The Northwest League All-Star Game will be more than just a chance for fans to see the best players in the NWL on Wednesday at PK Park in Eugene.
It’s also a chance for players to be recognized by league coaches and fellow players for their hard work and dedication throughout the year.
So before the teams were named last week, Tri-City Dust Devils second baseman Cesar Galvez wasn’t neccessarily expecting to hear his name called to represent the team with which he has spent the last two years. He hit just .161 in 36 games with the Dust Devils in 2013. But he got off to a hot start this season, hitting .333 in June and .367 with runners in scoring position. Galvez, a fifth-year pro in the Colorado Rockies’ chain, also leads the Dust Devils with 32 hits and is second in steals (11) and average (.262).
“I was having a good year, but a couple days before they named the all-star team, my average was down. I thought, oh my god, I don’t know if I’m going to the All-Star Game,” Galvez said.
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Once the 23-year-old switch-hitter heard the news, his elation poured out like Gatorade from a dugout cooler.
“Great!! Oh yeah!! Thank you God,” Galvez said of his reaction. “It’s my first year in an all-star game. I’m very happy to make it.”
Tri-City manager Drew Saylor was Galvez’s hitting coach at Grand Junction in 2012, when the 5-foot-9 infielder hit .340 in 13 games, and they debuted together in Tri-City last season.
“It’s almost like he’s my son. He’s just been a pleasure,” Saylor said. “To see him work so hard at his his craft, it feels like it’s one of your own that got the opportunity to be an all-star.”
Galvez has a proud family back in his home Dominican Republic, and every phone call from home comes with the obligatory “Are you getting enough to eat?” from his mother.
Galvez does admit to missing his mom’s rice, beans and chicken, but he can fend for himself in the kitchen. If the clubhouse buffet ever dried up, would he be prepared to cook up a little something for his teammates?
“Too many guys,” Galvez said with a smile. “But I would try.”
LHP Helmis Rodriguez (3-6, 2.05 ERA)
Rodriguez has been one of the top pitchers in the league, thanks to a fiery competitive side that meshes well with his professional attitude.
“He’s been the anchor of our team, and he does everything with the utmost professionalism,” Saylor said. “With my kids Jackson and Charlie, I’ll tell them to watch (Helmis) because that’s how you go about your business. The kid has been absolutely unbelievable.”
Rodriguez says back home in Venezuela, the sport of choice is soccer. But he and his twin brother, Herlis — an outfielder in the Philadelphia Phillies minor league chain — kept themselves sharp.
“We kept throwing the baseball to each other. We loved playing baseball all the time,” Rodriguez said.
The Northwest League is better for it. Well, maybe not the hitters Rodriguez faces. The 5-11 left-hander leads the league with a 2.05 ERA and is second with 61 1/3 innings pitched. He’s also remarkably efficient, allowing just 1.76 walks per nine innings.
“He’s just not afraid of anyone. It doesn’t matter who the hitter is. If you call a fastball inside in just about any count, he won’t be afraid to throw it to anyone,” Dust Devils catcher Robbie Perkins said.
OF Marcos Derkes (.228, 23 runs, 14 stolen bases, 20 walks)
Derkes, like Galvez, spent the 2013 season with Tri-City and didn’t have the kind of year that would draw all-star attention, hitting just .184 with seven stolen bases in 37 games.
This season is a different story, however. Derkes rebounded from a stress fracture in his lower back to post an impressive stat line out of the gates. The third-year switch-hitter is tied for fourth in the league with 14 stolen bases and leads the Dust Devils in runs scored (23), total bases (43) and walks (20).
He’s looking forward to the all-star game as a chance to exchange some ideas and thoughts with some of his fellow Northwest Leaguers.
“I’ll try to get the most out of it. I’ll probably play four or five innings and just have fun with the other guys,” he said.
Saylor is especially pleased with the growth Derkes has shown between this year and last.
“Last year he was a little gun shy, but this year he’s stealing bases with reckless abandon and making better reads in the outfield,” Saylor said. “He’s just competing and being himself.”
RHP Jerad McCrummen (3-1, 3.00 ERA)
McCrummen has worn the Dust Devils uniform since he was drafted by the Rockies in 2013 out of Texas Tech and has proven worthy of an all-star nod each year. In his rookie season, the 6-1 right-hander went 2-1 with a 1.73 ERA in 23 appearances.
This year, he has been one of Tri-CIty’s most dependable relievers, posting a 3-1 record with a 3.00 ERA in 15 games. He has a strikeout rate of 7.67 per nine innings and opposing hitters have batted just .231 against him.
But he never imagined that an appearance in the NWL All-Star game might be in his future.
“It wasn’t neccesarily a goal. I wasn’t complaining when it happened. I was just doing everything possible to put us in position to win games,” said McCrummen, who filled in for closer Scott Firth after the former NWL saves leader was promoted to Asheville. “(The all-star nod) was pretty exciting. It’s always nice to have your hard work recognized. To get an honor like that, you just want to represent the Rockies and Tri-City Dust Devils to the best of your ability.”
Saylor pointed at McCrummen’s consistency on the mound and unflappable competitive nature.
“He’s a pleasure to watch and an absolute bulldog. He just competes,” Saylor said.
w Jack Millikin; 582-1406; firstname.lastname@example.org