Sitting here in the press box at Coca Cola Field in Buffalo, New York, about to watch the Triple-A All-Star Game Home Run Derby festivities (a few people have mentioned on Twitter that there is apparently some other All-Star Game going on somewhere this week but I am all about the Triple-A event so that’s what you can look forward to reading here over the next few days!)
A little more this week on my history with the Triple-A game itself and my beloved Buffalo in particular, but for now, let’s get to the event at hand.
After nearly two decades of covering minor league All-Star Games and the associated Home Run Derbies, you might think that you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. Most of the time, you’d be right (it’s sad that for me the most memorable HRD came in 2005 in Frederick, Md., at the Class A Carolina-California League event when a foul line drive by Miguel Montero nailed me in the right shin … the resulting case of cellulitis almost cost me my leg. But hey, I got the ball.)
But there is a reason that the Buffalo Bisons have been considered among the crème de la crème of Minor League Baseball’s organizations over the years, a reason the club got the 25th annual Triple-A All-Star Game (well, partly because they also hosted the very first one!). Great ownership and management and some creative out-of-the-box thinkers have resulted in an unusual tweak to the proceedings tonight that have me kinda wishing I was just a regular old fan so I could be in the mix for the prizes!
Anyway, one of the highlights of a Home Run Derby tends to be the hordes of kids (and yeah, more than a few “kids at heart”) who stake out territory on the outfield berms to chase down the home run balls.
At Buffalo, however, that territory is taken up by the entrance/exit ramps to I-190 in left field and a parking garage in right field (though there are a few rows of the Bully Hill Vineyards party deck in right field – which is where I’d want to sit if I were just at a Bisons game for fun. Another glass of Love My Goat, please.).
So instead, the Bisons posted a series of “targets” in different locations, attached to the fences towering over left field (ostensibly to keep passing cars from getting hit, but according to Bisons beat writer Mike Harrington, who is the font of all things Buffalo and one of the best in the biz, former Buffalo slugger Jeff Manto used to aim for – and hit – passing cars during BP back in the day), center field awnings and right field locations.
If a contestant – celebrity or Triple-A slugger – hits one of the targets, a seat number will be pulled at random with the holder of that seat winning a prize package from the sponsor.
The prizes range from gift certificates from local and national restaurants or businesses to a two-year lease for a 2012 Lincoln MKZ from local dealership Towne Auto (that can only be won if the target, at the top of the fence in left-center field, is hit in the final round of competition).
Among the six Triple-A sluggers, four – Texas Rangers outfield prospect Joey Butler, Houston Astros veteran DH Mike Hessman (who has 369 career homers), Cleveland Indians former Olympian Matt LaPorta and Buffalo’s own hometown hero, Valentino Pascucci – are right-handed so seem the only candidates to win someone that sweet ride.
(NOTE 7:41 p.m. Butler has just hit a home run over that left field fence that landed just shy of the interstate. And yeah, there are a few fans stationed out there racing for the ball.)
But some of the other more memorable prizes include a suite for the Bisons 25th anniversary celebration game in August; $1,000 cash; a two-night stay with a $250 spa certificate and dinner for two at Western Door Steakhouse courtesy of Home Run Derby sponsor Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel; a $100 grilling basket from Wegman’s (hope my husband is reading this); and a Bully Hill Party Deck event for 25 people (if someone wins that, I can be their new best friend!)