MANKATO, Minn. — Blake Reilly met with the manager, who told him Tuesday that he would be the starting pitcher for the Great Plains team at the Northwoods League All-Star Game.
“He said, ‘it’s your town, your fans,’” said Reilly, a starting pitcher for the Mankato MoonDogs. “Would you like to start?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I want it.’ It was awesome.”
Reilly and two of his teammates participated in the Northwoods League All-Star Game on Tuesday at ISG Field. Reilly just pitched the first inning, facing three batters and striking out two.
“I love it when the juices start flowing through my body,” Reilly said. “I don’t think I’ve ever pitched in front of this many fans. My heart is still pounding.”
The Great Plains team, which includes Mankato, defeated Great Lakes 7-3 Tuesday at ISG Field. The attendance was 2,854, which is a record for Northwoods League games at the Mankato ballpark.
Traverse City Pit Spitters designated hitter Chris Monroe started for the Great Lakes team and went 2-for-4 with a double. John Beuckelaere faced four batters and allowed one hit and one earned run. Jeremy Neff relieved him and allowed one hit and an earned run on three batters faced.
MoonDogs’ pitcher Nolan Pender got the third inning and faced just three batters and threw only seven pitches.
“It was great,” Pender said. “The stadium was packed out, everybody was cheering for me. That’s the loudest it’s been all year.”
Pender said it was dif- ferent playing on an All-Star team, rather than with his regular-season teammates.
“Everybody is new, but it’s exciting to play with all these guys that we face all year,” Pender said. “I hear them say, ‘I’m glad you’re doing to them what you do to me,’ so that’s pretty cool.”
There wasn’t much of a chance that outfielder Matthew Higgins was going to top Monday’s performance in the home-run hitting competition. He was the final batter, and with his team down eight homers, he belted 10, including one in bonus as Great Plains won 69-67.
He went 0-for-5 Tuesday, striking out once, but he took a few mighty swings, drawing oohs and aahs from the large crowd.
“It was awesome,” Higgins said. “There was top-level talent out here, doing their thing. Everybody showed why they were chosen to be here.”
Higgins played the entire game, making a nice running catch in right field. Each time he went to the plate, he drew a loud ovation from the home crowd.
“I’ll remember (Monday’s home-run competition) the rest of my life,” he said. “I’m just thankful to everybody who helped to put this on. It was a wonderful experience.”
MoonDogs owner Chad Surprenant said this two-day All-Star event was everything he hoped for when he made the announcement two years ago. The pandemic delayed the All-Star game for one year, but seeing the ballpark full made it all worthwhile.
“You know, it was kind of a two-way street,” he said. “We had to bring this event to the people, and it was a little bit off script. We’re used to selling the big things, the full season, so we had to change the way we do things to adapt to a one-time event.
“But it’s been amazing. Last night (at the home-run competition), it was like eating candy all night long.”