The Tri-City Dust Devils gave baseball fans a taste of something rare this season, pitching the 39th no-hitter in the history of the Northwest League on July 20 at Gesa Stadium.
Even more rare perhaps, is the the NWL All-Star Game, which was played only once before — in 2004 for the league’s 50th anniversary. From this year on, the NWL will play make it an annual event.
The Dust Devils will send six players to Tuesday's game, which will feature a pre-game home run derby as well as an All-Star Fan Fest. Jack Zduriencik, the Seattle Mariners’ General Manager, will keynote a luncheon on the day of the game.
Here’s a run down on the Dust Devils players representing Tri-City at Memorial Stadium in Everett.
SS Alec Mehrten (.282 average, 20 runs, 18 RBIs, .438 on-base percentage)
Mehrten set the tone for Tri-City, ranking among league leaders in batting average, on-base percentage and walks in June and July. The second-year pro out of Fresno Pacific University still leads the NWL in hit-by-pitches with 12.
Mehrten, a 25th-round draft pick by the Colorado Rockies in 2012, has to go back to his days at Madera (Calif.) High School, when he played in a county all-star game as a senior.
“I’m sure I’ll be a little nervous around the first pitch,” said Mehrten, the only Dust Devils player in the starting lineup. “I look at it as just another game. We’ll have some fun with it.”
Mehrten said that Patrick Hutcheson, a fellow Tri-City infielder and close friend, will take use his three-day holiday to attend the game.
“He’ll get out of that player role for a night and be a heckler,” Mehrten said.
Tri-City manager Drew Saylor recognizes Mehrten’s defensive efforts as well as his plate discipline.
“Defensively, he’s worked on some angles to get better reads on the ball,” Saylor said. “He worked tremendously hard and came into (spring training) ready to go. We’re starting to see the fruits of his labor.”
LHP Trent Daniel (0-0, 0.00 ERA, 12 saves)
The Arkansas Razorback already has a story to tell his grandchildren about the day he helped complete a no-hitter, but right now he’s busy leading the NWL in saves in his first pro season.
That made him a lock for the North Division’s closer role.
“It’s an honor. Pretty much all the credit goes to my teammates and hitters. If they don’t set me up, I don’t get saves,” said Daniel, who has yet to allow a run through his first 14 appearances. “We’ve been having a lot of fun lately. The end of the first half went really well, and we want to keep that going.”
Tri-City pitching coach Frank Gonzales has marveled at Daniel’s ability to balance the daily demands of pro baseball.
“We don’t expect instant success here. We expect them to love their job and work with us, and maybe we can make them a little better. He does all that and he’s still perfecting his craft,” Gonzales said. “He’s been in some moments — runners on first and second or even bases loaded — and he gets the job done. We have all the confidence in the world in him, and he believes in himself as well.
“That’s a huge part of why he gets guys out.”
RHP Ryan Warner (2-2, 3.31 ERA)
The 6-foot-7 former quarterback left a football scholarship to North Carolina State on the table after being selected in the third round by the Rockies. He learned a lot in his rookie season at Grand Junction (Colo.), going 3-0 with a 7.00 ERA.
But he’s developed his leadership qualities in his second year, which has made a big difference, according to Saylor, a hitting coach at Grand Junction in 2012.
“Last year, it was kind of, ‘OK, wow! These guys are really good!’ This year, he’s been able to attack down in the zone, which has done wonders for him,” Saylor said. “This year, he’s been allowing his inner leadership and competitiveness to come out. He’s also had the opportunity to build relationships with guys on staff and be a lot more comfortable on the mound.”
Warner isn’t the least daunted about pitching in an all-star game. He pitched in the Rockies’ High School Futures game at Coors Field in 2012. But he’s still excited about joining his Tri-City teammates and meeting some other North Division stars.
“I’m really excited to see how everything goes,” he said. “You just have to go out and do what you’ve done all season, pitch to contact, get outs and use your defense. The guys behind you are a bunch of all stars, too.”
1B/OF Sean Dwyer (.252, 12 runs, 15 RBIs)
The NWL All-Stars will be introduced at Safeco Field before Monday’s night’s game between the Seattle Mariers and Toronto Blue Jays. The teams will get to hang out on the field during batting practice, which will give Dwyer a chance to visit with M’s second baseman Nick Franklin, who grew up in the same town of Tavares, Fla.
“Hopefully, he remembers me,” Dwyer said.
The 6-foot, 200-pounder will also represent the Dust Devils in the home run derby despite having just one home run on the season. But he expects to have fun with the longball competition.
“I’m thinking about getting a heavier bat, then turn and burn,” he said. “Hopefully the wind is blowing out.”
RHP Johendi Jiminian (2-2, 2.88 ERA, 38 strikeouts)
The slim Dominican native had a rough go last year at Grand Junction, finishing with a 2-4 record and 7.71 ERA. This year, he has blossomed into a confident and comfortable pitcher.
“He came over last year not knowing a word of English, and now he’s near fluent. A lot of Latin guys who maybe haven’t gotten to that point are going to him, so he has that natural leadership role,” Saylor said.
Jiminian said he has a large family back home in Nagua, DR — six brothers and three sisters — who were just as happy to hear the news of his selection to the All-Star team. His 16-year-old brother is a baseball player who he hopes will follow in his footsteps.
“I tell him to keep working hard and never look back,” Jiminian said.
OF Mike Tauchman (.288, 24 runs, 20 RBIs, 11 steals)
Tauchman led the nation in hitting as a college senior at Bradley University this spring, but he wasn’t expecting to be named to the NWL All-Star team.
When the word came in Friday that he was chosen to replace Everett star D.J. Peterson, he was elated.
“It’s been a crazy last few hours,” Tauchman said after driving in three runs during a 6-3 Tri-City win over Eugene. “But it’s a good crazy.”
Dust Devils hitting coach Warren Schaeffer has been impressed with the attitude and work ethic Tauchman brings to Gesa Stadium on a daily basis.
“He’s always thinking and working on improving his swing,” Schaeffer said. “It takes a certain mental makeup (to lead the nation in hitting). He’s always bringing things up to me.”