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Game provides taste of Future
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07/12/2003  7:33 PM ET 
Game provides taste of Future
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White Sox prospect Neal Cotts gets the start for the U.S. team in Sunday's Futures Game. (Brian Bahr/Getty)
CHICAGO -- Fans of the Futures Game know where the "This time it counts idea" originated.

Not that this year's RadioShack All-Star Futures Game on Sunday at U.S. Cellular Field will determine home-field advantage at the Texas League World Series or anything like that, but since the game's inception in 1999, there's always been a sense that it's just a little bit more than a simple exhibition. The 50 players filling the United States and World rosters know the game, televised live on ESPN2 at 5:30 p.m. Sunday, is meant to be an enjoyable time -- a chance to live the big-league life for a few days. It can't be too serious, not if MLB.com reporters are allowed in the dugout to get participants to answer e-mails from fans during the game (Send e-mails to your favorite minor leaguers now).

2003 All-Star Game

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At the same time, they all know this is an honor and a wonderful opportunity to showcase what they can do on an extremely large stage. Playing in front of a national TV audience, a large media contingent, and many high-ranking team officials adds a certain amount of pressure and will certainly motivate many players to try and stand out in the seven-inning game. Knowing the Futures alumni list in the big leagues is 76 and growing doesn't hurt, either.

"Guys are going to go out there and just play," Red Sox third-base prospect Kevin Youkilis said. "Everyone's going to try pretty hard. It's more than an exhibition game, because you have all the media, all the hype, all the attention around you, so I think everyone's going to go out and play as hard as they can."

"I'm not going to treat it like an exhibition," A's pitching phenom Rich Harden said. "I'm going to treat it like a regular game and go out there and pitch how I know how to pitch."

Since a hurler like Harden will go an inning, tops, expect some outstanding performances on the mound. Instead of having to conserve energy and worry about mixing pitches to last deep into games, Harden can just air it out and crank it up. It's one of the few times baseball is a sprint instead of a marathon.

Because of the abbreviated performances, and the fact it's a rare time where one might see a Single-A hitter face a Triple-A pitcher, it's not exactly a place where scouting judgments can be made. But for people like Twins general manager Terry Ryan, it's still a place where information can definitely be added to the file.

"The good thing about it is as you go through the summer reading all these scouting reports and you can put a face to a name now," Ryan said. "I don't want to pretend that I can make an accurate evaluation after watching a pitcher pitch an inning or a guy get one or two at-bats. But it does give you a little flavor for their body type. You watch what they do in pre-game. You certainly evaluate some of that raw strength and raw power in pre-game, so you get a pretty good look. It's a fantastic way to see approximately 50 players in one day in one game."

It's not exactly the same 50 players who started out on the Futures Game roster when the teams were first announced. Mainly because of callups to the big leagues -- a positive for prospects, a headache for Futures Game organizers -- and an injury, there have been several alterations to the roster. Gone are Dan Haren, Victor Martinez, Antonio Perez and Laynce Nix, all called to the majors, as well as Angel Guzman, who is out for the year with a shoulder injury. They were replaced by Chris Narveson, Edgar Gonzalez, Pete LaForest and Chin Feng-Chen. Chen then got promoted on Friday, so he was replaced by Scott Thorman.

These changes do nothing to detract from the excitement and meaning of the Futures Game for all those involved. Since it began at Fenway Park in 1999 -- a game that saw Alfonso Soriano hit two homers as a first glimpse at what the All-Star starter could do on the baseball field -- it has grown in stature, particularly in minor league circles. Now, agents call Major League Baseball pushing clients to be included, and the game, once a novelty, is now a staple that all prospects would love to add to their resumes.

"It's quite an honor for me, getting a chance to go out there and show everybody what I can do," Twins catcher and former No. 1 overall pick Joe Mauer said. "I'm really excited to go to Chicago and play in this game."

"It's a pressure we're going to have to face eventually," Twins pitcher and Mauer's teammate J.D. Durbin said about the increased crowds, hype and attention. "It's a stepping stone and hopefully Joe and I can get over it together."

"Getting invited alone is a feat in itself," Youkilis added.

There aren't many concepts in this world that are win-wins for everyone involved. Just five years into its existence, it appears the Futures Game is one of them.

"I've always thought this is one of the better things Major League Baseball has instituted the last couple of years," Ryan said. "When you go in and watch these guys, as far as the media attention, the exposure, the scouting, playing in the Major League park, and playing in front of the 30 or 40,000 people the have there, it can be nothing but a pleasurable experience for the player, the organization and the families."

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.



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