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A Perennial Hit

June 23, 2011

By Mike Huff
Sting Daily

Derek Dietrich has drawn applauds from crowds for pretty much his entire baseball career. He has also played on various All-Star teams for much of his career. Earlier this week in Davenport, Iowa, the former Georgia Tech shortstop received a double dose of both.

“There was a professional juggler performing a few routines that involved a few mini baseball bats during the pregame ceremonies,” said Dietrich by phone on a drive back from the 2011 Midwest League All-Star Game to his current home in Bowling Green, Kentucky. “I started juggling in the dugout just to mess around and get a few laughs. Our manager then walked out [to the field], picked up a microphone in front of the crowd and said `I’m going to bring in a pinch-hitter,’ and called me out to juggle. I did a little routine and the crowd went nuts.”

Dietrich represented the Bowling Green Hot Rods at the Class A All-Star game on Tuesday. His nod comes after serving as the runaway leader among all shortstops in several offensive categories through the first half of the season, including home runs (7), RBI (33), batting average (.282) and extra-base hits (21).

The juggling act and his All-Star status may not come as a surprise to Georgia Tech baseball fans who followed Dietrich’s outstanding three seasons on the Flats. Following a career in which he earned countless honors, including the National Freshman of the Year in 2008 and an All-America selection in 2010, he became a second-round selection of the Tampa Bay Rays in the MLB First-Year Player Draft at the end of his junior year.

Many witnessed his diving stops or acrobatic throws from the infield, and even his juggling with swords on national television during the 2010 ACC Championships while he was in college.

The crowd of nearly 7,000 in attendance on Tuesday at Modern Woodwork Park, home to the Quad Cities River Bandits, has certainly seen a juggling act before.

But to witness an actual minor leaguer perform the act on the field that night must have been something incredible.

“It was almost as if I had hit a home run,” Dietrich said. “They gave me a standing ovation. People weren’t sure if I was a paid performer or not, but when they announced it was me the fans started cheering loudly. It was a neat thing I got to do.”

Though his ovation Tuesday night wasn’t for a home run, the one he received the night before actually was. Dietrich wooed the crowd with his hacks in the All-Star game’s home run derby on Monday after he drilled the longest home run of the evening, a deep shot to right field that carried out of the ball park and into the Mississippi River.

This year’s derby was not your typical long ball event. There were all kinds of obstacles located around the stadium, each combining with home runs to account for a certain number of points if the batter hit them. The player with the most points eventually won. The league’s top home run hitters weren’t necessarily selected to participate, but rather the top offensive category leaders from both the Eastern and Western division were chosen.

Dietrich earned his bid after leading all shortstops in RBIs.

“It was pretty sweet. They had dunk tanks, signs and different obstacles spread around the ball park. You even got points for hitting balls into the river. I was the only player to do that, so it was pretty cool.”

Dietrich didn’t win the event. The trophy went to Los Angeles Angels prospect Travis Witherspoon, currently playing with class A Cedar Rapids. He did, however, advance out of the first round before losing in a head-to-head matchup with Witherspoon. Dietrich earned the most points possible on one swing with the splash shot.

“The ball park sits right there on the river with a bridge in the background. It was really nice. I found out that it is one of the oldest ball parks in the country, with the exception of Fenway Park and Wrigley Field.

“All in all it was just an awesome time. I got to represent the East [and the Hot Rods] and had a chance to play with a great group of guys. It was my first professional all-star game [that I was able to play in] and hopefully not my last.”

If recent trends continue, Dietrich may be playing more All-Star games in the near future. He has been named to some sort of an All-Star team in each of the past five years.

He played in the high school All-American game in 2007, with the USA National Team after his freshman season at Tech in 2008 and in the 2009 Cape Cod Summer League All-Star game at Fenway Park. After signing with the Rays in 2010 and playing in the New York- Penn League’s short season, Dietrich found himself on another All-Star team last season. He missed that game because of an injury.

“Every time I make an all-star team, it’s reassuring that I’m on my way, I’m doing the right thing and I’m taking care of business, but there is definitely room for improvement in all aspects of my game.

“I am working harder and I am giving it my best effort. But if I make an All-star team, no matter what level it is, I am definitely honored and grateful and it’s just another step in the right direction.”

His hard work has paid certainly paid off for the time being.

Dietrich drew walks in both his plate appearance in Tuesday’s start for the Eastern side, quite possibly indicating a certain amount of respect he has acquired due to his strong offensive numbers.

Dietrich’s minor league team will begin the second half of the season on Friday, a season in which Dietrich admits is one of the biggest changes from college to the pro level.

“That’s the biggest difference,” Dietrich said. “Being able to bring it each and every day. This is my first full season, and we are 70 games in. That would be about one college season, and now we are getting ready for another.”

Bowling Green is currently one of the hottest teams in the minors, having won 10 of its last 11 games heading into the break, while claiming the Midwest League’s Eastern Division first-half championship. The team earned the franchise’s first playoff bid win and first title of any sort since coming into existence in the 2009 season.

“It’s going to be exciting. It means more opportunities to succeed and get better to get ready for the next step the Rays have for me.”

Tech All-Stars:
Dietrich isn’t the only former Jacket that participated in a minor league all-star game this season. Former teammates RHP Deck McGuire (Dunedin Blue Jays) and 1B Tony Plagman (Lakeland Flying Tigers) teamed up once again, playing for the North in the Class A advanced Florida State League All-Star game in Clearwater, Fla. on June 18. McGuire had three strikeouts in one inning of work, while Plagman was 1-for-2 with a double. In the Class A South Atlantic All-Star game, pitcher Brandon Cumpton (West Virginia Power) recorded a strikeout and retired the side in an inning of relief. The Triple-A (July 13) and Major League (July 12) All-Star games have not been played yet, but expect to possibly see some former Jackets on the rosters.

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