South Atlantic League holds All-Star Home Run Derby on Yorktown
In a home run derby, the hitters normally swing for the fences.
11:45 a.m.-2 p.m. — SAL Hall of Fame luncheon (Marriott)
2-5 p.m. — FanFest at Riley Park
5:30 p.m. — Home Run Derby at Riley Park
7:30 p.m. — 53rd annual SAL All-Star Game
There was only one problem Monday afternoon at the South Atlantic League's All-Star Home Run Derby contest — there were no fences.
The SAL and the Charleston RiverDogs put a new twist on the Home Run Derby, holding the preliminary round on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier Yorktown.
About 300 spectators were on hand to watch 10 competitors take their swings off the York-town and watch the baseballs splash in the harbor.
Hagerstown third baseman Matt Skole, Lexington third baseman Matt Duffy, Asheville first baseman Harold Riggins and Savannah center fielder Travis Taijeron advanced to the championship round of the event, which will take place at 5:30 p.m. today at Riley Park, followed by the SAL All-Star Game at 7:30.
“This was a once-in-lifetime opportunity,” Duffy said. “It was such an awesome event. I'll probably never get a chance to hit a baseball off an aircraft carrier again, so no matter what happens (today), I'll never forget it.”
With the harbor and the Charleston skyline in the background on a hot, hazy afternoon, Skole said it wasn't easy picking up the baseball as it left the pitcher's hand.
“It was tough to see out there,” said Skole, who has 14 home runs this season. “There's no background, it's all sky and water. This isn't anything like hitting in a ballpark, but I'm not complaining one bit. This was an awesome event.”
Wando High School baseball coach Dirk Thomas served as the primary pitcher. Thomas, 47, said he tried a couple of strategies to help the hitters.
“It couldn't have been easy for them,” Thomas said. “Every hitter has a certain comfort level with the same coach throwing batting practice every day. I tried to take a little velocity off my pitches.
“When I'm throwing to my guys, I know where their sweet spots are, where they like the ball. I had no idea with these guys. I tried to keep the ball up in the zone.”
RiverDogs co-owner Bill Murray took a few swings as part of a charity event. Windell Middlebrooks, the affable beer delivery guy in the Miller High Life television commercials, was on hand as well.
“I was like a little kid running around on the flight deck,” Middlebrooks said. “I watched these guys launch the balls into the water. It's been an amazing event. It's an experience I know I won't forget anytime soon.”
Charleston RiverDogs outfielder Tyler Austin, who is tied with Skole for the SAL home run lead at the All-Star break, did not take part in the event because the New York Yankees did not give him permission to compete.
Outfielder Mark Haddow and third baseman Rangel Ravelo from Kannapolis, second baseman Alen Hanson and right fielder Gregory Polanco from West Virginia, third baseman Zachary Johnson from Lexington and catcher Will Swanner from Asheville participated but were eliminated.