Reese Kaplan -- On Site for the OTHER Home Run Derby


While many watched Pete Alonso walk off with the honors in the Major League Baseball Home Run Derby as part of the All Star Game festivities in Cleveland, I was unfortunately not one of them.  Instead I was at Southwest University Park to watch the equivalent experience for the AAA All Star break taking place here in El Paso.

Never having before attended this type of exhibition I wasn’t sure what to expect.  After all, how would they keep ticket holders engaged over the course of a few hours when only eight batters were participating in the event.  The 101 degree temperatures threatened to make it a bit of a challenging evening to sit outdoors, but fortunately I’d gotten tickets that were just to the right of home plate on the field level but far enough back that the overhang of the press box and luxury suites kept the sun from burning too badly. 

On the way into the stadium the All Star Game players were seated at tables along the main mezzanine area in uniform with name cards to let everyone know who they were and to provide autographs to folks who came to the game. 

The first player whose name I recognized was a former Mets farmhand from 2017 by the name of Ben Rowen.  I spoke to him about his time in Las Vegas, his respect for Frank Viola and the whole coaching staff he had as a member of the 51s and how well he felt the Mets organization treated him.  He was balancing his baby on his knee, so I didn’t want to monopolize him or put the child in jeopardy, so I thanked him and continued down the aisle.

Nearby were the two Syracuse Mets who made the trek to the Sun City, starting pitcher (and recent 4-inning Met) Chris Mazza, as well as former Met and suddenly slugging Dilson Herrera.  Mazza said it was an amazing thing finally getting promoted to the majors at the age of 29 for the very first time and he was told that he would be back in Queens by the end of July.  (Obviously the Mets are planning to make some roster moves, though injuries and incompetence could hasten that trip down the Thruway). 

Dilson Herrera’s English had improved significantly since I last spoke to him (which is more than I can say for my Spanish).  We talked a bit about his new swing that has accounted for the surge in power.  I said I was a little surprised he wasn’t asked to participate in the Home Run Derby given the fact he has 17 HRs already this year.  Apparently that struck a nerve as his face went very stern and he just shrugged. 

After they got ready for activities to begin the first thing they did was invite three Little League teams for a timed “around the horn” drill to compete against one another.  Each team got two opportunities to record their best time, then eliminating one team.  The two remaining teams had their times reset and had one head-to-head “around the horn” drill.  The challengers did a full 9-person around the horn in 34 seconds and the reigning champions had their worst performance of the day, but managed to eek through with a 32-second performance for the win.

Then came the main event – the Home Run Derby.  It was a field of eight players, four from the International League and four from the Pacific Coast League.  They started with intra-league challenges against one another until they crowned a league champion to go head-to-head with the champion from the other league.  Each batter had a three-minute round during which they were afforded the opportunity to take a 30-second timeout to rest. 

Some other local flavor niceties done by the host El Paso Chihuahuas was the decision to use local high school baseball coaches as the pitchers for the event, and an invitation was issued to fans to shag the fly balls that failed to clear the wall.  Perhaps the best one was creating what they called “Moneyball time” which was the final 30 seconds of each batter’s turn in the box.  For each home run that cleared the fence during that period the El Paso Chihuahuas Foundation donated $150 to the local Ronald McDonald House Charities facility which I know quite well as my company donates its time supporting their computer systems.  By the end of the evening that “Moneyball time” promotion resulted in over $6000 being donated.

The players participating in the Home Run Derby were, for the most part, not the up and coming future stars, but the career minor leaguers who were at the latter stages of their careers.  The initial matchup pitted the Indians' Brandon Barnes against Yankee farmhand Mike Ford.  They actually tied with 15 long balls apiece, so they used the Moneyball round totals as a tiebreaker, with the nod going to Ford.

The next matchup saw Oakland's slender Jorge Mateo reeling off at one point 5 home runs in a row en route to a total of 19, but he was bested by Diamondbacks slugger Yasmany Tomas with 20. 

Another Yankee Ryan McBroom did not fare too well and fell out of the competition early to the Braves' Travis Demeritte. 

The final matchup was the Rockies' Roberto Ramos who routinely deposited balls out on El Paso Street outside the stadium entirely and caused the entire crowd to gasp with his prodigious display of power, but he was outdone by local representative Ty France of the Chihuahuas (San Diego Padres affiliate) who edged him 19-18. 

Little by little they went through the elimination rounds until it came down to the finals between Mike Ford and Yasmany Tomas.  Ford had a round in which he’d hit 22 HRs in 3 minutes (compared to Pete Alonso’s 24 in four minutes), so it appeared Tomas would have his work cut out for him.  However, after Ford hit a very respectable 18 HRs, Tomas hit 19 and dropped his bat with time left, having hit 59 home runs in less than 9 minutes of competition. 

They did a great job, trotted out the team mascot on numerous occasions to fire up the crowd and everyone seemed to have a great time.


Tom Brennan said...

Nice article...sorry that Wilson Herrera got left out. Maybe it was his major league service time?

