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Players with South Florida connections aid U.S. win in Futures Game

As a young baseball fan in South Florida, Lewis Brinson liked to sit in the stands in center field at Marlins games so he could closely study his favorite player, Juan Pierre.

“That was my idol growing up. I would always ask for a ball, yell his name, watch his mannerism, whatever he would do out there. I just modeled myself after him,” Brinson said Sunday at Marlins Park. “I’m hoping he’s somewhere around here so I can meet him.”

The cycle moves quickly in sports of players reaching their prime, receiving adulation, declining and giving way to newcomers on the rise.

Brinson, who starred at Coral Springs High, is part of the next wave. He started in center field for Team USA in the Futures Game, which has been a springboard for numerous major-leaguers, some who will be playing in Tuesday’s All-Star Game.

The U.S. showed hitting prowess early, then held on for a 7-6 victory, its seventh in the past eight years.

All nine U.S. starters had at least one hit, and six of them drove in runs.

U.S. starter Brent Honeywell (Rays) worked a 1-2-3 first with two strikeouts and was named MVP.

Brinson, who at 6 feet 3 is a different type of player than the slight, speedy Pierre, showed some pop with an RBI double and emulated his idol by stealing a base.

“A walk, a knock and an RBI, I’m good with it,” Brinson said. “I’m glad we came out with the win.”

Vladimir Guerrero Jr., a free-swinger like his father, who was a career .318 hitter in 16 seasons in the majors, had two hits and scored twice for the World Team.

For another former big leaguer of note, three-time All-Star Tom Gordon, this was back to the future watching son Nick leading off and playing shortstop for the U.S. His older son, Dee, a 2010 Futures alumnus, is usually stationed on the other side of second base on the same field for the Marlins.

Nick Gordon, 21, is moving rapidly through the Minnesota Twins system, hitting .302 with six homers and 45 RBI for Double-A Chattanooga.

“It is a very special moment,” Tom Gordon said. “I’ve been blessed with me getting an opportunity to be able to play and be around All-Star Games and great players. But to also see the kids, it’s another level of excitement right there.”

The brothers have a similar look, though Nick is more solidly built. Tom Gordon marveled at how intensely his sons constantly compete with each other, from the ball field to basketball court to video games.

Nick said that has aided in his development.

“At first I didn’t really understand the competitiveness all the time,” Nick Gordon said. “[Dee] would never let me play on his team. He’d always make me play against him. He was always the best athlete on the court or on the field. For my brother to do that, looking back at it now, it’s like yeah, he was making me better. I thank Dee so much for that. He always wants the best for me.”

The competitive driver in this game is the push to reach the big leagues. Already 32 of the 50 who played in the 2016 Futures Game in San Diego have gotten experience in the majors.

With expectations that the Marlins will trade off some premier players for top prospects before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, conceivably some players in this game could find futures in Miami.

That would be in addition to Brian Anderson, already the top-rated non-pitching prospect in the Marlins farm system at third base, who had two hits including a double and scored a run Sunday. Anderson’s opportunity could come in the near future if Martin Prado were to be among veterans dealt away in the coming weeks.

“It’s always been my dream just to make it to the big leagues,” said Zack Collins, a standout at American Heritage-Plantation and the University of Miami, now in Class A of the White Sox organization. “I really didn’t know about this game until last year when I was able to go to it in San Diego and saw all the guys play. It pretty much became one of my goals, and obviously it’s as close as you can get to the big leagues and it’s a lot of fun.”

Brinson has already had a taste of it this season with the Brewers, appearing in 14 games last month, going 3 for 31 before being sent back to Triple-A, where he is tearing it up in Colorado Springs with a .339 average.

In Milwaukee, he played for manager Craig Counsell, who left a lasting impression in South Florida by scoring the winning run in the 1997 World Series. On Sunday Brinson’s manager was Charles Johnson, another member of that championship team, and he was taking hitting instructions from Cliff Floyd, another star of that Marlins era.

“This is what I was looking forward to, meeting all these legends and Marlins greats,” said Brinson, who began forging his big league dream as a sophomore at Coral Spring High. “My ultimate goal is to get to the big leagues. It was then and it is now. So whenever that next time is, I’ll be ready for it.”

cldavis@sun-sentinel.com; Twitter @CraigDavisRuns; here on Facebook

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