M*A*S*H: Home Run Derby to be a smashing good time

Jul. 06, 2014 @ 03:36 PM

This will be one of those times when it's OK for Durham Bulls fans to root, root, root for the guys in the other uniforms to “HIT BULL WIN STEAK.”

As sports icons go, the big, brown Snorting Bull that hangs out above left field at Durham Bulls Athletic Park certainly has its footprints, er, hoofprints firmly planted in the soil of Americana.
And what a target it will make during the Triple-A Home Run Derby on July 14 at the DBAP when six sluggers dig in to take the cover off a few baseballs.
The DBAP for the first time is the host site of the Triple-A All Star Game. That's on July 16. Two days before that is the home-run derby.
“The biggest thing that we’ve got that other teams don’t have is the Snorting Bull,” Bulls marketing director Scott Carter said. “For your money, (the Snorting Bull is) the most iconic home-run target in Minor League Baseball.”
It'll be steak tacos for all when — well, if a batter in the derby hits a home run off the Snorting Bull. Moe’s Southwest Grill would make that happen. Each fan would get one taco.
But wait, there’s more:
Each home run off the bull after that would reward one fan with a $100 gift card to Angus Barn, the Raleigh steakhouse that, like the Snorting Bull, is quite iconic in its own right.
But wait, there’s more:
If the derby batters combine for 15 home runs off the Snorting Bull, then somebody at the DBAP is going to go home with an extra $15,000.
That kind of cash would buy many, many meals at Angus Barn and an insane number of steak tacos from Moe’s.
Carter said the vibe at the derby won’t be all cheesy the way some teams just get downright silly with those sorts of things. But the derby at the DBAP will be fun, no doubt about that, he said.
Three batters from the International League and three from the Pacific Coast League will compete in a three-round tournament. In each of the first two rounds, participants will receive eight outs, defined as any swing not resulting in a home run.
For the first seven outs, hitters will use wooden bats. But they’ll be allowed to use composite bats during the final out.
Composite bats are the ones that go, "Ping!" during college baseball games.
The championship round will consist of a five-out showdown between two finalists. Composite bats still will be fair game for the finals outs, and those two batters will face 76-year-old pitcher Clay Council, the guy who threw that memorable round of batting practice to Raleigh’s Josh Hamilton during the 2008 Major League Baseball Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium in New York. Hamilton, playing for the Texas Rangers at the time, hit a record-setting 28 home runs in the first round of that derby.
Minnesota's Justin Morneau ended up winning, though.
Council was both a high school and American Legion coach in Cary for three decades. Hamilton played for him.
Something to watch for will be whether the composite bats boost the batters or throw them off, because that piece of equipment isn’t normally in their toolboxes, Carter said.
“That remains to be seen. It could be a hindrance,” Carter said.
Derby participants will be selected from the All-Star rosters. The All-Star rosters were determined by the votes of fans, the media and both general managers and field mangers from both the International and Pacific Coast leagues.
There will be at least one player from the Bulls in the All-Star game, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a Bull will get to swing for the fence during the derby. Representatives from the International and Pacific Coast leagues decide who hits in the derby.
The Bulls aren’t a team that hits for power. When the season started, Jerry Sands, from Smithfield, appeared likely to represent the Bulls in the derby, but he got called up June 1 to join the Tampa Bay Rays, the parent club of the Bulls.
“Even if there is not a Bull in it,” Carter said, “the story lines are still there.”
Toledo Mud Hens first-baseman Michael Hessman in June went yard for the 259th time in his career to become the all-time home-run king in the International League. His 404 career home runs as of July 2 moved him closer to Buzz Arlett's 432 career homers, the all-time standard in Minor League Baseball.
Hessman, 36, is expected to be dialed in during the derby, Carter said.
“There’s a very real chance that we could have, basically, the real-life Crash Davis — a minor-league lifer who’s just the king of home runs — coming here,” Carter said.
The late Crash Davis was a Durham Bull and the namesake of actor Kevin Costner's character in the 1988 "Bull Durham" movie that is based on the Bulls franchise.
Buffalo Bison first baseman Dan Johnson, who leads the International League in home runs, won the 2010 derby and may end up in this year’s.
Johnson played for the Bulls in 2010, when he was the most valuable player of the International League.
“There’re some guys that can mash,” Carter said.
Between rounds, fans will get to see the Olate Dogs, a group of 10 canines that perform tricks.
The pregame show will feature the raw power of the Long Haul Bombers from the American Softball Association.
“These guys can hit 550-, 600-foot home runs,” Carter said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if one of these guys puts one on the roof. They’re insane.”
Gates open at 5:30 p.m. The hitting begins at 6:35 p.m.
Limited tickets are available at durhambulls.com, 919-956-BULL or the DBAP box office.