CLEARWATER — Jeff Kent played in the Florida State League All-Star Game. So did Ivan Rodriguez and Joe Mauer.
Before they won MVP awards at the major-league level, all three got their start in the advanced Class A FSL. More than 1,200 players who spent time in the FSL have played in the majors, including 13 who are in the Hall of Fame.
Many played in the league's All-Star Game. Tonight, the FSL holds its 50th All-Star Game at Bright House Field in Clearwater.
"It's a big milestone and quite an accomplishment to see so many players who have gone to the majors or have had Hall of Fame careers," FSL president Chuck Murphy said.
Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach is among the All-Star alumni. He was selected for the 2002 game while with the Sarasota Red Sox.
Shoppach cannot recall how many hits he had or whether he made any plays in the field. But he does remember this: It was the first time he played in an All-Star Game as a professional.
"I know I called my parents when I was picked, and they drove up for the game (from Texas)," Shoppach said. "I was in the home run derby, and I had three home runs, which is a lot for me. After a while, memories like that kind of fade and get replaced by other moments in your career. But it was a fun time."
Shoppach and pitcher Jeremy Hellickson are the only current Rays who have played in the game. Hellickson started the 2008 game.
"It was great experience for me," Hellickson said. "It was my first All-Star Game, and it was an honor to start. It's pretty cool to see all the guys who either played in the All-Star Game or played at that level who are in the big leagues now."
Others don't have fond memories of the game.
"It was hot," said Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, who played in the 2004 game. "That's the only thing I remember from being in that game."
Who are the next top prospects from the league?
The best bets are a pair of right-handed pitchers, Dunedin's Deck McGuire and St. Lucie's Matt Harvey.
McGuire was the Blue Jays' first-round draft pick in 2010 (11th overall) out of Georgia Tech. He ranks fifth in the league with 70 strikeouts. Harvey was the Mets' first-round pick (seventh overall) in 2010. The former North Carolina standout is tied for the league lead in wins with eight and ranks second in strikeouts with 88.
Then there is Charlotte shortstop Hak-Ju Lee, one of the Rays' top prospects. Lee, acquired from Cubs in the Matt Garza deal last offseason, is hitting .356 (first in the league) with 50 runs scored (third). Lee was among four Charlotte players who were initially selected. Two were added to replace players who were promoted.
"A lot of these players will move on to Double A after this game and could be in the majors in a few years," Murphy said.
"It's a big event for us."
Bob Putnam can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The name game
Some of the top major-leaguers who played in the Florida State League, including the All-Star Game, over the past 50 seasons:
First base: Jeff Bagwell (1989 Winter Haven), Carlos Delgado (1992 Dunedin), Ryan Howard (2003 Clearwater), Eddie Murray (1974 Miami), Frank Thomas (1989 Sarasota)
Second base: Rod Carew (1965 Orlando), Jeff Kent (1990 Dunedin), Pete Rose (1961 Tampa), Chase Utley (2001 Clearwater), Lou Whitaker (1976 Lakeland)
Third base: Adrian Beltre (1997 Vero Beach), Howard Johnson (1979-80 Lakeland), Scott Rolen (1995 Clearwater), David Wright (2003 St. Lucie)
Shortstop: Derek Jeter (1994 Tampa), Cal Ripken (1979 Miami), Jimmy Rollins (1998 Clearwater)
Catcher: Johnny Bench (1965 Tampa), Gary Carter (1972 West Palm Beach), Joe Mauer (2003 Fort Myers), Mike Piazza (1990 Vero Beach)
Outfield: Kirk Gibson (1978 Lakeland), Willie McGee (1978-79 Fort Lauderdale), Larry Walker (1986 West Palm Beach), Vernon Wells (1999 Dunedin)
Pitchers: Rollie Fingers (1965 Leesburg), Catfish Hunter (1964 Daytona), Ferguson Jenkins (1962-63 Miami), Randy Johnson (1986 West Palm Beach), Jim Palmer (1967-68 Miami), Nolan Ryan (1967 Winter Haven)