Friday, July 22, 2016

Homerun Derby at Kenosha Harbor

All photos of 2016 Northwoods League HR Derby available on Flickr.

I went to one of the more unique baseball events I've ever been to earlier this week - the Northwoods League Homerun Derby.  That in and of itself may not sound too crazy, but when you add the fact that the derby was not in a stadium but rather at the Kenosha Harbor, well that's pretty crazy.  The Kingfish are following a recent trend, or perhaps a shift, in baseball minor and independent leagues to add a more unique twist to their all-star festivities.  The Camden Riversharks and Lake Elsinore Storm have both hosted homerun derbies that took place on a USS battleship, and a few years ago the Eastern League had a "hitting challenge" in lieu of the traditional homerun derby.  The KBO even held a "bunt derby" on the same night.  The Big Top Baseball-owned Kingfish were certainly a worthy contender to carry the torch of wacky all-star events and put on an excellent show on Monday night.  The event was so well promoted that it actually ended up in many national sports publications and came in at #8 on Sportscenter's Top 10 the next morning.

The format of the event, which seems to change every year now, was set up as a regular 9-inning game, with one player from each division batting per half inning with 6 "outs" each.  At the end of the 9 innings, both a division and an individual player were crowned.  This format did two things - it gave a lot of players a chance to participate, but it also kept the event moving, as there were no lights at the harbor like you would have at a stadium and the derby had to be wrapped up before sundown.  The South Division rose again and beat the North rather handily, and hometown slugger Marty Bechina took home the individual title with 6 taters.

The logistics of this derby were actually very well executed given the zaniness of it.  Pitchers stood at the far end of a pier closest to the water, and the hitters stood 60'-6" closer to shore, with a catcher and screen behind him.  It was hard to tell what the width of the pier was from where we were standing, but I can assure you that had Carlos Gomez been participating, he surely would have swung out of his shoes and fallen right into Lake Michigan.  Batted balls that jettisoned towards the harbor then had to cross a line of floating yellow buoys to count as a homerun.  I presume that the homerun line was set up to match the dimensions of Simmons Field because it looked like a pretty short porch.  Staff members in kayaks patrolled the "infield" to retrieve balls, and there were many boats in the "outfield" that chose to forgo the $10 admission price and watch the derby for free.  Anybody staying at the Best Western next door would have gotten a free show as well, so I'll have to remember both of those as options if this event ever returns.  There was also a giant schooner that sailed back and forth keeping score, and also had fans aboard who purchased special VIP tickets.  Other than the winning slugger Bechina, there really wasn't another hitter that ever got on a roll, so the event did grow a little stale after awhile.  But it was still so cool to watch balls kerplunking into the water and people in boats scurrying after the ball like you would see in San Francisco.  Everybody longs to see a "splash hit" when watching a Giants game, and tonight every single ball hit was a splash hit.  The biggest splash of all came not from a participant, but from a young Kingfish staff member.  He bet some of the players earlier in the day that he could hit a homerun on his first swing, and he did!  The bet was that if he didn't hit a homerun, he had to jump in the lake, but on a night where the temperature approached 90ยบ, he gladly jumped in anyways.

With over 3,000 people in attendance for 2 hours of derby, live music, and fireworks, the event was an overwhelming success.  The best part about it is you can be all but guaranteed that the Northwoods League will make it a goal to make next year's homerun derby even more insane.  Perhaps the new Rockford team will get the game next year and try to hit balls onto I-90.

Brewers 40-52, -16.0, -10.0 WC (3 v. Cubs, 4 v. Diamondbacks)
Reds 36-59, -21.5, -15.5 WC (3 v. Diamondbacks, 3 @ Giants
Twins 35-59, -21.0, -18.0 WC (4 @ Red Sox, 2 v. Braves, 1 v. Orioles)

Erik - 11 (+17 worked)

Peter - 22

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