Smokies react to All-Star Festivities in Jacksonville

Smokies teammates Rafael Lopez and Kyle Hendricks talk during the 2013 Southern League All Star Game. (Photo courtesy: Jacksonville Suns)

By: Nick Roark

Participating in the Southern League All-Star game is a distinct honor only a select few players experience every year. For the Tennessee Smokies position players, the opportunity to represent the Smokies’ uniform and interact with players from around the league is a memory that won’t soon be forgotten.

Tennessee sent six All-Stars to participate in the All-Star contest at Bragan Field. Matt Szczur, Arismendy Alcantara and Christian Villanueva all were named starters for the North Division team while Rafael Lopez entered the contest in the bottom of the sixth inning.

Lopez said the event in Jacksonville, Fla. “was a lot of fun” and it helped put a “nice little twist on the year” by holding the event later in the season. The Florida native was able to play in front of family and friends and also enjoyed the time spent with his competitors.

“That was a lot of fun to get to know everybody that’s on the team. You get to hang out with them in a non-hostile way,” Lopez said. “Getting to know them as people rather than just as ballplayers was a cool experience and always being recognized for your hard work in the field is always nice touch on things.”

The Smokies’ backstop had twice before been named an All-Star in his career, but last week’s exhibition marked the first time Lopez has actively participated in an All-Star game. The former Florida State Seminole was named a 2012 Midwest League Mid-Season All-Star but did not play due to a concussion suffered before the game. The 25-year-old catcher was named a Northwest League Post-Season All-Star in 2011.

Matt Szczur made his third career All-Star appearance last Wednesday in Jacksonville. (Photo Courtesy: Roger C. Hoover)

Matt Szczur made his third career All-Star appearance last Wednesday in Jacksonville. (Photo Courtesy: Roger C. Hoover)

Szczur earned the starting nod in left field and characterized the festivities in Jacksonville as “a great time.” The 24-year-old outfielder said the chance to interact with fans in his third career All-Star selection was most enjoyable for him.

“Giving back to the fans is always great,” Szczur said. “I got to sign for some fans and they’re very appreciative. They always say, ‘thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you for all this stuff.’ So it was good to be there.”

Alcantara started at shortstop for the North Division team despite moving to second base for Tennessee. The 21-year-old infielder started at second base for the World Futures team in the All-Star Futures Game held at Citi Field in New York City on July 14, and flew to Jacksonville the following day.

“It’s a good experience because you can play for the selection of the season and it’s a fun, fun time,” Alcantara said. “It’s very good because you keep moving, get ready for the next game.”

Villanueva made his Southern League All-Star debut by starting at third base for the North Division. It was the fourth career All-Star appearance for Villanueva, but his first since being dealt from the Texas Rangers organization with pitcher Kyle Hendricks in exchange for Major Leaguer Ryan Dempster.

The four All-Stars hope their first-half success carries into the homestretch of the season as Tennessee looks to vie for the second-half North Division title and a playoff berth.

Although the players were able to make friends with their Southern League foes in Jacksonville, the competition will remain just as fierce come September.

To stay current with all the latest news, follow Smokies on Radio on Twitter and like the Smokies on Radio Facebook page.  Nick Roark is a Broadcast & Media Assistant for the Smokies Radio Network.  You can follow him on Twitter here: NickRoark4.

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Categories: 2013 Smokies Feature


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