It was raining baseballs in Hartford, Conn., Friday night as Home Run Derby X hosted its first event on U.S. soil in front of a sold-out crowd. After holding amateur tryouts the day prior, former MLB stars and Home Run Derby X legends Jonny Gomes (Steamed Cheeseburgers), Nick Swisher (Bouncing Pickles), Dexter Fowler (Chivos) and Jake Arrieta (Schoolboys) each hoped to lead their teams to victory.
The excitement sparked as soon as the gates opened. Fans, with smiles to ear to ear, flooded Dunkin' Park where they were met with high-fives and pictures with the legends, something Swisher described as his favorite part.
“I told somebody in an interview last week that I was gonna high-five 6,000 people here today -- and I think I’ve come pretty darn close to doing that,” the former Yankee said. “I feel like at the end of the day, that’s what you’re gonna remember when you leave here. It’s not necessarily an autograph … but the experience you get.”
Though there were autographs, too. Any fan who caught an orange home run ball, used when a player entered a hot streak, was able to come onto the field after the event and have their favorite players sign it.
“I think it's great,” said Ron Harrington, a fan in attendance. “It’s very exciting, the kids are excited. It’s a big turnout for something like this.”
As for the actual derby, it was a spectacle.
Let’s recap the rules:
- Each hitter has one at-bat of 2 minutes, 30 seconds with the opposing team in the outfield
- A home run scores one point for the offense
- A catch by an outfielder scores one point for the defense
- Extra points can be earned through hitting hot streaks, target strikes and in-game boosters
- A Tag in/Tag out option is available for each at-bat
- The team with the most total points after all at-bats wins the game
While the HRDX legends put on a show, it was their drafted teammates who shocked the audience.
Liam Scafariello, a member of Gomes’ Steamed Cheeseburgers, led all participants, including legends, with an incredible 37 home runs at night’s end. This including multiple homers that left the park entirely -- not bad for someone who didn’t know if they’d be playing in this event until 24 hours prior.
The nerves of performing in front of a packed Dunkin’ Park clearly did not get to the amateur participants.
“I like that more. I’d rather hit in front of a sold-out crowd, that gives me juice. The more the better,” said Brendan Griffin, an athlete/content creator and member of Swisher’s Bouncing Pickles.
Scafariello wasn't the only one who proved they can hang with the pros though, as Megan Lucas also put on a show. The former All-American softball player and first pick in Thursday’s draft to Arrieta's Schoolboys racked in five catches and slugged eight home runs, two of which went through the designated target zone.
“It’s not just me standing up there. I’ve got two daughters, they don’t care if I’m hitting. They want to see the girls hit. They want to see how far they’re able to hit the baseball because they look like them and at the end of the day I think that’s what [Home Run Derby X] is all about,” Swisher said.
At the night’s end, it was Arrieta’s squad who were crowned the winners after defeating Gomes and his bunch in the finals. Their victory raised $4,000 toward the Hartford Police Athletic League, an amount Arrieta happily matched.
HRDX will continue its tour on Aug. 26 in Fredericksburg, Va., following the same format.