ANAHEIM -- When the XM All-Star Futures Game was first created back in 1999, it was a curious experiment, an attempt to add an interesting wrinkle into the All-Star festivities. Now, with the 12th edition set to take place Sunday afternoon, it's a staple in the weekend, a known quanitity, something every player in the Minor Leagues is familiar with and strives to participate in.
Only 50 get to take part each year, and those arriving Saturday have a firm grasp of just what this means for themselves, their careers and their organizations. Their talents will be on display on a big league diamond, in front of a large crowd and a national audience. The game can be seen live at 6 p.m. ET on MLB.TV, ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD and followed live on MLB.com's Gameday. In addition, XM Radio will broadcast play-by-play coverage of the event live on XM 175.
"It's a great experience for me, just to experience this whole thing," said Hank Conger, one of the U.S. Team catchers representing the host Angels, who not only gets to play in front of his future home crowd, but also gets to come home as a native of Huntington Beach, Calif. "For people in the Minor Leagues, obviously the main goal is to play in the Major Leagues, but I think the next highest is to be invited to the Futures Game. And for me to play right in my back yard is awesome, it's awesome."
It'll be even more memorable if Conger can help his U.S. teammates pull off a victory. The World Team has won the past three Futures Games. The United States last won in Pittsburgh in 2006, when then-Royals prospect Billy Butler took home MVP honors with a homer and a pair of RBIs. Butler, of course, is one of many Futures Game alumni to reach and excel in the big leagues. The success rate -- over 80 percent make the MLB -- is something that's not lost on this year's Futures Game participants.
"It's a huge opportunity to me representing the Cardinals, being part of the Futures Game," said Shelby Miller, St. Louis' first-round pick in '09. "Supposedly it's the best of the best. It's a blessing to be here. I couldn't ask for more. Hopefully my future is just as bright as everyone else who has come through here."
It's a theme most players, in the past and present, bring up when talking about this game. Sure, being named to the roster is feather in any prospect's cap. But the competitor in them also wants to see just how they measure up when on a field surrounded by every organization's top talent.
"It's an all-star game -- you get to play in a big league stadium," Reds prospect Yonder Alonso said. "You get to play against the best players in the world who are in the Minor Leagues right now. It feels great, I'm excited and I just can't wait until [Sunday]."
Alonso and his World Team teammates are also thrilled about being able to show national pride. The former University of Miami first baseman may have grown up in this country, but he was born in Cuba and he knows just how fortunate he is to celebrate his roots by representing his country.
"It feels incredible," said Alonso, who like all World Team members, will have his country's flag on his jersey. "Not too many people can do that, living here. You can't play in the World Baseball Classic for your country. Having the privilege to do that here, it's unbelievable. My family is going to be here, they're going to be watching and they're going to be excited."
Canadian pitcher Philippe Valiquette knows exactly what Alonso is talking about. He played for Team Canada at the junior national level several years ago. He was supposed to be a part of the team that went to Europe for the World Cup last year, but injuries prevented him from doing so.
"It's a great opportunity to represent my country as well as the Reds' organization," Valiquette said. "I'm proud of this and I'm ready to represent my country."
As much as the U.S vs. the World format helps foster national pride, the focus really is getting a chance to see what the future of Major League Baseball looks like. For one game, these young, talented players get the big-league treatment, while fans get to dream about what it will look like one day to have these players in these stadiums on a daily basis. To say that it serves as motivation for prospects to reach this level permanently speaks directly to what this game is all about.
"It's going to be great. There are a lot of people out here who have been rooting for me, cheering for me," said Angels '09 first-rounder Mike Trout, who got the additional exciting news of a promotion to Class A Advanced ball on top of coming to the Futures Game. "I'm going to go out there and show them what I've got.
"It's going to be very exciting. When I found out, I knew it was going to be a great experience. I'm going to remember it forever."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.