Catching up with the Inland Empire All-Stars

All-Star fever was in the air on Monday, as the best players from the California League battled the top stars from the Carolina League in San Bernardino, Calif. InsidethePark's Jay Hobbs talked to several of the Inland Empire 66ers all stars, getting their reactions to the memorable day.

SAN BERNARDINO - It's always good to be home. And for High-A Inland Empire, which had five of its players named to the 2004 California League All-Star squad, home was where the stars came out on June 29 when the Cal League stars took on the best of the Carolina League.

The 2003 California League Champion 66ers, which finished five games out of first with a 39-31 record in the first half of 2004, had four of their five representative in the starting lineup when the game began on Monday.

Left-hander Bobby Livingston, who posted an 8-2 record and struck out 91 batters in the first half (both in the league's top three), started his second straight midsummer classic in front of a home crowd of 4,765. The Texan got the start a year ago with Low-A Wisconsin as well, making it even more of an honor.

"I feel good about how I've played so far," said Livingston, who has a 3.32 ERA. "My goal is always to just throw strikes and give my team a chance to win every time I go out there, and it's no different in the all-star game. I'm excited about having the chance to pitch in an all-star game for my second season in a row. It's a real honor and I'm proud to have this opportunity."

The 6-foot-3 southpaw pitched two hitless innings for the 5-3 winners, retiring six of seven batters – three of those on groundouts.

Sixty Sixers' shortstop Juan Gonzalez, acquired from Detroit in the trade that sent SS Carlos Guillen to the Tigers, started at second base and picked up a hit in a first-inning rally. He later scored when the Cal League stars took an early, 2-0, lead.

"Juan put together a solid first half," said 66ers manager Daren Brown. "We look forward to another good half to finish the season for him, "He really came on in the first half, he ended up doing more than we expected him to do."

Inland Empire's cannon-armed T.J. Bohn started in right field but struck out in his only at-bat. Bohn, whose .412 on-base percentage is in the league's top five, made a strong showing in the outfielder's skill competition before the game, but was out-thrown by Lancaster's Jarred Ball.

"I started off good this year, but then I went into a slump midway through the first half," Bohn said before the skills competition. "But all in all, it's been a pretty good first half. The guys are great, we have a lot of fun together every night, it's gonna be fun out there tonight."

Rene Rivera, touted as the best catcher in Seattle's minor league system, started behind the plate. While the 20-year-old Puerto Rican grounded out twice, he showed off his arm with a few aggressive snap throws over to first base during the game.

"Rene is very good defensively, he's the best in the league," Brown said. "Offensively, he's still only 20 so he's just figuring out how to hit."

"He's had come a long way in the three years we've played together," Livingston said about his battery mate. "Not too many runners try to run on him, which is relaxing to me when I'm pitching."

Felix Hernandez, the league leader with 114 strikeouts and nine wins, did not pitch, although he was named to the all-star team. The Mariners' top prospect according to Baseball America did, however, warm up in the bullpen during the ninth inning.

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