Baseballs were bouncing off Third Street again as the Southern League staged its annual home run derby Monday night at historic Engel Stadium.
Tennessee Smokies third baseman Kris Bryant challenged the 471-foot distance in straightaway center on his first swing but then found the left-field wall more to his liking in winning the eight-man competition. Bryant hit eight home runs in the first round and had 12 homers through two rounds before hitting four in the third round to defeat Mobile first baseman Jon Griffin.
Bryant was going deep off Chattanooga Lookouts manager Razor Shines, who threw to the four contestants from the North Division.
"This park is huge," Bryant said. "Usually I like it out over the plate so I can get my hands extended and hit it to right, but I told Razor to throw inside so I could hit it to left as far as I could. I was taking my normal swing out there. Ever since I was little, I've been able to hit the ball in the air."
When told about the four-lane road beyond the left-field wall, Bryant said, "I heard about that. Hopefully nobody got hurt."
The 6-foot-5, 215-pound Bryant added to an already memorable season that includes a first half in which he hit .355 with 22 home runs and 58 RBIs. Bryant received a $6.71 million signing bonus from the Chicago Cubs last summer, an organizational record, and entered this season rated by Baseball America as Chicago's No. 2 prospect.
Monday night's home run derby drew a crowd in excess of 2,000, according to Lookouts general manager Rich Mozingo, who said he would know exact figures later this week. The league's all-star game will take place at AT&T Field tonight at 7:15.
"This was marvelous," Mozingo said. "The crowd liked it, and I had more people complimenting me on bringing it over here. We really had a great time."
The competitors had to hit as many home runs as possible before 10 outs in the first round, eight outs in the second round and five outs in the third. The total from the first two rounds was used to determine the final pairing, but then the slate was wiped clean.
Griffin went first in the finals and hit three homers before committing the fifth out. Bryant followed by hitting four and using only two outs.
"It's exhausting," the 6-6, 230-pound Griffin said. "I did one of these in college, and I remember how exhausting it was as soon as the second round. I was trying to take as many pitches as I could to catch my breath, so I could put all my energy into every swing."
As for the distance in straightaway center, which is accompanied by a 26-foot high wall?
"I tried to avoid that area," Griffin said.
Bryant and Griffin advanced by eliminating Chattanooga's O'Koyea Dickson and Huntsville's Nick Ramirez in the second round. Dickson's six homers in the first round were second only to Bryant's eight, but he had only one in the second round.
Three of the eight and three of the four left-handed batters failed to homer in the opening round, with Chattanooga's Scott Schebler among them.
"This was kind of crazy," Schebler said, smiling. "It's the biggest ballpark I've ever seen with the biggest walls. I had heard about the '42' movie being filmed here, so this was really cool, but this is not what you would think of as a home run derby park."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.