With six of the seven competitors hitting more homeruns than him this season, it seemed like the odds were decidedly against Lincoln Saltdogs slugger Curt Smith to win the American Association Homerun Derby. Clearly, Curt Smith doesn’t care about odds. The slugger dominated the contest from the very first round on his way to winning the first homerun derby he has participated in since he was 15.
Eight competitors took part in the competition as the American Association and the Can-Am League sent their very best sluggers to compete in the homerun battle. Smith was the first to go and he set the tone from the very start. The Saltdogs slugger drilled 10 homeruns, hitting five in a row at one point.
St. Paul Saints start Tony Thomas was only able to plate two and the Rockland Boulders Marcus Nidiffer followed with three before getting credit for two on his next to last swing.
That brought hometown hero Alonzo Harris to the plate. The Saints leadoff hitter was relishing the opportunity to hit in the contest and he came up big, hitting three in a row at one point. With nine outs each homerun counted for two and he slugged two deep fly balls over the left field fence to give him a total of 7.
Laredo Lemurs Denis Phipps added two in his first round opportunity and New Jersey Jackals star Art Charles added three. Next up was Fargo-Moorhead RedHawk Josh Mazzola whose two-point shot gave him five and he would grab the last slot in the semi-finals.
Surprisingly, Texas AirHogs outfielder Burt Reynolds did not hit any homeruns at all. He came into the competition leading both leagues with 21-homers, but could not get in the right groove on this night.
Into the semi-finals the competition went. In Round, 2 Mazzola was matched against Harris. Mazzola went first and had homeruns on one of his first four opportunities. However, three straight pitches he hit for homeruns giving him a total of four. Harris pulled within one when he missed on the first shot, then drilled the next three for homeruns. He then recorded outs on the next two, but hit back-to-back shots to win the semi-final round and advance.
Marcus Nidiffer was matched against Curt Smith in the semis. Nidiffer homered twice in his opportunity. Smith hit homeruns in two of his first four attempts, but then recorded two outs, and it looked like we may have a runoff. However, Smith drilled the next pitch deep over the left field wall to advance.
In the finals Harris missed on his first four attempts, but then homered. He would then hit two of the next five that just went foul, but his finals ended with one homerun.
The question was whether that would hold up. It looked like it would when Smith recorded outs on his first seven attempts. However, back-to-back homeruns gave him the victory and he was the American Association Homerun Derby Champ.
After the competition Smith was excited about his victory. “That was exciting. I just hit the ball as hard as I can and it was a great victory.”
He credited his first round performance for setting the tone. “That set a lot of pressure on those guys. They saw how many I hit and they had to chase that number.”
While finishing second, Harris felt like the true winner. “I got one for the little guy on this day,” he commented laughing. “A lot of people don’t think of me as a homerun hitter but I made it all the way to the finals. That was great.”
By Robert Pannier