Friendships blossom in All-Star game
Citizen Telegram Sports Editor
Seeing on-field rivals coming together in a big way is one of the things Troy Phillips looks forward to every year.
“There was a kid from Olathe who hit a grand slam a few years back,” the Rifle coach said of the annual Class 4A/3A Western Slope League All-Star Game played Tuesday night at Deerfield Park in Rifle. “When he came into the dugout, one of the kids from Hotchkiss asked him if he wanted that ball, and he was like, ‘No, that’s OK.’
“The guys in the dugout jumped all over that,” Phillips continued, laughing. “They said, ‘Oh, so you must hit grand slams in All-Star games all the time!’ That’s probably one of the most fun things about this game, and I’d like to keep that around as long as I’m here.”
Phillips has been around Rifle for a while — he just finished his 19th season of coaching the Bears, after all. Tuesday, however, marked the ninth season the WSL All-Star Game has been played at Deerfield Park. What first began as just an exhibition game between teams in the Class 4A WSL morphed into a game that included both the 3A and 4A classifications. That, in turn, has brought players from across Western Colorado together in late May for almost a decade.
It’s something that tends to stick with the kids who participate, even if they were not crazy about the idea at first.
“You should have seen this dugout at the beginning of the game. It was like a church in here,” joked Roaring Fork baseball coach Marty Madsen, who was one of the assistant coaches for the Class 3A WSL All-Stars. “That had changed quite a bit by the second inning. Baseball tends to bring guys together like that.”
The game featured all of the first-team, all-league players from across both Western Slope Leagues. That included teams like Rifle, Glenwood Springs, 4A WSL champ Delta, Battle Mountain and Steamboat Springs for 4A, against teams like Coal Ridge, Roaring Fork, Olathe, Gunnison and Basalt for the 3A squad. Team members consisted of players who were selected first-team all-WSL by their coaches at postseason meetings, before state playoff appearances.
Among the players from the region were Bailey Hoffmeister and Teig Hauer from Rifle, Chase Nieslanik and Chris Sarabia from Glenwood Springs, Richie Winkler and Greyson Keener from Coal Ridge and Tanner Nieslanik from Roaring Fork. The 4A All-Stars were too much for the 3A squad on the field, prevailing 21-4 in the nine-inning game without a mercy rule.
Phillips began the game the first year Deerfield Park was put into use in 2005, which was the first year the Bears played there after playing for years on a baseball field close to where the rodeo arena now sits at the Garfield County Fairgrounds. It was also that year that an All-Star game began for the 4A WSL players, allowing first-team and honorable-mention award winners to participate.
Rifle, however, dropped down to Class 3A for the 2011 and 2012 seasons due to declining enrollment. Fearing that the All-Star game would go away, Phillips lobbied coaches from around the league to include both the 4A and 3A WSL players.
It’s been that way for the past four years, and it’s something that everyone involved hopes will continue for years to come.
“Listening to the guys in the dugout interact the way they do is just special,” the Rifle coach said. “You wouldn’t get that any other way, and it’s the best players in the leagues. It’s fun not only for them, but for the coaches. Plus, it’s a way for them to play one more game together after they’ve been battling against each other all season.”
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Rifle City Manager Scott Hahn plans to transition out of his position over the next several months, according to a city of Rifle news release.