Splashdown: Petty wins home run derby on retired flat top
SAN DIEGO (AP) Standing where fighter jets used to scream into flight, Kyle Petty of the Class-A Bakersfield Blaze drove seven baseballs into San Diego Bay to win the Midway Classic on Monday evening.
It was billed as a home run derby, with pink and green buoys marking the 350 feet a ball had to fly off the flight deck of the retired USS Midway to count as a homer.
In reality, it was simply some zany minor league fun on a flat top.
''It was just an awesome setting,'' said Petty, a 25-year-old first baseman from Stewartsville, New Jersey, who outlasted seven other players to win the trophy. ''How many chances do you really get to hit a baseball that disappears into an ocean? You just want to embrace it and take it all in. You can't really explain it until you get to do it.''
The Midway Classic was held in conjunction with the California League-Carolina League All-Star Game, which will be played Tuesday night up the freeway at Lake Elsinore, a Class A affiliate of the San Diego Padres.
''This was probably one of the coolest and more fun things I've ever gotten to do,'' Petty said.
Petty homered seven times in 10 swings to beat Aderlin Rodriguez of the Frederick Keys, who hit four homers in the final round.
Petty's clinching homer was a fence scraper that barely cleared the buoys. For good measure, he then launched two moon shots toward the setting sun, with sailboats and two active aircraft carriers in the distance.
How do you prepare for something like this?
''We knew we were hitting off a ship into the ocean,'' said Petty, a 23rd-round draft pick of the Seattle Mariners in 2013. ''You just look at an aircraft carrier, figure it's a high ship, and figure there's water out there. That's about it.''
The batting cage was about 135 feet from the bow. Volunteers on personal watercraft and in kayaks plucked the balls out of the water before they sank.
Lake Elsinore's Dave Oster, the minor league executive of the year last year, got the idea from the South Atlantic League's Charleston RiverDogs, who held a home run derby on the USS Yorktown in June 2012.
He said he wanted to come up with something special to help mark the Cal League's 75th anniversary, and to showcase San Diego.
''It was a grand slam,'' Oster said.
''It's really more of an exhibition than a contest,'' Oster added. ''There are balls floating in the water. Of course it's not a legitimate home run contest, but it's just a fun exhibition for guys to bash balls into the bay.''
The eight players - four from each league - got to warm up in the indoor batting cages at nearby Petco Park, where the big league All-Star Game will be played July 12, preceded the night before by the Home Run Derby.
The Midway Classic drew a few hundred paying fans, who were entertained by a DJ as well as the derby.
''It was an absolute blast,'' Petty said. ''It was so much fun. You want to put on a show for them.''