Home-run hi-jinks: highlights from the Triple-A Home Run Derby
blog by Ben Kirst • July 10, 2012 @ 8:15am
So when is the last time you remember 15,000 or so baseball fans on their feet in Buffalo, cheering like Robert Redford just cranked one into the stadium lights? It’s been a while since Coca-Cola Field bounced quite as hard as it did for Buffalo Bisons slugger Valentino Pascucci’s thrilling victory in the Triple-A Home Run Derby on Monday at our favorite downtown ballpark. The big man put on a genuine power display, charging back in the second round to match 2011 late-season MLB hero Dan Johnson’s 13 home runs with a series of Oak Street bombs. Pascucci also took care of Johnson in the final round, smacking a victory-clinching six homers in short order while the hometown crowd roared. It was awesome. Check out Mike Harrington’s nice writeup for The Buffalo News if you get a chance.
I didn’t know what to expect from the derby—I’ve watched the major league version on television numerous times, and never really found it particularly engaging. In person, however, the Triple-A version was an impressive experience. From the power alley power of Costner-esque career minor leaguer Mike Hessman to the violent, rollicking lefty swing of 280-pound Luis Jimenez, watching big dudes blast jacks into parking lots and sidewalks was mighty enjoyable in real time. I recommend it.
Here are some of the highlights from the evening:
Gronk gets booed, wins celebrity title: Rob Gronkowski—Williamsville native and outstanding tight end for the New England Patriots—easily won the celebrity competition, as expected. Perhaps less expected was the animosity he faced from the hometown crowd—Gronkowski was legitimately booed when he stepped up to the plate. The celebrities hit over a shortened fence (it was about 20 yards behind the infield dirt, so my horrible ability to estimate would say that it was about…280 feet (?) down the lines and maybe 310 to dead center), but Gronk actually managed to put a ball or two behind the “real” fence. Hey, the guy is 6’5, 265 pounds! If he makes solid contact, the ball is going places. Most disappointing celebrity performance: Fred Jackson, who never really looked comfortable at the plate. I really thought he could give Gronk a run for his money.
Jimenez makes hefty athletes proud: Baseball players are stereotypically mocked as non-athletes who stand around for three hours a game. There is a degree of truth in this—no one who saw Greg Luzinski play could be convinced that one needs to be in peak physical condition to be a professional baseball player—but the game is a series of finite movements, instantaneous decisions and raw muscle memory, none of which come easily to the softest among us. That being said, it’s always pleasant to see a chunky fellow like left-handed slugger Luis Jimenez rocket a series of balls into the right-field party porch and parking lot. A native Venezuelan, Jimenez—a few meals short of 300 pounds—has bounced around the minors for 13 years and even played a stint in Japan. Good for you, man. Good for you.
Yikes: worst performances of the night: Love him or hate him, you had to feel a little sorry for Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff, a proud athlete who looked befuddled at the plate during the celebrity home run derby. I saw Buffalo Bills Hall-of-Famer Joe Delamiellure on an airplane a few weeks ago, and he looked great for a 63-year-old former lineman—but he also looked lost at the dish last night. Hollywood writer and former talking cat Nick Bakay has had better moments than the few cringe-worthy ones he spent gently swatting baseballs through the infield grass on Monday.
Nice touch: Regular Coca-Cola Field visitors recognized that Valentino Pascucci went up to bat with his usual walk-up music, Notorious B.I.G.‘s “Big Poppa.” Be sure to follow @PoppaValentino on Twitter!
The 200 conspiracy, Famous Chicken and more: The predilection of random prize giveaways to go to ticketholders in the 200 section of the ballpark had fans groaning by the end of the evening…the Famous Chicken made an appearance at the game, which initially confused my wife (“he’s famous for what?”) and then delighted her when she thought that the Chicken legitimately stole a vendor’s Cracker Jack supply and wildly distributed it to the crowd…it’s been a long time since I’ve had to go shoulder-to-shoulder in the men’s room at Coca-Cola Field. It felt like the early 1990s again!...Congratulations to the entire Bisons organization for a job well done last night, and a special salute to the Buffalo Police Department, who cleared post-game traffic from around the ballpark in about 10 minutes—amazingly fast. Excellent work, guys.