Choo homers in Futures Game
Mariners' Betancourt also stands out among Minor Leaguers
DETROIT -- It took until his third Futures Game for Shin-Soo Choo to make his mark on the annual gathering of baseball's top rising stars.Yuniesky Betancourt, on the other hand, made an impression in his first try. Both Mariners prospects were key players for the World team in a 4-0 victory over the U.S. team in the 2005 XM Satellite All-Star Futures Game, the highlight of All-Star Sunday at Comerica Park. Choo's solo homer kicked off the scoring in the third inning, and Betancourt made a couple of sparkling plays at shortstop, including one that robbed Devil Rays prospect B.J. Upton of a hit up the middle. For Choo, the 22-year-old native of South Korea with a sweet left-handed swing, this Futures Game was a decidedly better experience than his first two. "I went 0-for-1 the first year [in 2002], and last year I went 0-for-3 and I missed a popup," said Choo, the center fielder for Triple-A Tacoma. "I feel better about this one." Choo's shot off a 1-1 slider from Blue Jays left-hander Zach Jackson was the only home run of the game, but Choo considers that an anomaly. He thinks of himself much more as a contact hitter, though he has seven homers in 247 at-bats at Tacoma this season and had 15 last year at Double-A San Antonio. The only problem with Choo's performance Sunday is now people might think he's a power hitter. "No, I don't think so," said Choo, converted from a pitcher to a full-time hitter when the Mariners signed him in 2000. "I never try to hit home runs. I just try to make contact. I hit doubles and triples, but not a lot of home runs. I just keep it simple and try to hit for average." Choo also had a great view of one of the best plays of the game, when Tacoma teammate Betancourt picked up a roller heading into center field off the bat of a swift Upton, and threw across his body for the out -- probably the best defensive play of the day. "I thought it was a base hit, so I was getting ready for it to come to me," Choo said. "I saw a lot of those at Tacoma." Betancourt, a 23-year-old defector from Cuba who signed with the Mariners this winter, said he didn't think it was a routine play but just wanted to field it and get rid of the ball as fast as he could. "I wasn't sure, but I knew I had a chance," Betancourt said through an interpreter/teammate. Betancourt, who played second base for Cuba but has been playing shortstop for Tacoma, was more than pleased with his first Futures Game experience. "Of course," Betancourt said. "For me and everybody who's here, it should be a good experience." Even when it's your third time around. Choo can vouch for that. However, Choo didn't necessarily get into what a lot of the first-timers were doing before the game, and he was ready to get back home to Tacoma to his wife and 4-month-old daughter soon after it. "A lot of people took pictures, but I did that the first time," Choo said. Choo has his answer ready if an opportunity at a fourth time to play in the Futures Game comes his way. "I'd say, 'Sorry, I can't,' " Choo said, understandably ready to get his Major League future started. For Choo, and perhaps Betancourt as well, the invitation might not come in 2006 anyway, because Major Leaguers aren't invited.
John Schlegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.