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Huber, 'Little Pedro' lead World Team to victory

7/10/2005 - MLB Justin Huber

DETROIT -- Justin Huber has been to the All-Star Futures
game three times, and he's not real interested in coming back.

"Although it's a tremendous honor, there is another side to it
and that side is we're all pushing to get to the major leagues,"
the hard-hitting Kansas City prospect said. "This is not the
highlight of your career."

Huber hit a two-run double that earned him MVP honors, and
Texas' Edison Volquez, nicknamed "Little Pedro," led a parade of
dazzling pitchers that sent the World team to a 4-0 victory Sunday
over the U.S. squad.

Seattle's Shin-Soo Choo, also playing in this minor league
showcase for the third time, hit the only home run at spacious
Comerica Park to spark a World squad managed by former Detroit
Tigers reliever Guillermo Hernandez, the 1984 AL MVP and Cy Young
Award winner.

Hernandez's counterpart, Royals Hall of Famer George Brett, was
especially proud of Huber, even though he beat Brett's team.

The Australian first baseman, who spent 11 days in the big
leagues last month when All-Star Mike Sweeney went on the disabled
list, gave his team a 3-0 lead with a fifth-inning double off the
base of the right-field fence.

"Good for him. I worked with him all spring and was happy to
see him do that," said Brett, the Royals' vice president of
baseball operations. "I hope he keeps it up."

The Rangers surely hope the same for Volquez, the spitting image
of Mets ace Pedro Martinez on the mound. With long fingers, nasty
stuff and No. 45 on his back -- all just like his idol -- the
22-year-old right-hander from the Dominican Republic earned the win
by tossing a scoreless inning.

Volquez's delivery is strikingly similar to that of Martinez,
who won't appear at Tuesday's All-Star Game because he pitched
Sunday, leading New York past Pittsburgh 6-1 for his 10th win.

And it's no wonder. Volquez, slightly built and just 2 inches
taller than Martinez, makes it a point to study his hero on TV and
in video games, earning him his catchy monicker back home.

"I like it, I like it," Volquez said. "Not only is he a good
player, but he's a good person."

In fact, just after Volquez threw his first pitch Sunday, a
Washington Nationals scout sitting behind home plate jotted down:
"Looks like Pedro."

Connected by a mutual friend, Volquez recently chatted with
Martinez on the phone.

"I heard someone said to him, 'There's this kid who's imitating
you,' and he said, 'It's OK, we're both Dominicans,'" Volquez
said. "When I started, everyone said I had something similar to
him. Then my pitching coaches said to me, 'OK, you want to be like
Pedro? Let's pitch like him.'"

Choo, a left-handed hitting outfielder for Triple-A Tacoma,
connected in the third off Blue Jays lefty Zach Jackson, the losing
pitcher. Choo, who had a rough day in right field during last
year's Futures game in Houston, went 1-for-3 with an RBI in a brief
callup to the Mariners earlier this season.

Another Seattle prospect, shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt, made a
gorgeous play to rob B.J. Upton of a hit.

Detroit fans got a peek at two hard-throwing Tigers prospects:
Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya each flashed fastballs in the
upper 90s.

Nine World team pitchers combined to allow only four hits in the
seven-inning game, including two singles by Dodgers third base
prospect Andy LaRoche, the younger brother of Atlanta first baseman
Adam and son of former major league pitcher Dave.

Baltimore lefty Adam Loewen entered with two on and got three
outs for the save. With the bases loaded, he retired San
Francisco's Kevin Fransden on a 1-2-3 double play to end the game.

Huber's pinch-hit double off Pittsburgh's Paul Maholm with the
bases loaded was his first hit in four career Futures game at-bats
-- and it capped a wild year for the 22-year-old slugger.

He was traded by the Mets to Pittsburgh and then Kansas City
last July for Futures game teammate Jose Bautista as part of the
three-team deal that netted pitcher Kris Benson for New York.

"It really did rock my world for a little bit," Huber said
before signing helmets and posing for pictures in the clubhouse.
"It took me a whole offseason to get hungry to play baseball
again."

And in his final game in the Mets' system, Huber tore up his
left knee in a home-plate collision, costing him a chance to play
for the Australian team that won a silver medal at the 2004
Olympics in Athens.

But the injury also prompted the Royals to move him to first
base, which probably is helping his offense. Now at Double-A
Wichita, he's hitting .332 with nine homers and 50 RBI.

And Huber knows that winning the Futures game MVP is a good
sign. All six previous winners are flourishing in the majors:
Alfonso Soriano, Sean Burroughs, Toby Hall, Jose Reyes, Grady
Sizemore and Aaron Hill.

"It's definitely a boost of confidence," Huber said. "It's a
definite honor to be thrown in the mix with those names. Hopefully,
things work out in the big leagues as well as it has for those
guys."