Flying Tigers Shine in FSL All Star Game

Nothing is a sure thing in the minor leagues. All players have a common goal, but there a lot more flops than fairytales in this type of competition, a lot more stories that you don't hear than you do. There are hundreds of ups and downs a career, a season, and that's only for one player.

Of course, though, some ups swell higher than others and some lows dip lower. Just remember the highs and forget the lows, right? Well, when players took the field on Saturday, it was a pretty high, memorable swell for all of them.

At 6:30, beach-side in Clearwater, the FSL North took on the FSL South in an all-star game that seemed to have a bit more tension than the average MLB all-star game.

Like Lakeland closer Kenny Faulk said, nobody's landed the big bucks yet, so the only way to go up in single-A baseball is to be pulled up, or expose yourself at the all-star game.

This mindset, for me at least, put a palpable intensity on the field that made for a pretty competitive, hard fought game under the bug-ridden lights.

And, when the North walked off the field, Gustavo Nunez, Julio Rodriguez, Tony Plagman, and Kenny Faulk, with a 5-3 win, the North players –Flying Tigers no exception– walked off with a deserved sense of the individual and team achievement.

Before the waves of scouts and curious fans, after a few unremarkable early innings, all four Fying Tigers impressed.

When the game began the North set their tone early when they struck quick in the bottom of the first.

Despite Nunez leading off the bottom of the first flying out to right field, Dunedin's A.J. Jimenez tripled with one man on and scored from third on an error the same play, which opened up an early 2-0.

The next inning, after another zero from the South, Tony Plagman stepped up to the plate to a few positive, anticipatory murmurs from the mingling crowd, and what they got was a bit of a letdown.

Plagman got hit by a pitch and trotted regretfully to first. Nobody likes getting the bat taken out of their hands, especially in exchange for a bruise. He'd get his revenge, though, more than once.

In the top of the fourth was his first.

With none out and a man on first, Plagman aerobically darted to his right to snatch a Matt Den Dekker screamer that proved crucial. After that out and a strikeout, Bradenton's Aaron Baker poked a fly ball to left ("Does it have enough? No. Yes. Maybe") that barely reached the escalating area of picnic grass immediately beyond the fence.

The game was tied at two, and a minority of the almost full stadium cheered.

A few batters later, in the bottom half, Plagman punched back a second time and drove a low line double to the base of the right field wall. Unfortunately for the North Plagman was stranded.

In the fifth the North made their crushing blow by stringing some small-ball together.

Nunez did his part when he walked and stole a base that had one scout talking about his speed more than an inning later. Nunez was driven in by Daytona's Matthew Cerda, and, with another two hits, the North took another two run lead.

The game was quiet until Kenny Faulk entered in the top of the eight. And after a few ordinary preceding innings later, Faulk rejuvenated the North-leaning crowd. Faulk fanned all three hitters he faced with scary efficiency and dominance.

Faulk accounted for the fifth of the comical six North holds.

Lakeland made their last strike when Julio Rodriguez, in the next half, singled softly and drove in Michael Brenly to give the North a 5-2 lead.

The North would win 5-3.

After all nine innings Lakeland's four representative put together, not only an impressive showing, an impressive stat line, especially considering nobody played the entire game.


2-for-5, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 SB.

1 IP, 3 K.

Aside from which would could possibly be accused of being a mere lack of journalistic objectivity –this is, indeed, a Tigers-oriented dot-com--, being someone with the responsibility of being unbiased and accurate, Lakeland had the most effective overall team-wide showing of the game.

And it didn't go unnoticed.

If Kenny Faulk was right when he said there were only two ways go up on in single-A, then Gustavo Nunez just dominated single-A.

En passant with Nunez's sharpening defense and base running, Nunez use the game to catapult himself to a promotion to Erie and an auspicious second half in double-A.

He's leapt slightly ahead of his three fellow all-stars, but they are obviously taking steps up on the minor league stairs.

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