07/11/10 10:45 PM ET
Angels prospect Conger wins Futures MVP
By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com
Kid from the area -- Huntington Beach to be exact -- drafted by the local club, moves up the ladder slowly. Gets to come to play in the XM All-Star Futures Game in the club's home park, in front of what he hopes will be his fans in short order. Kid not only plays, but hits big three-run homer to help his team win and walks away with the MVP Award. The only thing missing was the Angels' Hank Conger riding off into the sunset. Perhaps he would have, but the Futures Gamers had to ride off to the clubhouse to make way for the celebrity softball folks.
"It's awesome," Conger said, clinging to his Larry Doby Award following the United States' 9-1 victory over the World team. "There's a lot of adrenaline going right now. It's just great. To win this award, with my friends and my family here. My dad was right there behind the plate. This was a great experience.
"I really want to thank my organization for allowing me to participate in this game, to give me a chance to play with all of my buddies. Being in SoCal, living 15-20 minutes away, it's unbelievable."
To add to the back story, Conger wasn't even supposed to be here. The Pirates' Tony Sanchez was initially chosen with the Yankees' Austin Romine to be the catchers for the U.S. But Sanchez was scratched due to injury, opening an opportunity for Conger to play local hero.
When Conger came to the plate in the bottom of the fifth inning, the U.S. was clinging to a 2-1 lead. Fellow Angel Mike Trout reached on a two-out error and the Royals' Eric Hosmer -- the other MVP candidate thanks to his four-hit day -- singled to put runners at first and second. World pitcher Henderson Alvarez of the Blue Jays got ahead of Conger, but then got a little too much of the strike zone with his 1-2 fastball.
"I was trying to get a good pitch to hit," Conger said. "I had two strikes on me. I got a fastball I could handle, I put it up there. I was rounding the bases and the right fielder actually kind of deked me. I thought I got it. I saw it clear the wall and it felt great."
Conger tried to play the stoic hero rounding the bases. But he couldn't keep the stone face as he rounded third and high-fived third-base coach Steve Decker, a broad smile crossing his face.
"I was trying to hold it back, but this is a fun event and the emotions just kind of spilled out," Conger said.
It's been a bit of a slow rise for the switch-hitting catcher. The Angel took him with the 25th overall pick in the 2006 Draft, hoping he'd develop into a big league backstop with a big stick. He signed out of high school instead of sticking around the area and attending USC. The Angels were happy, A's shortstop prospect and fellow Futures Gamer Grant Green was not. Green and Conger were slated to be roommates in college before the Angels signed him away. Green, after showing some mock indignation, admitted that it was hard to blame Conger for his decision considering where the catcher is currently.
While injuries have played a part in slowing his development, Conger is still just 22 and is playing in Triple-A currently. That is the proverbial phone call away and while the Angels have some pretty good catching options at the big league level, there's no doubt Conger will head back to Salt Lake City with visions of playing here at Angel Stadium on a regular basis dancing through his head.
"I try to motivate myself every day to play here in front of all these fans," Conger said. "It makes you a little bit more hungry to work harder each and every day and to hopefully get here."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.