After over a year of anticipation, the day finally arrived. Taking place last night in Durham, North Carolina, and showcasing some of the minor league’s premier power hitters, the 2014 Triple-A Home Run Derby is something that I’d been looking forward to witnessing for a long time. As always, I made the decision to show up to the ballpark early to try for a few autographs. Thus, despite a gate opening time of 5:30 for the 6:35 derby, I made my way to the All-Star themed Durham Bulls Athletic Park at around 4:50:
Even though I still had a good amount of time until I could go inside, I went ahead and jumped in line. The extremely hot sun was beating down on myself and the fans around me, but I was glad I made the choice to get my place in the line, as it wasn’t long afterwards that it became fairly long. Thankfully, the time in the heat passed fairly quickly, and upon the opening of the gates, I took off for the Pacific Coast League’s dugout.
With the Pacific Coast League being such a loaded team of top prospects and former big leaguers, there were already a lot of people down by the dugout when I got there, making it difficult for me to get down to autographing level. But when Nick Franklin (the first player to emerge from the dugout) popped out . . . . :
. . . . I was able to (with a little help from fellow auto seekers) get him to sign a couple of cards for me.
Soon afterwards, tons of players began to flood out of the dugout, and items to get autographed were passing by me right and left. The next player I got to sign a few cards for me was Wednesday night’s All-Star game starting pitcher, Elih Villanueva. But autos from Franklin and Villanueva was all I was able to acquire before the game, as the ushers made us all go back to our assigned seats to clear out the aisle.
Before the derby got underway, the well known softball slugging long haul bombers, who have been known to hit softballs up to 500 feet, took to the field to show off their amazing hitting skills:
There were three total sluggers, each of which were impressive. Though I had seen the long haul bombers last season up in Seattle, they were just as good this time, slamming two total home runs onto the roof of a four story building, some 450+ feet away. But while they were great, the event that everyone came to see was the Triple-A home run derby, which began shortly after.
Despite losing Mike Hessman (the all-time International League home run leader) and Dan Johnson from the derby roster due to an injury to Hessman and a big league callup for Johnson, the lineup was still decent. Consisting of Francisco Pena, Matt Hague, Allan Dykstra, Jesus Aguilar, Mike Jacobs and Mikie Mahtook, there were sure to be a good amount of homers hit, and after the participants posed for a group photo down around home plate . . . . :
. . . . the derby got underway.
The famous bull sign (“hit bull, win steak”) down the left field line at the DBAP was originally predicted to play a big role in the derby, with the incentive to hit it being that if it was hit 15 times one lucky fan would take home $15,000. But unfortunately, the Bull was hit only once (everyone in attendance received a free steak taco as a result), with the low number of bull-hitting home runs coming thanks in part to a pair of zeros posted in the first round of the derby by Mike Jacobs and Mikie Mahtook — each of which were eliminated.
The second round of the derby saw a cut to four players, as well as a change in my location. For this round, I made my way out to the outfield, with the slight hope of catching a home run ball, but mainly with the reasoning to see a few batters take their turns from a different perspective:
A few balls were lofted in my general direction, but nothing came too terribly close. While I was in the outfield, Matt Hague and Jesus Aguilar posted rounds that didn’t hold up in the end (though Aguilar did nearly drill me with a foul ball, had it not have been for fans who knocked it down). Meaning, the final round of the derby was going to be between Francisco Pena and Allan Dykstra.
Clay Counsil — the BP pitcher who threw to Josh Hamilton in his historic 28 home run first round of the 2008 derby up at Yankee Stadium — was on hand to throw the final round of the derby to both of the remaining players, and the crowd seemed excited to see him:
In Francisco Pena’s set of swings to kick off the championship round, he failed to hit a single home run, leaving Allan Dykstra with just one homer needed to take home the title of 2014 Triple-A Home Run Derby champion. And he did just that. Slugging a home run to right field, Allan Dykstra wound up winning the derby in front of the sold out crowd:
After the derby had concluded, there was still a multitude of players hanging around on the field, so I once again took off for the dugout with the hopes of getting some more autographs. I was able to get one more player to sign for me before I left the ballpark, being Andrew Susac, bringing my total number of player autographs to three for the game.
Although not everything went my way on Monday night, it was still a very enjoyable time. It’s likely going to be decades before the Bull City hosts these events again, and it’s one of those things you may only witness once or twice in your lifetime.
For the second half of the events, I’m planning to head out to the All-Star game on Wednesday, where I hope to do better in terms of autographs, but no matter what, I’m going to have a great time, no doubt about it.