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Suns have seven stars in tonight's game

June 22, 1999|By BOB PARASILITI

The Hagerstown Suns may be what All-Star teams are all about.

Seven Suns representatives will be on the North side in tonight's South Atlantic League All-Star Game at Arthur W. Perdue Stadium in Salisbury, Md. And with seven All-Stars, it means the Suns are going as a team.

[cont. from sports page]

"To me, we got this many going because of great team effort," said Suns manager Rolando Pino, who will manage the North. "Everyone has done something to get us to this point."

The Suns (48-23) had the best first-half record in the South Atlantic League to win the Northern Division title by 10 games, four better than either of the other division winners.

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Statistics don't indicated the strength of the Suns.

"We really did this as a team," said Jay Gibbons, who will be the North's starting designated hitter. "You look at all the league leaders and we don't have a lot of people on the list, yet here we are."

Gibbons will join outfielder Tyler Thompson, pitchers Pasqual Coco and Jarrod Kingrey, who were all voted to the team by team officials, managers and coaches. Pino will be the North's manager while Hector Berrios will serve as pitching coach.

Second baseman Jorge Nunez was added to the North team when Hickory's Jonathan Prieto suffered a broken finger.

* Gibbons has been the most consistent of the Suns hitters this season, hitting safely in 57 of 71 his games. Gibbons is hitting .305 with 16 home runs and 69 RBIs.

"(The All-Star team) was something you shoot for from the beginning of the season," Gibbons said. "It's been a good year so far, but I'm my own worst critic. Hopefully it will all be better in the second half."

* Coco has been as dominant as Gibbons as a starting pitcher. He leads the SAL with 11 wins and is second in the league with a 2.21 ERA and fifth in strikeouts with 83. He has won nine straight decisions since April 20, all which could lead to the All-Star start.

"I feel honored because I have never been elected to an All-Star team before," Coco said. "I have never won more than seven games in a season. Hector Berrios has been a big influence on me. I used to throw, now I pitch."

* Kingrey heads to the All-Star Game as the top closer in the North with 15 saves. He is 2-1 with a 2.51 ERA in 29 appearances with 39 strikeouts in 32 1/3 innings.

"I'm excited. It should be a good experience," Kingrey said. "I'll enjoy the time. It will be nice to hang around with the other guys in the league and swap stories."

* Thompson made a late run to get his All-Star berth with a huge month of May, including an unbelievable road trip to Cape Fear and Macon. The right fielder raised his average nearly 100 points to .290 with 10 home runs and 37 RBIs.

"This is a great honor, especially at this level," Thompson said. "I was struggling bad there for but that road trip got me started. I just hope I can get going again after the break."

* Nunez is an example of how quietly the Suns worked. Another slow starter, Nunez took off with four homers in a May series in Asheville, leading to a .268 average with 10 home runs and 28 stolen bases.

"It was a complete surprise to me," Nunez said. "I started weak but caught fire and people recognized it."

* For Berrios, the argument could be made that this should be his second straight All-Star selection.

Berrios shaped the Suns staff into one of the league's most efficient with the bullpen as it's strength early. Hagertown's team ERA has dropped from 4.18 to 3.77 in June. Berrios was the architect of the 1998 staff, which finished with 3.25 ERA and had Minor League Pitcher of the Year as voted by Baseball Weekly in John Sneed.

"It's an honor. What goes around comes around," Berrios said. "Personally, I don't look at this as something for me. I just try to help these kids. If I can get to three of them and help them improve, I did a heck of a job."

* Pino will be making his first appearance as an All-Star manager. He took a young team with speed, power, defense and pitching and blended it into a winner by raising its aggressiveness.

"This is a privilege to me," Pino said. "I've never had the opportunity to coach at an All-Star game. I'm going to enjoy these three days."

But Pino makes a case for even more Suns to be honored.

"I was a little upset that they wouldn't allow me to take my entire staff to the game," Pino said. "Just like the players, they all are the reason why we were so successful in the first half."

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