07/09/06 7:42 PM ET
Futures rising for today's also-rans
Royals, Pirates prospects shine for U.S. in Futures Game
It was, after all, the All-Star Futures Game at PNC Park. Most of the All-Star festivities and events celebrate baseball in the present moment. But for teams such as the Kansas City Royals and Pittsburgh Pirates, currently at the bottom of the Major League food chain, this was an event that pointed toward the promise of better days.
The format, the U.S. against the World, sort of mirrors the way the globe actually operates these days, but that may not be the absolutely central issue. The U.S. team was shut out by the World team in the 2005 Futures Game, so what turned out be a robust offensive showing by the Americans on this Sunday was a distinct change of pace.
In fact, the 8-5 victory by the U.S. on Sunday represented the largest run-scoring outburst in the eight-year history of this showcase event.
On an individual basis, the Americans got on the board in the second inning through a two-run home run by Billy Butler, a Kansas City Royals outfield prospect, currently performing very well in Double-A ball.
The Royals could use any encouragement they could find this season, and here it was, a 20-year-old in their employ, belting a home run to very nearly the deepest part of the park. And Butler, for hitting the home run that gave the Americans a lead they never relinquished, was named Most Valuable Player of the 2006 Futures Game.
Another Royals prospect, third baseman Alex Gordon, also at Double-A, singled doubled and drove in two runs in three at-bats. By this time, it could be a trend. The Royals have a future.
"To me, the future looks bright for Kansas City and I'm hoping to be a part of it," Butler said.
There were also strong performances by prospects from organizations that are not numbered among the giants of the game, but have made recent progress.
A five-run explosion by the U.S. in the third was capped by another two-run homer, this one hit by first baseman Joe Koshansky, a Colorado Rockies prospect, also at the Double-A level.
For the World team, designated hitter Wladimir Balentien, a Double-A prospect of the Seattle Mariners, doubled twice in three trips and drove in two runs.
What was needed here, of course, was a stellar performance by a Minor League representative of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Not only are the Pirates the hosts for the 2006 Midsummer Classic, but they also need some consolation. They checked into the All-Star break at an unfortunate 30-60, the worst record in the Majors.
Josh Sharpless, a right-handed reliever, currently at the Pirates' Triple-A Indianapolis affiliate, more than did his part, retiring all four batters he was asked to face. He entered with the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth, got out of that jam and then pitched a clean sixth.
For Sharpless, a Pittsburgh native, pitching in the Pirates' home park, even if he wasn't quite pitching for the Pirates, was a dream fulfilled.
"I've been thinking about this day since I was 4 or 5 years old," Sharpless said. "It was phenomenal.
"When I was warming up in the bullpen, I had people shouting my name, and I'd never even seen them before."
Sharpless subsequently received a suitably warm greeting from the PNC crowd when he took the mound and again when his work was finished.
It was the kind of day in which there could be applause, and the occasional ray of hope, for organizations that haven't recently received much of either.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.