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Fall League's Stenson Award nominees set

Winner to be announced at Saturday's championship game

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Most awards in baseball are given for a player's production on the field. The Arizona Fall League's Dernell Stenson Sportsmanship Award is an exception to that rule, as it's given out more for work ethic and leadership than for performance between the lines.

The award will be given out in an on-field ceremony at the Championship Game on Saturday at Scottsdale Stadium (3 p.m. ET, live on and MLB Network). The manager and coaches from each team were asked to nominate one player. The AFL will select one winner from the six nominees, with the recipient receiving the award on Saturday.

This year's finalists are Mike O'Neill (Cardinals), Surprise Saguaros; Cole Kimball (Nationals), Salt River Rafters; Nate Freiman (Padres), Peoria Javelinas; Nick Ahmed (Braves), Phoenix Desert Dogs; David Adams (Yankees), Scottsdale Scorpions; Tyler Clark (Tigers), Mesa Solar Sox.

Created in memory of the late Cincinnati Reds outfield prospect who was killed during the 2003 Arizona Fall League season, the award has been given annually since '04 to the player who best exemplifies unselfishness, hard work and leadership. The six candidates this year were chosen for those qualities -- which Stenson brought to the ballpark every day -- rather than their statistics or on-field performances. Each has a hard-nosed attitude, does his job without complaint and plays the game the way it was meant to be played.

"We were told at the beginning of the Fall League that he was a great athlete and an even better person," O'Neill said. "It's a great award to be nominated for. The statistics say one thing and then people notice what type of person you are, how you carry yourself on and off the field. To be noticed, not only by your own team, but other teams, it's a great honor to have."

"I found out two years ago, I found out about what happened to him," said Kimball, who also played in the Fall League in 2010. "It ended pretty tragically. It was a tough story. It's a really big honor. It means a lot to me."

Stenson Award nominees tend to represent the kind of player managers love to have in any clubhouse, be it here in the Fall League or during the regular season. Having players like the six listed above makes a coaching staff's job a lot easier, because the player can serve as a first-hand example for everyone on the roster on how to prepare and go about the business of being a professional.

"From day one when I saw Mike come into the clubhouse, got a read on the type of ballplayer he was, I knew he was a gritty type who was going to be a top-of-the-order-type guy for me," Surprise manager Jason Wood said. "He finds a way to get on base. He finds holes. He plays the game hard. He plays it the right way. He's just a grinder type guy that a manager loves. We wanted him to represent our team for this award. He rubbed off on a lot of players. I attribute a lot of our success in this league to Mike. He's a great kid around the clubhouse. He brings a lot of energy and excitement."

"The thing we appreciate most about Cole is his ability to be a teammate to a lot of guys who haven't been where he's been," Salt River manager Matt Williams said of Kimball. "He's been a great leader for us for the Fall League. He's a great teammate."

stenson award winners
Year Recipient Org. AFL Team
2011 Kevin Mattison Marlins Phoenix Desert Dogs
2010 Steve Lombardozzi Nationals Scottsdale Scorpions
2009 Russ Mitchell Dodgers Peoria Javelinas
2008 Jason Donald Phillies Mesa Solar Sox
2007 Sam Fuld Cubs Mesa Solar Sox
2006 Kevin Frandsen Giants Scottsdale Scorpions
2005 Andre Ethier A's Phoenix Desert Dogs
2004 Mark Teahen Royals Phoenix Desert Dogs
While winning the Stenson Award doesn't guarantee a long Major League career, the work ethic that is honored by the award clearly has helped past winners reach the ultimate goal, even for a brief time. Since the award began in 2004, when Mark Teahen was the initial recipient, six of the eight Stenson winners appeared in the big leagues the following season. All ave received at least a little Major League service time.

Regardless of whether any of this year's nominees go on to significant careers at the highest level, their effort in the AFL -- at a time when many players are worn out from a long year and ready to go home -- leaves a definite legacy.

"I can't afford to take anything off because of my stature," the 5-foot-9, 170-pound O'Neill said. "I want to be the guy who works harder than anybody and proves myself day in and day out and doesn't give anything for granted. When people take their ability for granted, they don't know what they have. You never know when you're last at-bat, you're last game might be, so I try to play every game like it's my last."

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for and writes a blog, B3. Follow @JonathanMayoB3 on Twitter.
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