By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
LAKELAND — They say baseball is a child’s game, but it was another game for kids which shaped the all-star experience for Jake Cronenworth.
On a team with limited infielders, the Charlotte Stone Crabs’ shortstop didn’t get much of an all-star break, as he had to play the full contest in the South Division’s 5-0 loss to the North Division.
“I lost a rock, paper, scissors match to play all nine. It’s just the way the cards fell,” Cronenworth said, with a laugh, of his pre-game duel with Palm Beach second baseman Darren Seferina.
The three-time all-star produced in his nine innings, smacking a pair of hits, and accounting for two of the South Division’s five hits.
Cronenworth’s two hits went opposite field for the left-handed batter, as he drilled a leadoff double down the left field line in the fifth inning. The 23-year-old also hit a single in the third inning.
“It’s always good to get a couple of hits in this game to feel good going into the second half,” Cronenworth said. “Overall it was a great experience.”
He had what appeared to be an extra-base hit in the seventh inning to the left-centerfield gap, but Clearwater’s Herlis Rodriguez chased the ball down at the track.
The pair of hits for Cronenworth were the first of his career in the third all-star game in which he’s played. Cronenworth was previously a combined 0-for-3 with two walks and a run scored in the previous two seasons.
This year also was the third time he’s started in an all-star game. Cronenworth was tested a pair of times in the field.
He caught a hard-hit line drive off the bat of Tampa’s Jorge Mateo in the first inning. He also committed the game’s only error in the sixth inning on a low throw to first base.
Mateo, who went 0-for-2 in the win, was one of two MLB top-100 prospects featured in this game. Mateo is the New York Yankees’ No. 4 prospect, and No. 39 overall.
The other was Daytona’s Nick Senzel, who was 0-for-1 with a walk. Senzel is the No. 1 prospect for the Cincinnati Reds, and baseball’s No. 20 overall.
Senzel’s teammate, and all-star MVP, was essentially the only player to produce in a big way with the bat.
With the home run derby rained out prior to the official game, Daytona Tortugas first baseman Gavin LaValley put on a show for the fans in his first two at-bats. The Cincinnati Reds’ No. 25 prospect smoked a pair of two-run home runs, giving the North a 4-0 lead which would remain the games only runs until the sixth inning.
Stone Crabs’ catcher Brett Sullivan entered the game as a pinch hitter in the top of the fourth inning. He displayed patience by drawing a full-count walk. Sullivan saw another six pitches in his second at-bat, but struck out on a pitch in the dirt against Florida’s Chase Johnson-Mullins.
Sullivan caught five pitchers in his three innings behind the plate. Bradenton’s Jake Brentz, St. Lucie’s Tyler Bashlor and Jupiter’s Jeff Kinley had some difficulties finding Sullivan’s glove, as they combined to throw four pitches that wound up at the backstop.
“It’s really difficult,” Sullivan said of catching a pitcher he’s never played with before. “You don’t catch them in the bullpen. You only see six to eight pitches in warm ups and everyone wants to light up the gun. So, sometimes it’s very difficult to get to 100 up and away.”
Charlotte second baseman Brandon Lowe also was elected to the all-star game, but did not participate after landing on the disabled list earlier this week with a forearm injury. He still was in uniform for the South Division and sat in the dugout all game.
“It was a blast,” Lowe said. “You get to be around guys from all the other teams, swap stories and make new friends. It was a really fun experience.”