The Bass Pro Home Run Derby will kick off the festivities. Springfield's Allen Craig (above), the team's leader in home runs and RBIs, will represent the home team. Tulsa's Tony Blanco, Northwest Arkansas' Kila Kaaihue, and Arkansas' Ben Johnson will join him on the North Team. Kaaihue and Johnson are tied for the Texas League lead with 17 home runs.
For the South, the team is anchored by San Antonio's 6'6", 270 pound Kyle Blanks. Let me tell you, this guy is huge. One of the more comical items during batting practice was Springfield's hitting coach Derrick May (a large man in his own right) sizing himself up to Blanks. Others on the team will be Corpus Christi's Chris Johnson, Frisco's Ben Harrison, and Midland's Tommy Everidge.
When the game begins, Craig, Tyler Greene, Jon Jay (below), and Jess Todd will be in the starting lineup for the North Squad. Reserves will be Brandon Yarbrough, Luke Gregerson, and Fernando Salas representing the Cardinals. Shane Robinson had been named a starter but has since been promoted to Triple-A Memphis. Others on the North team are former Springfield Cardinal Juan Richardson and five-tool outfielder Dexter Fowler of Tulsa.
Springfield manager and the reigning Birdhouse Cardinals Minor League Manager of the Year, Pop Warner (below), will lead the host squad. His coaching staff of Derrick May and Bryan Eversgerd will be joining him in the dugout. Jay Pierson will handle the trainer duties.
Highlights of BP were watching Craig and Jay up close for the first time. Jay has a lot of movement at the beginning of his swing but does possess a nice smooth stroke. He is lightning quick and excels at hitting the ball the other way. Craig is very powerful and the ball explodes off his bat. Plus, it isn't everyday that you see musical instruments sitting at second base being protected by a screen.
Tulsa's Dexter Fowler is long, lean and looks more like a point guard than a centerfielder.
The home run derby starts soon and my favorites are Craig and Blanks. Craig for the hometown bump and Blanks based on size alone.
The capacity crowd at Hammons Field.
Watching the Home Run Derby, won by Tony Blanco.
Starting shortstop Tyler Greene.
Starting pitcher Jess Todd, who fanned five in two scoreless innings.
Jon Jay started in left field and batted seventh.
Game report and more photos
The air in the Ozarks was scorching hot but the cold beer was flowing in the stands and home run balls were flying out of the park during the 2008 Texas League Home Run Derby. Tulsa's Tony Blanco easily took home the title with 21, of which many were remindful of Mark McGwire's moon shots during the 1999 Home Run Derby in Boston. Frisco's Ben Harrison finished second. One of the twists of the contest was that if any player hit one of the two Bass Pro signs, the participant and a fan from the crowd won a boat. Unfortunately, no one went home with a new boat, but Blanco did win a golden fish and the right fielder got toasted marshmallows from the camp site set up on the right field wall.
After a rousing performance by the Liverpool Legends, a Beatles act managed by George Harrison's sister, it was on to baseball.
Getting the nod for the home North squad was Springfield's own, Jess Todd. The 22-year-old allowed a leadoff single to Corpus Christi's Drew Sutton. The former Arkansas Razorback was unfazed as the undersized right-hander rebounded to strike out the side. Todd finished his night with five strikeouts in two innings pitched. It was the perfect night to make such an impression with Cardinals GM John Mozeliak and Assistant GM John Abbamondi in attendance.
Allen Craig would be the first North Division player to reach base with a two out walk in the bottom of the second. He advanced to second on a single by his teammate, Jon Jay. Former Springfield Cardinal Juan Richardson walked to load the bases for Tyler Greene. The former first round pick was not up for heroics and flied out to right field.
The game remained scoreless until Jay hit a one-out double in the fourth. Richardson would single to left to score the fleet-footed Jay for the first run of the game. Greene followed with a walk to put men on first and second. But the scoring would stop there as Tulsa's Corey Wimberly struck out.
