Major league baseball has had a devil of a time filling out a lineup card for its annual home run derby.
No Pujols. No A-Rod. Even Robinson Cano backed out.
Maybe Bud Selig should throw a bone to a real underdog, a 49th-round draft pick from East Tennessee State.
Paul Hoilman has a little experience now; he won the inaugural TD Ameritrade College Home Run Derby Wednesday night at Rosenblatt Stadium.
But it's the way Hoilman won that might impress the commissioner.
The burly first baseman with the red goatee, who hit 25 home runs in his junior season at ETSU, arrived at the airport in Boston Wednesday morning just after dawn — he's playing the summer in the Cape Cod League. His flight was delayed 90 minutes.
He arrived in Omaha at 2:30 p.m., just about the time the clouds opened up and dumped on Rosenblatt. Hoilman and his competitors didn't get a single swing on the field before the home run derby.
Normally, that might not have been an issue. But this was Rosenblatt, the college baseball shrine. This was a battle to be the nation's big bopper, with famous sluggers Mike Schmidt, Andre Dawson and Frank Thomas sitting front row.
To say the college guys felt some butterflies in the first round would be an understatement. Only three of the seven hitters — Hoilman, Georgia Tech's Matt Skole and Fresno State's Jordan Ribera — recorded more than two homers before the 10-out limit.
Hoilman led off the final round with a scary moment. He crushed a line drive into left field, toward a cluster of elementary-age kids shagging balls. Hoilman's shot smacked a boy directly in the mouth, bloodying his face and knocking out a few teeth.
The competition was delayed about five minutes as Hoilman and a crowd of approximately 3,000 waited nervously. Hoilman ran down the foul line to check on the boy, who eventually made it off the field.
Event organizers said afterward the boy was OK; Dawson and Schmidt signed a jersey for him.
Hoilman returned to the plate and immediately ignited the crowd. He put his 245 pounds to good use, ripping balls down the left-field line, crushing seven homers in his first 11 swings.
“He got into a groove,” said Dawson, an honorary hitting coach. “He kind of found his rhythm, and that's what it takes.”
Five straight outs followed. Then a final flurry of five straight home runs increased Hoilman's total to 12.
Fresno State's Ribera could muster only one homer in the final round; Georgia Tech's Skole hit none.
Afterward, Hoilman hoisted his trophy, did a few interviews and wrapped up a whirlwind experience.
He didn't even receive his derby invitation until about a week ago.
“Short notice, but like anybody, I was excited to get out here,” he said. “Just to get an opportunity to hit out here, much less for it to be a televised home run derby.”
CBS will show the event at noon Sunday.
“The early rounds were a little suspect,” said Schmidt, honorary hitting coach. “But Paul put on a helluva show there, and that's going to carry the program, I'm sure, when it's on the air.”
Hoilman's team in the Cape had an off day Wednesday, so he didn't miss a game.
He's scheduled to fly out at 7 a.m. Thursday. At night, he'll be back with his summer team, swinging a wood bat, trying to convince the Tampa Bay Rays to spend a little money on a 49th-rounder from East Tennessee State.
“If Coach puts me in the lineup,” Hoilman said. “I think he probably will.”
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