By IAN WILSON
It’s not uncommon for players to struggle during the home run derby.
In 1986, Jose Canseco had 23 home runs on the season as he entered the derby, but ended up hitting just one bomb at the Astrodome.
And Sammy Sosa also tallied just a lone shot at the 1999 derby at Fenway Park. He brought 32 National League home runs into that contest.
But to come away from a home run derby with zero home runs, well, that’s just depressing.
A number of MLB players went homerless on the big stage – including Robinson Cano, Jim Thome, Jason Bay, Mike Piazza and Cecil Fielder, to name a few – and former Calgary Vipers Drew Miller and Colin Moro have felt their pain.
Both players were named to the 2009 Golden Baseball League (GBL) All-Star roster and both participated in the home run derby at Bruce Hurst Field in St. George, Utah.
ALL VIPER, NO VENOM
“The 2009 all-star game was my third all-star game I had been a part of and it was my second consecutive home run derby,” said Miller, who swatted 11 home runs in 75 games that year, and would hit 21 the following season.
“It was the second time I had been skunked in the home run derby.”
Looking back on it, Miller admits the big stage got to him a bit.
“It is always easy when you have the hitting turtle (cage) there and you swing in BP. Then when the derby comes and they take that away … something changes,” said the Medicine Hat-born outfielder.
“You try harder than you usually do, you overswing, lunge and get too big. I remember that it feels like there is a big spotlight on you that is hard to shake.”
Miller said he also become more aware of his surroundings during the derby than he normally would during a game.
“When I was going to hit in a game, I would be totally focused and not hear anything around me. In the derby, it was like you hear everything – from your teammates, to fans, to even the announcers talking in the booth.”
The result was mostly ground balls for a second straight GBL home run contest.
But Miller learned from his first two derby goose eggs and performed better at the 2010 all-star festivities in Tucson.
“I was my team’s only representative for the game so when I was in the derby I wanted to show I belonged,” said the Oklahoma Baptist University alum.
“It didn’t start well, with more ground balls down the first base line. I remember a fan yelling ‘the point is to hit the ball in the air.'”
Miller had some friends in the stands who shouted encouragingly and that allowed him to regroup and hit two deep home runs during that round.
“It took a huge weight off my shoulders. It felt great when I was interviewed to not be skunked that time,” he said.
For Miller’s Viper teammate Colin Moro, he also endured a derby with no balls clearing the fence.
The 2009 manager for the GBL North Division roster was Morgan Burkhart, Moro’s manager in Calgary.
“Basically he just asked and I accepted with a chuckle. He said I was his pick to win,” remembered Moro.
“My round in the derby was okay for a round of batting practice … just a lot of doubles in the gap. But it was frustrating not to be able to hit one out.”
Adding to his frustration, Moro – now the head coach of the University of Calgary Dinos baseball team – said Bruce Hurst Field was a hitters’ ballpark.
“St. George was a launching pad ballpark. Games always ended up in double digits there,” he said, adding the all-star game and the derby were still fun events to take part in, no matter what the results.
In spite of the lack of pop from Moro and Miller, the Vipers had plenty to cheer about that night.
The North Division won the game 9-6 before a capacity crowd of 2,700 and it was outfielder Fehlandt Lentini – the Vipers leadoff hitter – who ended up winning the home run derby.
“Lentini had pop but as a leadoff man didn’t always swing for the fences,” noted Miller.
“But the ball flies in St. George and he was hitting them on a line with great back spin. They would just sail out of the stadium.”
The Vipers had even more cause to celebrate after the all-star break. The team won the league championship that year with a win over the Tucson Toros on Sept. 12 at Foothills Stadium.
“It was the best year of my life,” said Moro.
“Our team was pretty much an all-star team itself. I was very proud to help out all year, ending with an amazing run to the championship.”