A tall, lanky lefty approaches the plate at TD Ameritrade Park. In front of him, his father stands ready, with a bucket of baseballs at his side and a protective cage in front of him.
Mild applause wafts in as his name is called. Most in the crowd don't recognize it. They will soon.
The first pitch comes, and the hitter's eyes lock on the target. His surfer-like blond hair is mostly hidden behind a hat with a maroon “C” stamped on the front. On his jersey, the word “Cougars” spreads across his chest in all caps.
He leans back, steps forward and swings.
Daniel Aldrich, a College of Charleston sophomore who hit 22 home runs and was named national freshman of the year in 2011, sent 12 balls over the right-field wall en route to winning the 2011 College Home Run Derby.
One season and 11 more home runs later, he's back to do it again.
The 2012 College Home Run Derby on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at TD Ameritrade Park will feature the reigning champ alongside seven other long ball hopefuls. Aldrich, however, has something his competition doesn't: Experience.
After taking home the crown last year, he knows that a player can't approach the Derby as he would a regular game. A few things need to change — starting with the swing.
“In a game, you're not really trying to hit home runs. It's something that just happens. In a home run derby, it's a little bit of a swing change,” Aldrich said. “You're trying to get a little more air under the ball, so it's more of an uppercut.”
The task is even more daunting in TD Ameritrade Park, a place where home runs go to die … usually on or before the warning track. Time and again, College World Series hitters belted balls into the power alleys, glancing up optimistically as they started their usual trot.
And like a broken record, ball after ball didn't leave the yard. For home run hitters, trying to put on a show at TD Ameritrade is a lot like having a snowball fight in the desert. The setting is not ideal.
Aldrich knows that if he hits it well, however, dimensions won't make a difference.
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“It's definitely not a home run park,” Aldrich said. “I was watching this College World Series, and the home runs in the series went down from Rosenblatt dramatically. It's definitely not a hitter's ballpark, but if you hit it right it's still a good pop. You can get it out.”
Aldrich is thrilled to have a chance to defend his title. The crowd and atmosphere, rather than the competition itself, make it worthwhile.
“It was so awesome being part of a crowd like that on that stage,” he said. “It was really fun.
“They called again and asked if I wanted to come and defend it, and I said, ‘Absolutely.' It's a great opportunity. I'm looking forward to doing it again and trying to put on another display.”
Some advice for fans in right field Tuesday night: When the lanky lefty steps to the plate, don't leave your seat. Keep your eyes forward and your gloves ready. Then:
Brace for impact.
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