Reese Kaplan said...

Yasmany Tomas won it, so I doubt that's it.

John From Albany said...

Great article Reese. Dilson may have been left out because his status was up in the air for a little while. That could have been when the chose the participants.

Reese Kaplan said...

Thanks, guys. Tonight I'm back there again for the AAA All Star Game.

Mack Ade said...

Hey Reese - good morning.

Are you doing this with press passes?

Enjoy tonight.

Reese Kaplan said...

No, I paid for tickets to these events. I could likely have twisted the arm of my contact at the stadium, but I figured they would have more media present for these dates than usual, so I plunked down my own money :)

Anonymous said...

There appears to be several teams interested in both starting pitchers Wheeler and Syndergaard, and why not really. But it's not easy to know what the Mets brass are thinking on this right now. Time will tell. It seems like every interested team has something/someone good to offer back.

Ideally speaking here, the Mets sort of need like at least a younger starter, a bulldozing young reliever, and maybe a homerun hitter who can hit for a .300+ BA for their corner outfield position.

Mets are neither true sellers nor buyers right now, maybe more something in between.

Anonymous said...

Unlike most, and being mainly a contrarian, I do not blame BVW for this current situation with the Mets because under the circumstances of his arrival he pretty much inherited this situation from his predecessor. If you want to be perfectly honest.

I think it is way too soon, in BVW's management here, to make the drastic conclusions that the NY sports press is making. My advice right now is simply to give all this more time with BVW, so that he can fully sort this all out.

It was not one or two moves to straighten to begin with, but rather about eight. It's a bigger situation than just a 1/2 season of anyone's effort.

I support him.

Anonymous said...

With more specifically the players here now (and not prognosticating any trade ideas) let's take a closer look at this Mets team for a moment.

To me, the infield right now is pretty well set with the parent club. If Robinson Cano can become Robinson Cano again, and Amed Rosario is allowed to play his own ingrained style game from his youth (without all the critics of lesser skill sets) this all works beautifully. Another really good thing with this infield is that it has considerable depth at all four infield positions reaching down really to their MiLB, and Jed Lowrie is about to return to action too.

The outfield (to me) right now is a bit of a greater concern being that CF Brandon Nimmo popped a disk, and Michael Conforto has not been able to maintain a very high batting average yet this season. But like the infield, it is still early enough to strengthen this, and there is some very viable depth with players like both JD Davis and Dominic Smith manning left field. And if center field position needed a solid backup, there is Raja Davis at AAA to aptly produce that.

At the catcher position, I personally would not mind seeing kid catchers Tomas Nido and Ali Baba Sanchez in a platoon situation behind the dish, so that both can sharpen their playing skills at this MLB level together as a unit.

Anonymous said...

Finally the real bug-a-boo, the pitching.

We all speculated in pre-season really big things from the starting rotation and bullpen, but it hasn't really happened. A fired pitching coach and sporadic hitting probably did not help much. I am not certain if Michel de Nostredame could have predicted all this stuff.

Call me sensitive, but I still very much like the starting three top Mets pitchers here right now. To me (and when hitting on all cylinders) they can compete well with pretty much any other team's top three starters. It's the fourth slot. I don't think that Steven Matz has been able to own it yet.

The real problem here "might simply be" that as a single unit the starting rotation has not remained as consistent as we had sort of expected them to. But the lack of Mets hitting does have to weigh-in here with all this too, to be fair. But the hitting side is young and it now has a half season under their belt.

I do sometimes wonder that if the Mets could add a really, really good fourth starter for the Steven Matz's role (since he is now being used out of the bullpen) could this then impact their rotation enough to turn this all around? Maybe. But that additional more lefty younger starter would need to be a truly awesome one for this to all work out. A role model for this pitcher? Blake Snell(TB), that mold. To me, this could change here the "handing over of wins for automatic losses", a nasty team and fan base demoralizer from all positions.

Anonymous said...

Finally, the Mets bullpen.

Oh boy.

All I can figure is this, do not give up on Edwin Diaz because he was awesome last year, is young, and being traded must be a bitch for some players to assume. He might be one who struggled with it. I do not know.

Show your younger players support. Sometimes, that is pretty much all they truly need from their organization to excel. Get those type managers and coaches.

The bullpen is a sleep losing proposition for most. By this, I mean fan sleep. I personally have liked the kid relievers, at times. But the Mets may need to add a more veteran later inning reliever to go with Familia and Diaz.

Gilliam, Blackham, and Bashlor I like and see possibility with. Uceta is interesting as well.

But overall, the bullpen probably needs to be re-thought out some.

With the pitching staff, I am not at all opposed to seeing some of the younger arms (down at AAA/AA) given a look here second half. Like for instance: Kay, Gonzalez, Uceta, Gilliam, Blackham, and Bashlor because to me they have very favorable skill sets, and I do want to see how they might handle such a look with the parent club. A bit of their character.

Mack's Mets © 2012