MINNEAPOLIS — A pair of Rays prospects, LHP Enny Romero and C Justin O'Conner, had crossed paths during minor-league camps in Port Charlotte and worked together a few times on the bullpen mounds.
But they had a much higher profile and more interesting meeting Sunday afternoon at Target Field, Romero pitching against O'Conner in the All-Star Futures Game. "I was laughing when I saw him on deck," Romero said.
O'Conner smiled back at the time, coming up with one out in the seventh. And he had the last laugh, falling behind 0-and-2, fouling another pitch off, then singling to left. "We both kind of smiled at each other then," he said
Romero, pitching for the World team, left a curveball up. "I knew what pitches he has, so I think I kind of had an advantage," said O'Conner, catching for the U.S. team. "But it's hard enough to hit his stuff.
Romero allowed just the one hit in his inning as the U.S. won 3-2. This was the third Futures Game for Romero, who has struggled through a rough season at Triple-A Durham, going 3-10, 5.62, allowing 90 hits and 38 walks in 81⅓ innings.
"I've struggled this year," he said. "But I feel good. I'm going to go back after the All-Star break and do work."
O'Conner, a 2010 first-round pick who is hitting .260 with six homers and 32 RBIs at advanced Class A Charlotte, caught four innings and got the one at-bat in his first appearance. "It was a lot of fun, for sure," O'Conner said.
Price check: Rays LHP David Price headed to Minneapolis on Sunday evening, disappointed he won't be eligible to pitch after starting Sunday but excited about participating as a four-time All-Star. "It's always fun to be a part of an All-Star Game," Price said. "I'll definitely never forget 2010 and 2012. I was able to start the game in (Anaheim), and throwing in Kansas City as well. It's always fun, but I've got to get ready for my first start back."
Plus, Price had already promised his 10-year-old nephew Corey that he could come along and hang out on the field for today's workout and Home Run Derby. "He really enjoys being out there," Price said. "That's probably the coolest part for me." Price's parents, brother, girlfriend and agent are all also coming.
more rays: Tropicana Field in-game host Rusty Kath, a native Minnesotan, will be front and center as a Target Field co-host today and Tuesday. Also representing the Rays are several members of the clubhouse staff and press box attendant Dukes Knutson.
Kath has worked some big events, such as the Rays postseason games and the World Figure Skating Championships. But for a guy who grew up working in the press box at the Metrodome and host some Wild hockey games, hosting an All-Star Game at Target Field is a big deal. "It's very cool, a bit surreal," he said.
In addition to voicing fan contests, Kath will conduct live onfield interviews with players. "Hopefully everybody will get my sarcasm," he said. "And I don't screw it up."
great clip: Mitchell High product RHP Tyler Clippard of the Nationals was added Sunday to the NL squad for Tuesday's game, replacing Braves RHP Julio Teheran. Clippard is 6-2, 2.03 this season, with 53 strikeouts in 40 innings. Clippard, who grew up in north Pinellas, was also an All-Star in 2011 and — while facing only one batter — got the win for the NL team. Clippard tweeted Sunday: "Pretty excited to be flying to Minnesota to represent the @Nationals for the 2014 all star game! #humbled" The Giants' Tim Hudson, Reds' Alfredo Simon and Padres' Huston Street were also added, replacing pitchers who started Sunday: Giants' Madison Bumgarner, Reds' Johnny Cueto and Padres' Tyson Ross.
Big swinger: Given the bad break of a couple of weeks ago, when an errant pitch from a machine broke and bloodied his right middle finger, River Ridge High's Jason Heinrich felt pretty good about competing Sunday morning in the Junior Home Run Derby at Target Field. Though Heinrich, who still has five stitches in the finger, hit only three homers and wasn't among the top two advancing to tonight's All-Star Derby, he said it was a good experience. "It was awesome," he said. "The most nervous I've ever felt."
Watch party: A Tuesday All-Star Game watch party at Higgins Hall (5225 N Himes Ave., Tampa), featuring a panel of longtime Tampa high school coaches and a memorabilia auction, will benefit the soon-to-open Tampa Baseball Museum. Tickets are $50, see tampabaseballmuseum.org/events.
Contact Marc Topkin at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_Rays.