The weather made for ideal playing conditions on Tuesday evening, and Hammons Field in Springfield, MO was packed by a capacity crowd of 7,832 as baseball fans from a number of states arrived to watch an exciting 2016 Texas League All-Star Game.
The South Division team, lifted by two-run and three-run home runs, held off the North for an 8-5 victory, snapping a two-game all-star losing streak in front of the largest crowd at Hammons in 2016.
"There's a lot of talent here," said Springfield manager Dann Bilardello, who also led the North. "Some guys can put the ball in play a long way. This is Double-A, a level where you're going to have most of the top players. A lot of the players that were originally voted in weren't here, but that didn't matter. The talent out there on both sides was great.
"We just came up a little bit short. No question, we wanted to win the game."
Bilardello made the ultimate goal of the evening evident before the mid-season classic – to give every one of his players an opportunity to get into to the game. To that end, the skipper employed all 10 of his pitchers and utilized each of the 13 position players over the course of the game.
"Absolutely," Bilardello said of his plan to deploy his entire roster in the All-Star game. "I think that is the utmost and most important thing to do in an All-Star game. Everybody has got to play. I did have it set-up if we were ahead, we had two lefties and two righties the last two innings.
"I'm just glad everyone got in, and we made it competitive. We made it exciting in the ninth. We gave ourselves a chance."
The South struck first thanks to an Alex Bregman (Corpus Christi, HOU) two-run blast before stretching it out to 3-0 on an RBI single by his Hooks teammate Derek Fisher. The North finally got on the board via a Willie Calhoun (Tulsa, LAD) sac fly in the bottom of the third. Facing a 4-2 deficit in the sixth, North pitcher Daniel Poncedeleon (Springfield, StL) yielded a three-run shot by Ryan Cordell (Frisco, TEX), as the South pulled away to a 7-2 advantage.
After South added another tally in the seventh, home-town hitter Bruce Caldwell brought the North to within three with a three-run blast to right center, but that wasn't enough to fully close the gap.
Down 8-5 in the closing frame, the North threatened with runners on the corners with no outs, but Paul DeJong (Springfield) struck out looking, and Frank Schwindel (NW Arkansas, KC) grounded into a double play that ended it, securing the win for the South.
Known as an offensive-oriented league and ballpark, the game played as one as the squads combined for a whopping 28 hits. With a 3-for-5 evening that included the aforementioned three-run homer and four RBI, Cordell was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.
The host Springfield Cardinals had seven representatives on the North Division squad, including relief pitcher Josh Lucas, who was a late addition to the roster. All seven in the Cardinals' contingent appeared in the All-Star Game.
Harrison Bader, one of three Cardinals voted as starters, did what he does best with a game-leading 4-for-5 performance, including a double and run scored, in his first career all-star action.
"It means a lot," said Bader, who led off for the North. "After skipping a level, the coaches have allowed me to take care of my business and pointed me in the right direction. I can't ask for more. We clinched the first half as a team, which is the best thing that has happened so far. That's a cherry on top about making the All-Star team."
Luke Voit and Carson Kelly were the other Springfield starters voted in by their peers. Voit singled and doubled in five at-bats as the DH. After being named to MLB’s Futures Game earlier in the day, Kelly played five innings behind the plate and looped a single in two at-bats.
"It's just a tremendous honor to be out there and represent the Cardinals, especially here at the All-Star Game and now the Futures Game," Kelly said Tuesday afternoon. "I'm very, very excited."
Although he wasn't a starter, Bruce Caldwell made an instant impact with his bat. Caldwell belted a three-run blast to make the game competitive in the seventh.
"(The experience) has definitely been an honor," said Caldwell. "It's been pretty cool. A bunch guys here with amazing talent and meeting new guys here is pretty cool."
Like Bader, it was also Paul DeJong's first All-Star appearance as a professional. DeJong went hitless and struck out twice, but made couple of smooth plays at third base.
"It's just an honor to be picked for this team," said DeJong. "There's so many good players and to be in that category of those players is just a tremendous honor."
Among Cardinals pitchers, Daniel Poncedeleon was touched for four earned runs on five hits over two innings. He threw 45 pitches and was excited to be able to get two innings in the All-Star Game. Josh Lucas was other Cardinals pitcher to appear, striking his lone batter out on five pitches.
"Fun experience," said Lucas. "It's definitely something different. A packed house and a bunch of different guys you don't know and you get to meet. It is fun making new connections and meeting guys on a one-on-one basis instead of playing against them and not knowing who they are."
Voit over Chapman in long ball competition
After falling short of the Home Derby title last summer in Florida State League, Luke Voit edged Midland Rockhounds third baseman Matt Chapman to win the Texas League Home Run Derby Tuesday afternnon in front of family down from St. Louis and coaches from his alma mater, Missouri State University.
Pitching to Voit was his manager, whom the hitter credited as key to his victory. Springfield’s bopper and Bilardello practiced together for the derby last week.
"Being in that situation for anybody that is in a home run derby and never done it, he's done it before, but when you don't have the cage, and you're not familiar with the surroundings, it's weird," said Bilardello. "I don't think it affected him one bit. Glad for him. He must’ve had a helluva of a pitcher. That was probably the guy, who put him over the top (he said smiling).
“He did a nice job. I was happy for him that he won it."
Voit, who finished with 30 home runs overall, belted a Round 1-leading 14 homers before concluding the Derby with 16 home runs in the final round to shade Midland's Chapman, 30-28.
"Hit it as long and far as possible," said Voit of his approach, "and pull it down the line (he said with a chuckle). That wind is freaking blowing in right now. I've got to take a break to because I've never done time before. I'll try to take it nice and easy."
Voit won a $400 Bass Pro Gift Card and a hunting knife from Johnny Morris, founder of Bass Pro Shops, which sponsored the Home Run Derby.
Members of The Cardinal Nation can check out Derek Shore’s many interviews with Springfield newsmakers, such as his recent talk with Cardinals pitching coach Jason Simontacchi on the Double-A staff, as well as his weekly in-depth S-Cards’ team reports, which appear each Thursday morning all season long here at TCN.
Not yet a member?
Join The Cardinal Nation for the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system. Take advantage of our seven-day free trial.
Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.
© 2016 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com and scout.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.