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Kyle Schwarber and friends reunite to lead the USA to victory at All-Star Futures Game

Five friends who hadn't played on the same team since the USA Collegiate National Team reunited Sunday in Cincinnati to lead the U.S. to victory yet again.

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CINCINNATI -- They hadn't seen, let alone talked to each other in a couple of years. Five players, all on the same team briefly once upon a time in college, were separated when they joined Major League Baseball's minor league system. So it seemed fitting that, after all this time, the same five players found themselves once again in the same game, on the same team. All five were selected to be in the 2015 MLB All-Star Futures Game, and one claimed Futures MVP honors.

The chances of five completely different players from different teams, who played on one team for a short time, only to come back a couple of years later to wind up on the same team on the biggest stage until the majors are slim. But Kyle Schwarber, Trea Turner, Tyler Beede, Bradley Zimmer and Michael Conforto did just that.

"We haven't even spoken for a couple years and we come out here and we're great friends again," Conforto said, admitting he was still trying to wrap his head around the entire experience. "That's what cool about baseball. You hear about (your friends) but you run into each other once in a while and that's really cool. It's pretty cool that the five of us got together, it's a pretty good group of guys from that (USA Collegiate National Team) a few years back (in 2012)."

Whatever the game's end result, it was going to be a memorable experience. One that ended far too quickly for all those involved. The All-Star Futures Game is a brief reprieve from the rigors of baseball, a time when players can afford to mess around with each other and just have fun.

It's not that players don't see the game as fun. But baseball, whether in the minor or major leagues, is still a grind. And during a regular season, finding time to hang out and be "normal" is almost as rare as proof that another planet supports life. It doesn't really happen. And for Turner, he got the chance to go a step further than teammate camaraderie.

Tony Gwynn, aka "Mr. Padre," was someone that Turner looked up to, the way he played and approached the game. So while in Cincinnati, Turner had the chance to talk to Gwynn's son, Tony Jr., about his own career, and whatever baseball knowledge Tony Jr.'s father shared with him. Turner said his hope is that his conversation with Gwynn Jr. can continue in the future.

A first-round draft pick of the Padres in 2014, Turner had been traded to the Nationals in December 2014 as a player to be named later, part of a three-team trade at the time that also included the Rays.

Regardless of how the trade went down, which Turner admits took some time to figure out the logistics of it all -- he was initially confused how he could be traded so soon -- his season with the Nationals organization provided him with a unique opportunity to stand out. And in doing so, it allowed for a break in the daily grind.

"(It's been) a blast," Turner beamed. "It's happened and it's over already, which is weird cause it happened so fast, but it was fun all day. It's fun playing the games that don't necessarily mean anything because you can joke around with guys and have fun, perform well. And that makes it that much better. No matter how today went, it was gonna be fun because like I said, you get to joke around a little bit. That's always nice."

Just as major leaguers know the feeling, those in the minors can be under more pressure if they're one of the top prospects for either their team or all of baseball. So much is expected of them that, unfortunately, it's forgotten that they're just kids playing the game they grew up loving. That feeling is no more prevalent than for Cubs prospect Kyle Schwarber, who not only has caught one of his former teammates, but has gone through the big league experience before.

But none so much as stepping onto the field of a team that Schwarber grew up watching and loving. Schwarber, whose hometown is a town just north of Middletown, Ohio, didn't just contribute to the success of the U.S. team on Sunday. He sparked the offense with a two-run triple and was named the Futures Game Most Valuable Player. The experience was about as incredible as Schwarber could've imagined it.

"It was awesome to come out and actually step on the field I grew up watching ballgames on," Schwarber remarked. "It was special. My eyes lit up as soon as I stepped on it. It was a great experience, being able to play in front of all my friends and family and all these great fans and to play with a great group of guys. It was easy to get along with these guys. There were no personalities (getting in the way). We were all here for the same purpose -- to have fun."

Oddly enough for Schwarber was that, for the first time possibly ever, he batted in the eight-spot, a place the 22-year-old catcher can't remember ever doing. But regardless of where he was batting, the offense as well as on-par pitching by the U.S. helped the team capture its sixth straight Futures Game win.

And in addition to catching five innings -- including for a former teammate -- Schwarber used his one hit of the day to lead the charge against the World team. That teammate was Beede, who gave the U.S. a scoreless fourth inning, allowing just one hit. Just catching that inning, though, Schwarber could see the progress in Beede, and for him, it was impressive.

The swings and misses were up, there was a power fastball, the slider was sharp. And Beede, after battling with Reds prospect Yorman Rodriguez  using just about every pitch in his arsenal, got Rodriguez to fly out to right on the eighth pitch of the at-bat, a 90 mph fastball he hadn't used since the first pitch of that at-bat.

It paid off. While Beede gave up a hit -- a two-out double -- his pitch count was low. Fine work for a pitcher and catcher already in sync, the result of previous experience together.

"He had a good fastball (before)," Schwarber said of the difference between catching Beede then versus on Sunday. "This time he came around and had a lot of sink on his fastball, and he had a cutter, a really good cutter."

As for Schwarber, his game bat was donated to the MLB Hall of Fame. Schwarber used to visit Cooperstown as a fan, but now, his bat will become a part of history. And if that wasn't enough, having the president of the Baseball Hall of Fame personally ask for his bat was not an added bonus that Schwarber was prepared for. At that point, Schwarber didn't need nor want his bat to remain with him. It was bound for Cooperstown.

"That's gonna be awesome," he smiled. "To have a part of me in there, but hopefully one day I'll be in there one day. I'll keep working towards that goal."

There was a point, however, when Schwarber, and his teammates had to take a moment to take in the entire experience on the field. For Schwarber, that came just before the game started. To see tens of thousands of fans in the stands that he used to occupy as a kid, that experience deserved a moment ... or two ... or three. Then it was time to get the job done and earn the win.

Sunday's experience was enough to make a player's head spin from all the excitement. And for some, making it to the Futures Game wasn't just a nice prize, it was essentially a bucket list item before the big leagues. But for Schwarber, Beede, Confardo, Turner and Zimmer, being able to complete such an important achievement at their level was a uniquely special experience.

"Something I'll remember for a long time," Conforto said. "Just being around these guys, these are all great guys and incredible baseball players. Just to be able to talk with them and pick their brains a little bit, and learn a little bit more about the game and how these guys have success. That's really cool. I really enjoyed it, it was a great experience."