Tacoma Rainiers

Triple-A All-Star Game a chance to meet future greats before they’re great

Madison Helms, far, Tommy Dickerson, center, and Hayden Kellington wait for autographs before the Minor League Baseball Home Run Derby at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, Wash., on Monday, July 10, 2017.
Madison Helms, far, Tommy Dickerson, center, and Hayden Kellington wait for autographs before the Minor League Baseball Home Run Derby at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, Wash., on Monday, July 10, 2017. jbessex@gateline.com

A toddler stood on the top of his toes to look over the table. The 6-year-old boy wanted a glimpse of the large man sitting on a chair behind it so he could return a ball hit in Monday’s Triple-A Home Run Derby.

“It’s yours – it’s yours now,” Tacoma Rainiers All-Star first baseman Dan Vogelbach said, smiling, as he autographed the ball and returned it to Xavier Moore.

The ball was saved just for Vogelbach, who was treated like a hometown hero after reaching the final round of the home run derby the night before. He’ll play alongside teammate Jean Machi on Wednesday representing the Rainiers on the Pacific Coast League All-Star squad.

Tuesday was an off day as the top players from the PCL and International League took batting practice and signed autographs in between.

Many of the kids reminded Vogelbach of himself, he said. He remembered once getting autographs from Atlanta Braves players Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones.

“I love signing for kids,” Vogelbach said. “Because at one time in my life I was one of those kids that really looked up to people and wanted autographs. So I really love doing this and I love anytime I can put a smile on a kid’s face. It makes my day better.

“My mom always said not to forget where I came from, and that’s a big thing I try to focus on because I was in those kids’ shoes one time.”

And maybe Vogelbach can be like Chipper Jones – who went on to play in eight MLB All-Star games after competing in the 1993 Triple-A All-Star game.

This week can be a preview of the game’s next greats. Derek Jeter, Pedro Martinez and Jim Thome are just a few more of the notable former Triple-A All-Stars who then made it big in the big leagues.

That’s why Max Horn, 16, brought his January issue of Baseball America, which featured New York Mets prospect Amed Rosario on the cover. Rosario is ranked No. 8 on the publication’s top 100 prospects list.

Horn and his father had been planning this trip from their place in Arizona since tickets first went on sale last summer, he said.

“(Rosario) is going to be great one day,” said Horn. He said he keeps a stack of about 25 Baseball America magazines in his room. “And I want to say that I saw him play when he was in the minor leagues.”

Adele Rioux, 12, looked at her father and dropped her jaw in awe after getting an autograph from Red Sox prospect Rusney Castillo.

“This is so great,” she said.

Her brother and his friends came from a football camp earlier in the day and had to head to a soccer practice later. But they first had to get Vogelbach to autograph the home run ball they picked up from earlier this Rainiers season.

“My son told me it gave him butterflies,” Tim Rioux of Gig Harbor said.

It seems more of an event for kids, but there were plenty of adults chasing signatures, too. Garrett Iverson brought a briefcase full of pristine baseballs he bought off eBay earlier this month and touted it around on Tuesday.

“One of the players was like, ‘Do you got a poker case there?’ Do we got a game coming?’ ” Iverson said.

Don Wright got each of his six photos he took of the six home run derby participants autographed. Pawtucket’s Bryce Brentz included “HR champ” next to his signature.

Machi wore his World Series ring on his autograph hand. He won it with the San Francisco Giants in 2014.

Multiple fans said they were most excited about an autograph from 20-year-old Braves prospect Ozzie Albies.

The most unique things he signed Tuesday?

“A couple of phones,” Albies said.

“People were telling me, ‘You’re my favorite,’” Albies laughed. “I’m like, ‘Thank you so much.’ … And I really didn’t know what else to say.”

The first Triple-A All-Star game to be played in Tacoma begins at 6:05 p.m. Wednesday at Cheney Stadium.

TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677, @tjcotterill