|Todd takes Atlantic League homerun derby crown, Leaman barely misses winning $10,000 promotion
|The Bridgeport Bluefish mascot hammers a ball out of the infield during the mascot home run challenge before the Atlantic League's 10th All-Star game. The mascot challenge was just one of the night's wacky minor league baseball promotions.
By Chuck King
LANCASTER, Penn. – The Atlantic League nearly gave away $10,000, but Alison Leaman came up 90 feet short.
Keeping with the tradition of wacky minor league baseball promotions, the league was prepared to giveaway up to $100,000 in $10,000 increments as part of its 10th anniversary All-Star Game.
The independent league picked ten unusual plays, offering to pay one lucky fan $10,000 if the play happened in a particular inning. The odd but not unreachable plays, from first inning to ninth, were a homerun off the foul pole, three assists by a second baseman, a grand slam, a triple play, three assists by a third baseman, an inside the park home run, three assists by a shortstop, a team hits for the cycle (top of the eighth), North pitcher strikes out the side on nine pitches (bottom of the eighth), and back-to-back home runs.
The ten fans were chosen at random. Leaman came the closest to claiming the small fortune when Dominick Ambrosini tripled off the left centerfield wall in the sixth.
“My heart was absolutely racing,” Leaman said. “I don’t think I’ll have a voice tomorrow after screaming for him to run as fast as he could.”
Ambrosini didn’t know Leaman needed an inside the park homerun until after the game.
“I wish I just kept running,” he said.
The all-star festivities started with a homerun hitting contest won by Lancaster’s Jeremy Todd. Hitting in his home ballpark, Todd needed to win a homer-off just to reach the finals, then hit five in the final round to take the trophy and the $250 first prize (photo, front page).
“Going into it I was hoping I was going to have a chance to win it, especially being the only Barnstormer in it,” said Todd, who later smacked a homerun during the game. “The atmosphere was great, the fans were really good and I had a really good time doing it.”
The league added a new wrinkle to the derby, holding a mascot homerun contest between the first and final round. Mascots from around the league joined Reggie the Purple Party Dude in the contest. Bridgeport’s Bluefish actually managed to hit one out of the infield.
The League paid tribute to the military by having Iraq veterans on the field for the national anthem. There was also a special surprise for all-star Jutt Heilman. The Barnstormers front office asked Heilman’s girlfriend Kristy Noll, an Air Force staff sergeant currently stationed in Iraq, to send them a video saying hello to Heilman.
Lancaster played the video on one of their two – TWO! – video boards shortly before the National Anthem, surprising Heilman.
“I wasn’t expecting that – it kind of took me off guard,” Heilman said. “It was nice. It was special. She likes to embarrass me.”
The 7,361fans in attendance, an Atlantic League all-star record, saw the North declared an 8-6 winner after rain came in the top of the eighth. Bridgeport’s Bobby Malek earned MVP honors, going 4-for-4 with two homeruns and three runs scored.
“I think the real MVPs of this game are the fans in Lancaster,” Atlantic League commissioner Joe Klein said. “With the weather we had before the game to show up like they did, and I don’t know about you but I didn’t see too many empty seats around the whole place. It’s a great testament to Atlantic League baseball. We’re very proud tonight.”
Check out my blog for more on wild minor league promotions and minor league baseball.