, talented and highly motivated, and if they stay together they are going to be a significant challenge to everyone in the AL West for the foreseeable future. And last week I was just waxing sad (maybe even a little pathetic) over the end of the baseball season and the long dark night of the off season. Heck, maybe I’m suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, Baseball Edition.

None of that has changed. The economy didn’t pick up, I didn’t win the lottery and the girl I’ve mentioned a couple of times before didn’t call back. But I feel better. I found a crack of light in the darkness. I can see the future again.

Because baseball isn’t really over. Way down South, where the sun is still shining and the skies are mostly clear, they’re playing ball. The Arizona Fall League is underway, and last week they held their Rising Star Game, which lived up to the billing.

For those who don’t know (I had only a sketchy idea myself until recently) the AFL is a program that MLB created to give players, umps and managers a chance to develop during the off season in an easily monitored venue. Traditionally, a lot of players have gone out of the country to play winter ball, and while this can speed a player’s development, it also means that his progress is not so easily watched and that injuries and other problems may not be professionally addressed. The AFL is split into six teams (all with suitable desert monikers: Javelinas, Surprise Saguaros, Desert Dogs, Scorpions, etc.) who are divided into two divisions, East and West. And every year the two divisions play each other, ala the All-Star Game, in a Rising Stars Game.

(Just for the record, according to MLB, the 2011 All-Star Game “featured 41 AFL alums, including both starting pitchers — Roy Halladay and Jered Weaver.” Not a bad recommendation.)

This year’s Rising Stars Game was played last Wednesday, November 2nd, and as a Seattle fan there were two big prospects to watch. Pitcher Danny Hultzen and shortstop Nick Franklin. Hultzen, was the second overall pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, and hasn’t had much chance to prove himself since the M’s signed him, but he turned in a great performance. He struck out the side in 14 pitches in the first inning, didn’t allow a hit in his two innings of work, only giving up one walk. Not bad at all.

But the real star of the night from the perspective of rain-soaked Seattle was Nick Franklin. The short stop went on an offensive tear. He was 4-5 on the night, two doubles, four RBIs and a home run. He led the West to a sixteen hit 11-2 victory. That’s the kind of excitement we’ve been missing in Seattle. Man oh man, have we been missing it.

Of course, this is just one night, just one game — there is little in life more fleeting than minor league prospects and winter ball glory. But the Mariners seem to have committed themselves to a course of developing talent out of the Minor league system, and this game was a bright silver star for that policy. It reminds us that the future stars are always coming up, and baseball is always being reborn.

And the fact that they played the game at “Surprise” stadium is just a poetic bonus.