The Northwest League-Pioneer League All-Star game was a great idea from the start.
Thanks to Peter Van Gansen, the Tri-City Dust Devils shortstop, the inaugural event at Avista Stadium last Tuesday in Spokane got an amazing finish, too.
Van Gansen’s walk-off single in the bottom of the 10th inning won it 6-5 for the Northwest League, setting off an impromptu celebration in the middle of the field as NWL teammates surrounded him seconds after his game-winning hit.
“It’s definitely a (memory) I’ll cherish for a very long time. It was awesome seeing all the guys I pretty much just met running up to me like we’ve been playing together so long,” said Van Gansen, who reached base three times, including a pair of walks. “I definitely didn’t want to walk here. I wanted to swing the bat.”
The raucous scene following Van Gansen’s big moment could have been mistaken for a championship celebration. His NWL teammates were as excited for him as they would have been for one of their own.
“We’ve had two walk-offs (wins) in Boise, but it’s definitely equally exciting to win an event like this,” Boise third baseman Kevin Padlo said. “It’s easy to get along with a bunch of people who know what they’re doing and know what’s going on.”
One of them, Padlo said, was Van Gansen.
“I actually got pretty close with him (over the All-Star break). He’s one of the guys I talked to the most,” said Padlo, who had a fine game himself, going 2-for-3 with a run scored and two RBIs.
Two other Dust Devils — pitcher Elvin Liriano and outfielder Jose Carlos Urena — made their first all-star appearances. Liriano, a fifth-year pro enjoying a career season so far with a 3-0 record and a 1.09 ERA in 14 games, was the only NWL pitcher not to allow a baserunner. The hard-throwing left-hander entered the game with a runner on first and two outs in the third inning. He got Zach Fish to pop out and end the third, then set down the side in order in the fourth.
Urena, who was invited to join the team as an injury replacement, didn’t have great stats during the game — he went 0-for-2 with two strikeouts — but he was still grateful for the experience.
“I didn’t get a hit, but it doesn’t matter. Just have fun. That’s it,” Urena said after the game. “You can be a cheerleader and see your teammates doing a great job even if you didn’t do good.”
In fact, the experience may have motivated Urena to have an even stronger second half. He led the team in home runs and slugging percentage, and also led the NWL with 36 RBIs at the All-Star break.
“He’s a great player and a great person. I wouldn’t have wanted to (go to the All-Star game) with anybody else,” Van Gansen said. “He’s just a true leader and loves to play baseball.”
In three games after the break, Urena has two home runs, three runs scored and three RBIs, a sign he has no intentions of sitting on his all-star reputation.
“I could be the MVP of the league. Why not?” he said.
• One of the advantages the Dust Devils have by winning the first-half North Division title is the flexibility to work players at different positions, a practice that could increase their value down the road.
Ty France played 31 games in the field at first before getting a start at third base, his regular position at San Diego State. Infielders Kodie Tidwell (2B, 3B, SS) and Nick Vilter (1B, 2B, 3B) have played almost every infield position this season.
“We can do that without fear of losing a game like it will hurt our place in the standings,” Tri-City manager Anthony Contreras said. “Now I can monitor guys a little better and give guys a few days off.”