Forty-three of the most highly touted high school baseball players in Stanislaus County came together on Saturday at Stanislaus State’s Warrior Field in Turlock for the 31st annual Modesto Sunrise Rotary All Star Game. It was the first game held by the Rotary since 2019.
“It’s a real pleasure to put on this game,” said event chairman Carl Tognolini. “The kids enjoy it, the families love it, and today’s game was another example of that. We’re trying to show the community the talent of juniors and seniors in the county and give them an opportunity to play in front of a nice crowd at this beautiful facility.”
In fact, Saturday’s game saw the entire grandstand and right field bleachers full, with many spectators standing or bringing their own lawn chairs to take in the action. It was an audience that Tognolini described as “just fantastic.”
“It’s kind of surreal to be out here,” admitted Turlock High outfielder Carter Crivelli. “It’s a college field, so it’s fun to play on.”
And despite the game ending in a lopsided 10-4 victory in favor of the Gold team, the exhibition served as an opportunity for several players to play with some of their teammates for the very last time, including the Hughson High trio of Gavin Stone, Caleb Wilson and Paul Wagner. Stone was a senior this year and graduated two weeks ago.
“It’s not often you get to play another game outside of the high school season, especially his last game,” said Wagner. “We’ll cherish this.”
Payton Hawkinson of Turlock High tossed the first pitches of the game as the starter for the Blue team. Meanwhile, the Gold team saw the Pitman High School battery of Drew Walker and Marcus Perez start on the bump.
In their lone inning of work together, Walker and Perez retired the side in order with two strikeouts and a flyout. The dynamic duo spoke about playing with each other for one last time.
“It was amazing. To me, Drew did a great job all year and it was a blessing to be out here with him and the rest of our teammates and play out here with the best players in our area,” Perez said.
“I love this guy catching me,” Walker added. “To be out here one last time, I’ll never forget this.”
In Hawkinson’s only inning, he fell victim to a crucial error that allowed Gregori High’s Felix Dalcan to reach base. The speedster later stole second, advanced to third on a fielder’s choice, then stole home on a throw to first base to give his team an early 1-0 lead. His heroics continued in the third inning as he singled and scored all the way from first after a fly ball was lost in the overcast sky by the Blue team outfielders. He let out an emotional scream while pounding his chest on his way back to the dugout. He then walked in the seventh inning before stealing his third base of the game.
As it was the last time Dalcan wore the Gregori Jaguars hat, he explained that he made sure to still give it his all despite it being an exhibition. Andy Walker, the Pitman High head coach who managed the Gold team, helped in motivating the players, explaining in the pregame huddle that there would be no signs given from the staff and that those who wanted to showcase their skills had the freedom to do so. It’s safe to say that Dalcan understood the assignment.
“I was aways told that speed kills. I gotta give it to my pops, who told me to steal all the bags I wanted to,” Dalcan said.
Serving as head coach of the Blue team was Turlock High’s Mike Souza. He expressed his gratitude towards the Rotary for honoring him after his first year at the helm for the Bulldogs.
“It’s pretty exciting. There’s a lot of talent on our side, on their side, so thankfully I don’t have to do too much coaching. I’m just putting [together] the lineup and letting them play,” he joked.
Coaching alongside Souza was Denair head coach Mike Stucker. Stucker is an alumnus of Stanislaus State, manning the infield of the 1998 and 1999 teams under Mark de la Motte. He has also spent plenty of nights in the press box, calling a handful of Warrior games on the radio in the last few years.
“I played on this field a few times, a few years ago,” he said with a laugh and bright smile. “I had a great time here, so this brings back a lot of great memories for me. It’s pretty neat to be here with Jackson too.”
The Jackson he referred to is shortstop Jackson Hart, who was Denair’s best offensive player this season. Hart started the game for the Blue team, working a walk and scoring on a sacrifice fly by Trellson Van Horn of Grace Davis High.
Also contributing alongside Hart at the plate was Crivelli. Who singled in his first of two plate appearances. Over on the Gold team, Pitman’s Cristian Jacinto singled and was hit by a pitch. Following his hit, he came in to score on a double by Gregori’s Paul Gutierrez-Contreras.
Aside from Walker and Hawkinson, making appearances on the mound were Andrew Balentine and Brandon Leon of Pitman High as well as Carson Gonzales of Turlock High. All three of them tossed scoreless innings, allowing one base runner each in their innings before retiring the remainder of the sides.
While others made great plays in the field and slapped clutch hits throughout the afternoon, Dalcan’s performance still stood out from the pack by game’s end, as he was named the Most Outstanding Player.
“It means a lot to be named an All Star and to get the award,” Dalcan said. “The dedication and hard work definitely came through to that. I truly put all my time and effort into this sport. It’s a dream come true.”