Minor Leaguers get to play on big stage
'Road to Wrigley' showcases Triple-A talent in Chicago
CHICAGO -- Last July's inaugural "Road to Wrigley" game provided a glimpse of the distant future, as Class A prospects on the Peoria Chiefs and Kane County Cougars got the chance to play the first Minor League game at Wrigley Field.
When the Iowa Cubs take on the Las Vegas 51s in the second "Road to Wrigley" game Sunday, fans will see many more familiar faces. Several of the players for the Triple-A affiliates of the Chicago Cubs and Toronto Blue Jays already have gotten a taste of the Majors.
Big League veterans like Casey Fossum, Jason Lane and So Taguchi are sprinkled throughout the teams' rosters, as are 2009 contributors like Bobby Scales of the Cubs and Travis Snider of the 51s. But there still will be plenty of players on both sides who will be stepping onto a Major League field for the first time.
"I think [the game] is not only good for our guys, it's good for the other team," Chicago Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said. "It's good for Minor League baseball. No negatives at all. Who wouldn't want to play here? So it's good for the guys who've had a taste of it and haven't been back lately or guys who haven't had a taste."
Cubs and Blue Jays fans will get to see plenty of up-and-coming youngsters, like Iowa shortstop Darwin Barney, who was hitting .317 in Double-A before a July promotion, and Las Vegas catcher J.P. Arencibia, Toronto's second-rated prospect entering this season, according to Baseball America.
The game provides an opportunity for these Minor Leaguers to play on a Major League field in front of a large crowd. Last year's game drew more than 32,000 people.
First baseman and outfielder Micah Hoffpauir, who was optioned to Iowa on Friday, now has spent parts of the last six seasons there. Before he was called up for the first time last May, he had watched a game at Wrigley but never played there.
"I think that would have been an unbelievable experience, to have a chance to come play a game at Wrigley Field," Hoffpauir said. "It's something I'd assume is pretty fun for the guys, especially the ones who haven't been up here before."
Chicago utilityman Jake Fox played his first 45 games of the season with Iowa before being called up in June. He said that even back then, the Iowa players were looking forward to the "Road to Wrigley" game.
"I know they're excited to come up here and play," Fox said. "A lot of those guys have been here before, but some of them haven't, and those are the guys who it will do the most good for."
Some of the players already have had big moments at Wrigley this season. Scales, for example, had played 11 seasons in the Minors before he hit his first Major League home run as a pinch-hitter against the Padres on May 12. He came back two days later and went 2-for-4 for with four RBIs, but ultimately was sent back to Iowa in June.
Pitcher Jeff Stevens, who was recalled from Iowa on Saturday for his second stint with Chicago, had some advice for those making their first appearance at Wrigley.
"Just take a deep breath when you're out there because it's a little overwhelming at first," Stevens said. "At least it was for me."
Andrew Simon is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.