DURHAM — The Durham Bulls will be well represented at Wednesday night’s Triple-A All-Star Game.
2013 IL Manager of the Year Charlie Montoyo will lead the International League against the Pacific Coast League.
Six Bulls, Montoyo, trainer Mike Sandoval and four players were either elected or selected as All-Stars.
With a regular-season schedule that features nearly a game per day, many players view the All-Star festivities as a chance to rest. But Montoyo said as soon as the events – such as Monday’s Home Run Derby – get underway, the players realize how lucky they are.
“They do (want to play),” Montoyo said. “You’d rather have the two days off, but the moment you get here and you realize, OK, this is pretty cool, they realize, ‘I’m an All Star, having a pretty good year, I deserve to be here.’
“I didn’t have to fly anywhere and it is a great place. People get to see what I see every day. Great ballpark, good fans. It is a nice place to play.”
All-Star outfielder Mikie Mahtook, of the Durham Bulls, echoed Montoyo’s statement. Wednesday’s game will mark the third time he has made an All-Star game in his minor league career, and the Lafayette, La., native is excited to get on the field in front of his home crowd.
“It’s a break in its own way,” he said. “It’s a pretty cool experience to be voted and to play here and to be playing against all these guys.
“Triple-A is one step away (from the majors), so they kind of make it a little bit bigger of a deal. It’s on MLB Network, which is pretty cool … Being at my home city field probably helps.”
Three Bulls – infielder Wilson Betemit, pitcher Mike Montgomery and Merrill Kelly – will join Mahtook in the All-Star game.
One step at a time
On hand to watch and cheer on the IL squad Wednesday night will be Rusty Wagstaff, father-in-law of IL pitcher Tommy Layne. His attendance alone will be a testimony to a group of strong doctors and a stronger family.
Wagstaff suffered a bad case of influenza in December that led to a bacterial infection and allowed sepsis to set in. The disease leads to inflammation and organ damage. According to the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, one-third of Americans who develop sepsis do not survive.
However, Wagstaff and his family fought and overcame the complication. Wagstaff lost both legs and hands to amputation but came away with his life.
The past several months have been full of rehab, as Wagstaff adjusts to his new prosthetics. And while Layne says the rehab has been a success, it certainly hasn’t been easy.
“It’s been good. It hasn’t really been too trying,” he said. “He went to Chicago after the hospital and that was a little bit of a rough time because it was a lot of trying to get and walk and trying to use the prosthetics, which is frustrating because you’re learning how to do stuff all over again.”
But Wagstaff has come a long way since then.
“The last three or four months have been nothing but positives,” Layne said. “He’s home, and yesterday he was walking around the house, without any help – didn’t have a walker or anything – he had his prosthetic legs on. And he was walking.”
With Wagstaff on the right track to recovery and Layne in the All-Star Game, it seems as though the family has made it through the toughest part of the journey and is on to see better days.
On the topic of families and journeys, the Yost family has made quite the trip for Wednesday’s game.
Lee Yost and his family made the 10-hour trip from Tampa, Fla., to witness their first all-star game of any kind. They planned the trip three months ago, registered online and secured their tickets.
But the trip is more than a random excursion. Yost grew up in Durham, living in the area for five or six years, and recalls attending Bulls games with his father. Now with two kids of his own, Yost and his wife Kimberly wanted to pass on the tradition to his sons, Hayden, 9, and Jordan, 7. The boys are big Tampa Bay Rays fans and with Durham being the Ray’s top minor league affiliate, many of the players they see at Tropicana Field have made their way through the DBAP.
“A lot of guys that they see down there, we see up here. So we came back here for the festivities,” Yost said. “Plus we’ve never been to any kind of All-Star game. So this is it right here… It’s a little bit sentimental for me because this is where I grew up and watched games with my dad.”
The Yost family attends 10-12 Rays games per year but they also make their way around the minor league circuit.
Two years ago, the family made the trip up to Durham for their first Bulls experience. But this was when Hayden and Jordan were young. Yost called this their first memorable Bulls experience. The pair both cited Evan Longoria as their favorite player, with David Price being a close second.
“It’s all in the Bulls family,” Yost laughed.
The Bulls connection doesn’t end there for the Yosts, as they traveled to see a Montgomery Biscuits game last year and saw Mahtook.
“We took a trip to Montgomery to watch the Biscuits play and Mikie Mahtook was there last year when we were there,” Yost said. “Now he’s up here with Durham. So that’s pretty cool.”
What happens in Vegas…
There’s also a Las Vegas connection to Durham, though more traditional than the route from Tampa. But if what happens in Vegas truly stays in Vegas, this is the exception.
Allan Dykstra hit half of his 12 home runs at home this season, his first in Triple-A. But Dykstra’s home-run-hitting ability didn’t stay in Vegas. It traveled with the Las Vegas 51s All-Star to Durham, where the former Wake Forest product blasted eight homers Monday in his return to North Carolina to claim the Home Run Derby championship belt.
“I kind of went into it just to have fun and towards the end it really started to become real,” Dykstra said. “We were joking around about winning the belt, but it’s actually a really cool prize and a really cool experience that I was really excited to be a part of.”
Dykstra was voted by fans, media and managers to serve as a designated hitter for the PCL squad. But even after winning the derby, Dykstra said he doesn’t feel pressured to follow up with a home run in Wednesday’s All-Star Game.
“In the game, obviously, they throw a little bit harder and actually try to get you out instead of trying to let you hit home runs, but it’d definitely be really cool to do,” he said. “I’m gonna go out there and try my best … and if it happens, it happens.”
Major League prediction
Dykstra’s PCL teammate Jonathan Galvez isn’t just the El Paso Chihuahua’s inaugural All-Star.
“He’ll be in the Major League All-Star game next year,” PCL coach Bob Skube said.
Skube, hitting coach for the Nashville Sounds, said he worked with Galvez as a member of the San Diego Padres.
“I knew immediately he had the tools to play in the big leagues,” Skube said. “He’s very aggressive and really has learned how to understand the game, how to play it.”
“I can see him going at any time from here on out. There’s a whole list of them: (PCL All-Star Francisco) Pena, Dykstra, all of them really. They’re all that close.”
Galvez said he’s just happy to be in Durham as an All-Star.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “I thank God for giving me the opportunity.”
If Skube’s prediction turns out to be a prophecy, Galvez will have plenty more to be thankful for, sooner than later.
“He’s a big league player,” Skube said. “He’s what we call a pro. He’s gonna be there, and he’s gonna be there for a long time.”
Martin: 919-829-8954, McCaskill: 919-829-4567