The lead would not last as Midland's Jon Zeringue doubled off of new pitcher Dan Denham of Arkansas. Midland's Tommy Everidge singled to score Zeringue and advanced to third on a throwing error by Tulsa's Matt Miller. Next up, Anthony Recker of Midland singled to score Everidge to put the South up 2-1. Denham escaped without any more damage thanks to fine defensive work, including an unassisted double play by Wimberley.
Possibly the play of the game occurred in the sixth. Shortstop Elvis Andrus of Frisco back pedaled to catch a fly ball off the bat of Jon Jay. When he squeezed the ball, it popped out of his glove into the bare hand of the charging left fielder, San Antonio's Craig Cooper.
In the seventh, Wimberley tripled with one out to put the North in position to tie the game. The next batter, Northwest Arkansas' Ovandy Suero, hit a sac fly to right field that scored Wimberley to tie the game at two.
With two outs in the eighth, the Home Run Derby champ, Tony Blanco, stepped to the plate with the bases empty. The Driller third baseman still had his power stroke working, hitting a blast over the left-centerfield fence. Things were set for Blanco to win the home run derby and the MVP award. Too bad nobody told Jon Zeringue.
With Springfield's Fernando Salas in to close the game out for the North, Zeringue led off with another double. Everidge singled to advance him to third. Salas would strikeout Anthony Recker for the first out of the inning. Next, he struck out Elvis Andrus. During the third strike, Everidge broke for second and Springfield catcher Brandon Yarbrough threw it high over second allowing Zeringue to score. Yarbrough was charged with the error. Corpus Christi's Drew Sutton hit a line shot to the left-center gap but was robbed by Suero for the third out.
In the bottom of the ninth, Wimberly singled, again with one out. On the most bizarre play of the night, Suero would fly out to the right field gap. Wimberly had already passed second but did not touch the base and was doubled off first with the catcher, Anthony Recker, covering.
So to the tenth we went and another Springfield pitcher needing just to hold the South scoreless for the win. The rules state that if the game was tied after 10 innings, the team with the home run derby champion would be the winner. Just like Salas, Luke Gregerson was unable to hold the lead.
Frisco's Steven Murphy led off with a line shot that made its way over the right field fence. Richard Paz would single but was erased when Kyle Blanks hit into a double play. Gregerson walked Craig Cooper who went to second on a stolen base. Zeringue would get another hit to score Paz and advance to second when the throw got away from the North infield. Everidge singled to score the run and moved to second on a throwing error by Suero. On the next play, Suero dropped a lazy fly ball to center that allowed another run to score. Gregerson would strike out Andrus to finish the top of the inning. The damage was four runs on four hits, two errors, and one walk.
In the bottom of the tenth, it was three up, three down for the North. The South took home the victory with a 7-3 final score. For his heroics in the top of the tenth, Steven Murphy was named the game's Most Valuable Player. San Antonio's Greg Burke picked up the win and Gregerson was saddled with the loss.
Jon Zeringue finished with his four hits, an RBI, and three runs scored.
For the home Cardinals, Jon Jay singled, doubled, and walked. Allen Craig drew a walk but went hitless in his other two plate appearances. Tyler Greene took a walk as well. Brandon Yarbrough went hitless in two at bats and made an error. Salas did strike out two while allowing a run in his lone inning of work.
Kyle Blanks with Cardinals coach Derrick May.
The game is a big deal for the players, too. Fernando Salas is among the smiling faces in this shot.
Salas gets in some pre-game work.
Jess Todd warmed up in the pen for his successful start.
Catcher Brandon Yarbrough made the team as a reserve.
Third baseman and Home Run Derby participant Allen Craig prepares to take his cuts.
Shortstop Tyler Greene uncorks a throw in warm-ups.
The day began better than it ended for closer Luke Gregerson.
Dustin Mattison can be reached via email at email@example.com
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