WASHINGTON -- Russ Newbern knew the stakes in front of him, and he wasn't going to let it slip.The six-year Naval Cryptologic Technician had been in higher-stakes moments with real consequences as a part of the U.S. armed forces, but this was extra special. He was fighting for the chance
WASHINGTON -- Russ Newbern knew the stakes in front of him, and he wasn't going to let it slip.
The six-year Naval Cryptologic Technician had been in higher-stakes moments with real consequences as a part of the U.S. armed forces, but this was extra special. He was fighting for the chance to represent his branch of the military -- and the U.S. military as a whole -- at Monday's T-Mobile Home Run Derby.
"I don't go anywhere without trying to win," Newbern said.
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In his turn at home plate at Nationals Park on Friday, the young sailor sent five home runs over the big league fences, handily winning the All-Star Armed Services Home Run Challenge presented by T-Mobile. He and the second-place winner, Army Staff Sergeant Jacob Hensal, will swing for the fences at Nationals Park once again on Monday in between the breaks in action.
"Words can't really describe it," Hensal said. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime chance, especially for us in the military. To play alongside Major Leaguers doesn't really happen. Ever."
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Rounding out the remaining competitors were Marine Corps First Sergeant Chris Maddox, Air Force Master Sergeant Matthew Campbell and Coast Guard Engineman Second Class Ken Glover.
Newbern solidified his spot for Monday with five homers in his attempt, while Hensal and Maddox went to a 45-second playoff round to fill the second spot after both hitting one homer in their turns. Maddox couldn't muscle one out, but Hensal did so on an early pitch to the roar of friends, family and fellow service members at Nationals Park.
"The first round, my pitcher didn't give me too much to hit," quipped Hensal, whose Army squad lost to Air Force earlier in the inaugural All-Star Armed Services Classic presented by T-Mobile. "I thought for sure [Campbell] was going to get at least two [in the first round], but thankfully, he didn't, and [I'm] looking forward to hitting Monday."
Newbern said he hasn't been able to keep up with professional sports as much as he would like due to the time-consuming nature of his job. But he remains loyal to his Atlanta Braves, and he donned the classic Braves "A" on his cap during the derby.
With Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman slated to hit in Monday's Derby on ESPN at 8 p.m. ET, Newbern will be looking for some last-second tips before his turn.
"I can use some," Newbern said with a laugh. "I'm sure swinging hard is not going to work all the time."
Newbern and Hensal now have the chance to represent their respective branches across their chests in front of the world on Monday, and they'll be able to do so right in the nation's capital.
"Maybe it'll help our recruiting numbers," Hensal joked. "If you're looking to join the military, 'Go Army.'"
Zachary Silver is a reporter for MLB.com based in Baltimore.