07/13/2003 7:50 PM ET
Larrison honored for experience
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
Minor Leagues and Prospects at MLB.com
CHICAGO -- Much of Section 115 at U.S. Cellular Field came to life with two outs in the sixth inning of Sunday's RadioShack All-Star Futures Game when Preston Larrison, who earned the win, took to the mound for the U.S. team.
The ticket holders in that particular area of the ballpark weren't so much fans of the Detroit Tigers, the young right-hander's parent organization, as much as they were Larrison supporters. Actually, most of them were directly related to Larrison.
"There's my fiance, my mom, my dad and a number of other friends and family members," said Larrison with a laugh. Larrison allowed one hit, threw a wild pitch but ended the sixth with a groundout to second.
"I asked for 55 tickets, but I had 70 people here," Larrison added. "They got me tickets for all of them."
That's pretty solid treatment for a player who readily admits that he grew up a huge Cubs' fan. A resident of Aurora, Larrison figured to have a large number of people making the 45-minute journey to watch him in person after he was selected to the U.S. roster.
Larrison attended West Aurora High School and actually played against Casey Fisk while he was at Lockport High School. Carlton Fisk, Casey's father, managed Larrison's team Sunday, and the pitcher and manager spoke briefly before the game.
But the six degrees of Larrison to Fisk don't end with the Fisk Family Tree, as they quickly found out.
"My pitching coach at Erie [the Tigers' Double-A affiliate in the Eastern League] is Britt Burns, and he threw to Carlton with the White Sox," said Larrison with a laugh. "It's funny how baseball works.
"I never had the chance to meet Carlton, even when we played against Casey. This was an amazing surprise. He just said relax, have fun and enjoy this game. It's unreal talking to a baseball legend."
Sunday was full of surprises and unreal experiences for Larrison. The most important to his future was not the Futures Game itself, but the morning trade by the Tigers of right-hander Adam Bernero to the Colorado Rockies.
Bernero was one of the young pitchers who beat out Larrison in Spring Training for a final roster but had since been moved to the bullpen after posting a 1-12 record in 17 starts this season. Bernero finished 3-19 in 32 career Tigers starts.
In fairness to Bernero, the Tigers were shut out in three of his defeats this season. But his departure further clears the path to the Major Leagues for Larrison in his mind. Larrison's reaction was first one of stunned surprise and then full-out optimism.
"Oh, really. They traded Bernero?" Larrison asked. "I didn't know that. That's the first I heard of it.
"Bernero is one they counted on, but he didn't pan out to be anything. It's another starter gone and makes me a little happier."
Larrison does not lack for confidence, but he has lacked for positive results during the 2003 season. Larrison holds a 1-10 mark with a 5.32 ERA in 16 starts for Erie. He has allowed 105 hits in 88 innings, walking 43 and striking out 43.
But his selection to the Futures Game shows either that most of the Tigers' main prospects are already at the Major-League level or there's a great deal of faith in Larrison's raw talent. His 10-5 record, 2.39 ERA and .199 average against in the Florida State League last season suggests a great deal of promise for the Aurora native.
"That just proves to me that they have faith in me, even if I'm going out there and not putting up the huge numbers," Larrison said of his Futures Game selection. "It tells me they know I will come around. They know it will take a little bit to work the kinks out, but it's a great feeling and takes the pressure off.
"My struggles have been about confidence. I started out the season with 12 scoreless innings, and that was a great confidence builder. Then, it was cold and I didn't get into a rhythm. I had trouble with a blister, went on the disabled list and missed two starts.
"The hitters at Double-A also are more selective," added Larrison, who was the Tigers' second-round draft pick in 2001 out of Evansville. "They make you throw strikes and don't swing at garbage. But I didn't really pitch consistently on every fifth day until June, when I really started to feel more comfortable."
Larrison throws a four-seam fastball that has topped out at 95 mph and a two-seamer, which serves as a sinker, clocked at 88. He also throws a circle change and a curveball.
During his last spring start in Lakeland, Fla., Larrison featured this repertoire against the Atlanta Braves' starting lineup. He allowed two hits apiece to Gary Sheffield and Marcus Giles, but handled Rafael Furcal, Andrew Jones and Chipper Jones. Larrison allowed two runs over five innings.
"These were the guys I wanted to compete against, one through nine," said Larrison of his effort against the Braves. "By getting those guys out, I proved something to myself. I got hit, and it was like, 'On to the next guy.'
"It gives me confidence if I get a September callup or to go after a roster spot next season," Larrison added.
If there is a September trip to the Tigers in Larrison's future, his Aurora crew won't be able to travel down I-88 and eventually arrive at U.S. Cellular. The Tigers and White Sox finish their season series on the last day of August.
With Larrison serving as the only local player in Sunday's game, not factoring in the three representatives from the Cubs and White Sox, he was the center of attention for the Chicago media. There were numerous television, radio and print interviews in the pregame for the 22-year-old.
Larrison stopped to talk with a reporter from the Fox Valley region, where the city of Aurora sits in the center. During the conversation, the reporter mentioned a friend's name, seeing if Larrison knew who he was.
"I know him well," Larrison responded with a smile. "He was my high school math teacher."
The grade from that particular class was not revealed. But the Aurora native didn't need an 'A' in Calculus to figure out his chances for reaching the Major Leagues. The September callup becomes more of a possibility with the Tigers certain to be well out of contention.
"I'm sitting pretty right now," said Larrison of being part of the Tigers' organization. "Looking back, I'm glad they sent me to Double-A because I wasn't ready.
"I've been learning about hitters, putting up quality outings and trying to fine tune my game. If I got called up soon, I'll be ready.
"But this has been a great honor," Larrison added of taking part in the Futures Game. "I'm enjoying every minute of it, and it's something to tell my kids about in the future."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.