If the College Home Run Derby seems a little different this year, that's because it is.
The event, which takes place at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, has been given a bit of a facelift, partially to deal with the challenges many hitters face at TD Ameritrade Park.
The ballpark has been notoriously unforgiving to power hitters over its first two seasons, often turning big flies into big outs. The fence's dimensions as well as the area's wind patterns have been especially cruel to right-handed hitters.
To counteract these challenges and allow some of college baseball's biggest boppers to thrive, two new rules have been instituted. First, all balls that land on the warning track or hit the fence will not be counted as outs. And after a hitter's 10 outs have been completed, he will be thrown one additional “bonus ball,” which counts as two homers if it leaves the yard.
Drew Russell, vice president of sponsorship and events at Intersport, one of the co-sponsors of the event, says the changes weren't made solely to boost the total home run count. They also wanted to take a tired formula and give it a little spice.
“We kind of want to reinvent the home run derby a little bit,” Russell said. “It's been done this way in many different leagues. We thought this would be fun and would add a little excitement to it.”
For a while leading up to the event, the “home run derby” concept itself was in jeopardy. With the unfavorable dimensions, some wondered if it would be better to hold an entirely new event, based off a player's ability to hit balls to different spots. After careful consideration, though, the decision was made:
Chicks, and almost everybody else, dig the long ball.
“We talked about everything from targets in the outfield to different zones where you could acquire points, but we didn't want this to become a line drive competition or a singles competition,” Russell said.
“It's truly a home run derby, so we felt like these rules kept the essence of the event intact, but would give these guys a better shot and more opportunities to hit home runs.”
College of Charleston's Daniel Aldrich, the event's defending champ, didn't have any trouble reaching the seats last year without the new rules. After bombing 12 balls over the right-field wall in 2011, he'll be looking to find a similar result this time around.
Seven other competitors, all with impressive résumés, will be looking to unseat the reigning king. They are:
|WORLD-HERALD FIREWORKS SHOW|
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• LB Dantzler, a junior from South Carolina who finished the season with 10 home runs and 48 RBIs. His home run in the College World Series against Kent State was one of the longest blasts of the tournament, reaching the seats behind the right-field bullpen.
• Tyler Horan, a redshirt sophomore from Virginia Tech who finished the season with 15 home runs, ranking third in the ACC.
• Daniel Palka, a sophomore standout from Georgia Tech who hit 12 home runs and was named second-team All-ACC.
• Derek Fisher, a freshman from Virginia who was named to the Louisville Slugger Freshman All-America team.
• Zach Stephens, a Tennessee Tech sophomore who tied for sixth nationally in home runs (18) and was named second-team All-Ohio Valley Conference.
• Mason Katz, an LSU junior who finished the year with 13 homers, 52 RBIs and a slugging percentage over .550.
• Aaron Judge, a Fresno State sophomore who finished the year with a batting average over .300 while playing in all 58 games.
The event will be followed by the annual Omaha World-Herald fireworks show. Tickets are $8 for children, $12 for adults and $35 for a Family Four-Pack.
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