Avista Stadium is one of the most exciting places in the Northwest League to watch a baseball game, averaging a team-record 5,240 fans per game last season.
Today at 7 p.m., Spokane’s historic park will experience a unique buzz, hosting the inaugural Northwest League-Pioneer League All-Star Game, a contest bringing together the 26 best players from each league. Avista Stadium can accommodate just over 7,000 fans, and a capacity crowd is expected.
“The Northwest League and Pioneer League are two most prominent short-season leagues in Minor League Baseball,” said Pat O’Connor, President and CEO of Minor League Baseball. “To combine the two and showcase the talented individuals from 14 major-league farm systems is a win for everyone, especially the fans.”
The Tri-City Dust Devils have two players — shortstop Peter Van Gansen and left-handed reliever Elvin Liriano — who will participate. Van Gansen, a 12th-round draft pick by the San Diego Padres out of Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, is fourth in the NWL in batting (.313), tied for third in hits (50), sixth in runs scored (29) and eighth in total bases. He also leads all NWL shortstops with a .980 fielding percentage.
Liriano has emerged as one of the league’s top relief men, leading Tri-City relievers with 22 2/3 innings and a 1.19 ERA while compiling a 3-0 record.
One disappointing omission from the NWL All-Stars is Dust Devils outfielder Juan Carlos Urena, who leads the league with 36 RBIs and leads the team in home runs (4), doubles (11), total bases (66) and slugging (.440).
“There’s some guys you feel probably could have made it. Urena’s numbers are all-star caliber, but it’s a little different this year because it’s the Northwest League against the Pioneer League. You’re cutting the rosters in half,” Tri-City manager Anthony Contreras said.
Fans will get a chance to see several MVP candidates for the two leagues, starting with Spokane outfielder LeDarious Clark, who is among the NWL leaders in batting (.307), home runs (8), runs (36), hits (51), steals (19) and tops the circuit with a .554 slugging percentage. Everett shortstop Drew Jackson, one of the Mariners’ top draft picks this year, is leading the NWL in batting (.373), runs (39) and steals (28). Salem-Keizer catcher Miguel Gomez leads the league with 61 hits and is second in RBIs (35) and batting (.367), and Hillsboro pitcher Jared Miller, the expected starter for the NWL, has won seven of his first nine decisions with a 1.81 ERA.
Orem has a couple of young stars lighting up the Pioneer League. Michael Pierson, a 21st-round draft pick by the Los Angeles Angels, is leading the league in batting (.395) and runs scored (40), while teammate Taylor Ward, a first-round draft pick out of Shadow Hills High School in Indio, Calif., has made an early impression, ranking fourth in batting (.349) and first in on-base percentage (.489).
The Northwest League, a short-season Class A league with eight teams in three states and one Canadian province, started its roots back in 1890, morphing from four to eight teams in the Pacific Northwest League (1890-92, 1898, 1901-02). After that came the New Pacific League (1896), the Pacific National League (1903-04), the Northwestern League (1905-18), the Pacific Coast International League (1920-21) and finally the Western International League (1922, 1937-54) before the Northwest League was established in 1955.
The Pioneer League, a short-season Class A rookie league consisting of eight teams in Colorado, Idaho, Montana and Utah, began in 1939 with six teams in Idaho and Utah.
Northwest League All-Stars
Starters: C Miguel Gomez, Salem-Keizer (Giants); 1B Brian Mundell, Boise (Rockies); 2B Dylan Moore, Spokane (Rangers); 3B Kevin Padlo, Boise (Rockies); SS Drew Jackson, Everett (Mariners); OF LeDarious Clark, Spokane (Rangers); OF Zach Nehrir, Hillsboro (Diamondbacks); OF Logan Taylor, Everett (Mariners); DH Jose Vizcaino Jr., Salem-Keizer (Giants); P Jared Miller, Hillsboro (Diamondbacks). Reserves: C Hamley Marte, Boise (Rockies); INF Justin Atkinson, Vancouver (Blue Jays); INF Chris Shaw, Salem-Keizer (Giants); INF Peter Van Gansen, Tri-City (Padres); INF Yeyson Yrizarri, Spokane (Rangers); OF Sean Hurley, Vancouver (Blue Jays); OF Eloy Jimenez, Eugene (Cubs); RHP Pedro Araujo, Eugene (Cubs); RHP Andrew Case, Vancouver (Blue Jays); RHP Oscar De La Cruz, Eugene (Cubs); LHP Luis Gohara, Everett (Mariners); LHP Brandon Hinkle, Vancouver (Blue Jays); RHP Carlos Hernandez, Hillsboro (Diamondbacks); LHP Elvin Liriano, Tri-City (Padres); LHP Andrew Leenhouts, Salem-Keizer (Giants); LHP Cody Reed, Hillsboro (Diamondbacks). Manager: Tim Hulett, Spokane.
Pioneer League All-Stars
Starters: C Taylor Ward, Orem (Angels); 1B Austin Byler, Missoula (Diamondbacks); 2B Willie Calhoun, Ogden (Dodgers); SS Isen Diaz, Missoula (Diamondbacks); 3B Michael Pierson, Orem (Angels); OF Nick Sell, Ogden (Dodgers); OF Daniel Suero, Grand Junction (Rockies); OF Kyle Survance, Orem (Angels); DH Zach Fish, Great Falls (White Sox); P Tanner Banks, Great Falls (White Sox). Reserves: C Luke Lowery, Missoula (Diamondbacks); 1B Josh Banuelos, Idaho Falls (Royals); *SS Nick Dean, Ogden (Dodgers); SS Blake Trahan, Billings (Reds); 3B Brantly Bell, Billings (Reds); OF Amalani Fukofuka, Idaho Falls (Royals); OF Monte Harrison, Helena (Brewers); OF Matt Jones, Ogden (Dodgers); *OF Alexis Rivera, Idaho Falls (Royals); P Ty Boyles, Billings (Reds); P Hunter Brothers, Grand Junction (Rockies); P Tripp Davis, Idaho Falls (Royals); P Marcos Diplan, Helena (Brewers); P Evin Einhart, Great Falls (White Sox); P Joe Gatto, Orem (Angels); P Dan Savas, Missoula (Diamondbacks); P Cameron Smith, Missoula (Diamondbacks); P Christian Trent, Helena (Brewers). Manager: Dick Schofield, Billings.
*—selected to team, will not play because of injury or promotion,