LANSING — Michigan State traveled to Cooley Law School Stadium Tuesday evening for the 12th annual Crosstown Showdown against the Lansing Lugnuts. The Lugnuts, a Single-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays, have hosted the Showdown each year and have won the past six meetings heading into Tuesday night. Powered by four consecutive run-scoring innings, they ousted the Spartans, 6-4, and extended the streak to seven in a row; 10-2 overall.
Sophomore catcher Adam Proctor defended his home run crown from a season ago, but it didn’t come easy. Three players from each side competed against their teammates for a right to face the opposition in the finals. The Lugnuts’ sluggers only needed the opening round to determine their finalist – Freddy Rodriguez, a Venezuelan-born, 21-year-old outfielder. He’d have to wait patiently as an opening round and two, one-minute swing-offs were needed for Proctor to separate himself from teammates Zaid Walker and Andrew Morrow. Proctor blasted seven homers and walked away as the Crosstown Showdown champion once again.
“Great for Adam, again, a local guy, so he had plenty of friends and family here,” Spartan head coach Jake Boss Jr. said. “A lot of fun for him to come out and defend that title. It was a dog fight, for sure. I’m sure he’s going to sleep pretty well tonight.”
As for the game itself, the MSU offense couldn’t figure out Lugnuts starter Nate Pearson, as Pearson was dominant in his three innings of work. He faced twelve hitters, striking out five Spartans. He hit leadoff hitter Danny Gleaves twice – the only baserunner he’d allow besides hitters that reached on a fielder’s choice. The struggles were understandable, as Pearson’s fastball sat upper-90s, topping out at 101 m.p.h. He occasionally flashed a good slider, but with a heater hitting triple digits, he didn’t need it much.
MSU starting pitcher Mike Mokma tossed a scoreless first inning but ran into trouble in the second frame. The Lugnuts crossed their first run on a Jose Ferrer triple, scoring Vinny Capra. Ferrer’s triple chased Spartan defender Walker to deep center, where Walker laid out for the ball but came up empty.
Spartans left fielder Bryce Kelley lost a ball in the lights, and it fell, giving the Lugnuts two more runs. Kelley never seemed to have a beat on the ball – he immediately waved his hands in the air implying he couldn’t see it. This would’ve ended the inning, but instead it capped off a three-run frame for Lansing.
The Lugnuts scored once in each of the following two innings giving them a 5-0 lead.
Walker, after having two inefficient at-bats, came up with the bases full of Spartans in the fifth. With one out, he sent a single up the middle for a hit. The single scored Bailey Peterson and Reese Trahey and brought the Spartans within three runs, but the Lugnuts responded in the bottom half of the inning to take a 6-2 lead.
Walker, the freshman out of Homewood, Ill. got another chance to add some runs for his team in the seventh and final inning. Walker hit a hard ground ball that kicked over the third baseman’s glove – this scored two and cut the lead to a pair. But, the Spartans couldn’t muster anything else and walked away empty handed.
Despite a lengthy losing streak for the Spartans to their Lansing neighbors, this game never really is a matter of win or loss for Boss Jr. It’s a chance to see his incoming freshmen, transfers and where everyone who’s progressed over the summer. It’s also a chance to give some professional hopefuls the opportunity of playing in a pro stadium in front of a large crowd, against some real talent.
“I don’t think we feel a whole lot of pressure to go out and win or anything like that, but when the competitive juices get flowing you always want to win the ball game – those guys are the same way [Lugnuts],” Boss Jr. said. “It’s practice number two for us, so I expect us to be a little bit rusty, but great experience.”
Walker accounted for all of MSU’s four runs and dazzled in the home run derby. He gave Proctor and Morrow a tough run. At the Showdown, he got a taste of the college and professional life – two avenues he had to choose between back in June when he was selected by the Cincinnati Reds in the 36th round. Walker turned down the Reds offer and fulfilled his commitment to MSU.
“I love it here,” Walker said. “I love wearing the White and Green. Coach Boss is great, the rest of the coaching staff is great; I’m glad to be part of their family.”
People in the baseball world didn’t know whether Walker would sign with a professional team or play college ball. Now that the decision is made, it was more than just baseball that drew him to East Lansing.
“The coaching staff,” Walker answered as one of his reasons to play for the Spartans. “I knew it was a great school. They have the No. 1 program in the country for supply chain management which is something I want to pursue. As soon as I got on campus it was the right fit.”
The Spartans will play more intrasquad games and practice over the course of the fall, culminating in the Green-White World Series in October. The 2019 schedule release is still TBA but is usually released in November.