High School Home Run Derby win a dream come true for Morlando

July 11th, 2023

SEATTLE -- PJ Morlando made sure to get enough sleep the night before the High School Home Run Derby so he could dream about every single scenario that could happen on Monday night.

Little did he know the best scenario possible would end up happening in front of a sellout crowd at T-Mobile Park there for MLB's Home Run Derby, which took place after the high school edition.

The teenager from South Carolina slugged eight home runs in one minute to be crowned the 2023 High School Home Run Derby champion.

“There’s always the thought in the back of your head that you could be a champion,” Morlando said. “Just to be able to compete in front of as many people, this is a lifetime dream. This is the perfect scenario.

“I’m going to sleep with that trophy tonight,” Morlando added.

Morlando beat Samuel Richardson from Olive Branch, Miss. The two aren’t strangers; they were teammates at the Prospect Development Pipeline. Right before they went onto the field, Morlando told Richardson that no matter the results, this event was the beginning of more milestones and achievements to come for the duo. After the Derby was over, they took a moment to embrace each other on the field.

High School Home Run Derby finalists PJ Morlando and Samuel Richardson were teammates at the Prospect Development Pipeline.Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images

“He has one of the most beautiful swings I’ve ever seen in my life,” Morlando said of Richardson. “He’s just a competitor in the box. He never gave up his strike zone. He was just always swinging at the right pitches.

“I just can’t wait to see him play throughout the year.”

The left-handed Morlando knocked three home runs into the right-field press box, causing many media members to scramble out of the way to avoid being hit. You wouldn't have been surprised by Morlando’s Herculean strength if you saw him hit during the first round of the Derby on Saturday.

However, he did that with a couple of hundred people in the stadium. Morlando saw just how many people flooded the streets of downtown Seattle for All-Star weekend, so it was a different animal when he stepped to the plate Monday. But he kept his composure.

“I said ‘There's going to be 50,000 people looking at you, you're going to have to look around,’” Morlando said. “But when you're taking consecutive cuts for a minute, you're not thinking about who's watching you or how many people are there. You’re thinking about your production and the home runs.

“It’s crazy how quickly all the people get cut out.”

Just the round before, Mariners sensation Julio Rodríguez hit a single-round record 41 home runs, sending the hometown fans into a frenzy. Morlando felt the crowd's rumble as he walked through the tunnel, while also getting a taste of what being a Major Leaguer is like, as fans asked him for his autograph and chanted his name.

“I don’t want to say I made it, but for a high school kid, there are not many in the entire world that can say they walked out that tunnel to a crowd that rowdy,” Morlando said. “This is probably the best fan base in America.”

When asked about his biggest takeaway from All-Star weekend, Morlando took a moment to think before being left speechless. He saw Seattle Seahawks legend Marshawn Lynch pop out of a room.

“Oh my God, that’s Marshawn Lynch,” Morlando said.

Moments later, Freddie Freeman and Mookie Betts walked past him.

“This is like a dream come true,” Morlando added.

It’s a dream that Morlando does not want to wake up from, but the grind doesn’t stop for him. He will fly to Phoenix for the Perfect Game National Showcase starting Tuesday at Chase Field. He still has one more year of high school before playing baseball for his native South Carolina Gamecocks.

For now, he’ll enjoy the moment.

“I honestly might carry that trophy around with me everywhere,” Morlando said. “That’s my new baby. I’m just so blessed I got the ability to do this, not even just win it, but to come out here and experience all of this.”