SAN DIEGO — Giants fans by now are used to the concept of the splash hit. But imagine a contest, where all the home runs hit are splash hits, you’re surrounded by old fighter jets, and the contest is on a boat. A giant boat. And not just any boat—an old aircraft carrier.
Well, that’s exactly what took place aboard the USS Midway in San Diego on Monday evening.
It’s the 75th anniversary of the California League this year and the Lake Elsinore Storm (High-A affiliate of the Padres), host of this year’s All-Star Game festivities, went all out and had the home run derby called the Midway Classic.
You might be asking, though: How does this work?
Well, the rules seem simple enough.
- Eight players, four from each league, competes for the right to advance.
- Each round begins a new total; there are no carryover home runs from a previous round.
- Each player gets 10 swings during their round.
- The flag holders at the bow of the ship will raise their flags upward to indicate a home run.
- The players with the two top home run totals from each league advance to the semifinals.
- The leading home run slugger from each league will then meet in the finals.
- In the event of a tie, players will receive five more swings, then three, then one if need be.
- The Carolina League will lead off, followed by a California League slugger, etc.
The most important thing is the flag holder at the bow of the ship. If a ball was foul, he would raise one red flag. Fair, two red flags.
The wind carried out a little bit, which lead to a couple of High Desert and Lancaster jokes during the event.
Prior to the derby, I talked to first baseman Chris Shaw (fifth best Giants prospect according to Baseball America prior to the season) about the wind.
"I think it's blowing out nicely, which...bodes well for all the participants," Shaw said. "It's gonna be cool to see how the ball actually flies once we get going here. But I think it's gonna be a lot of fun."
The California League is certainly different than most leagues, especially when you play in rather hitter friendly conditions like at Lancaster’s stadium, where there could be 30 MPH winds on any given night, or in High Desert, which is at 2,871 feet above sea level and also has a lot of windy conditions.
"This is as different you can get as far as a home run derby goes," Shaw said. "I mean, we're on a boat on the ocean, hitting balls into the bay. I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like it. I think if people are trying to compare the Cal League and other leagues in terms of differentness, this is definitely right up there."
Washington Nationals prospect and current Potomac Nationals third baseman Drew Ward agreed with the sentiment.
"This is Cal League written all over it," Ward said. "It's a lot different. Weather, people, you're by a beach, it's a lot different than the Carolina League."
Hitting balls hard and out of the park on an aircraft carrier isn’t exactly hitting in High Desert or Lancaster, however, though the wind on Monday night could certainly make it comparable.
"It's windy, so it's pretty much similar," Midway Classic champion Kyle Petty said. Petty plays in the Seattle Mariners organization with the Bakersfield Blaze. "But obviously, you have a field, game situations, the whole element [in High Desert and Lancaster]. Both are very fun, though."
Because the conditions and the locale for the home run derby was unique, many fans came out to see the minor leaguers hit home runs into the bay.
Ian Singleton of Oceanside, Calif. drove about thirty miles to see the derby because of the uniqueness.
"Anytime I can go to a sporting event, I'm down to go," Singleton said. "And then something like this on an aircraft carrier, the USS Midway, such a historic ship. I just couldn't resist getting out here and checking it out."
It was not as if it were a dingers machine being run off the Midway, though. Because each participant only has 10 swings per round (as opposed to per out made), the most a participant can hit is 10 home runs if they go 10-for-10.
The most hit by one participant in a round was eight in the final round, thanks to Petty.
"It's an absolute honor," Petty said. "I was just ecstatic when I was told I was selected, first, to the All-Star game and then got the call about the home run derby. I couldn't pass that up. Hearing that, you just have to jump on it. You can't pass it up. I've had an absolute blast with it."
Though Shaw was eliminated in the first round, the experience of hitting home runs off the Midway is not something he’ll forget.
"I think just stepping in the box and having everyone behind me while I'm swinging in this derby," Shaw said of his most memorable moment. "Home run derbies are kind of unique in that the attention's strictly on you, it's not a duel between you and a pitcher. It's just essentially glorified batting practice, it's always fun to be able to do that in front of a crowd and to be able to do that on the USS Midway was really cool and something I'm not gonna forget."
Oakland A’s farmhand and Stockton Ports outfielder James Harris said he was glad to be at the All-Star events.
"It's a good experience," Harris said. "Never thought of anything like this. Always seen it on a field, never off a boat. But it's a good experience being able to watch it. Had a bunch of fun with a bunch of the guys here."
And a bunch of fun was had by all aboard the USS Midway.