Robber Amaral walks away with MiLBY

Brugman nets Top Homer; Whitecaps' race knocks down Blooper rivals

By Kelsie Heneghan / MiLB.com | November 5, 2015 10:00 AM

Baseball is the type of game where everything can change in an instant. One play, one hit, one moment can live on in the hearts of fans and on the mantels of players forever.

MiLB.com found the top plays, homers and bloopers of the season for fans to select from the best of the best. The votes have been tallied and these are the three MiLBY winners.

Top Play: Amaral's first robbery

It came on the first pitch of the inning on Sept. 4.

Beau Amaral had just gotten set when the deep fly ball that would create the play of his season came rocketing toward him.

"Normally that doesn't happen on the first pitch," he said with a laugh. "But luckily, I was ready to go. It was the 11th inning. If you're not ready in the 11th inning, I don't know what you're doing."

As the fly ball off the bat of Double-A Mobile's Gabby Guerrero approached the Pensacola center fielder, Amaral couldn't help but have flashbacks.

First, to a game earlier in the season in which he leapt up to rob a home run, but came down without the ball. Then, to a time at UCLA when he caught the ball, but his glove and the ball ended up going over the fence while he returned to the warning track.

But this time was going to be different for the son of former Major Leaguer Rich Amaral.

"As I'm running for it, I was very determined to catch it, because in my mind, it felt like the exact same play," the California native said. "I was like, 'I got to catch this.'"

With his right leg leaving the ground first, Amaral jumped into the blue health care ad on the wall in left-center. As his glove crossed over the yellow line that separates the great play from the spectacular, the Reds prospect robbed a home run for the first time in his career.

"Right when I caught it, I wasn't sure, so I had a split second of, 'Oh, I hope I got it,'" he thought before checking his glove. "At that point, the bad memories of attempting to rob homers were gone. It was very sweet on a personal level."

Amaral casually walked away from the wall before tossing the ball back to his teammate. On the outside he "was trying to act like I had done it before, because that's what you got to do," but internally, he was feeling much more like Reds top prospect Jesse Winker.

"What he did on the outside was how I was feeling on the inside," the 24-year-old said. "He was jumping up and down and acting crazy, which is his personality and not my personality, but on the inside I was going crazy."

Robbed of a hero moment of his own, the D-backs No. 14 prospect Guerrero still gave Amaral props for his award-winning catch.

"Been playing against him for a while -- he's an outfielder too so it was pretty cool to get some props from him," the Reds prospect said. "I don't hit that many homers, so I would not be happy. I don't know about giving him props -- I'd be pretty pissed -- but he's a real classy guy."

The praise continued as the man on the mound and Amaral's roommate, Kyle McMyne, offered to pay rent for the remainder of the year.

Having also never hit a walk-off homer before, Amaral thought, maybe he could do both in one inning. He came close, too, drilling a ball to the center-field wall only to be caught by Evan Marzilli at the track.

Because of Amaral's heroics -- and fly out -- the game went on for four more innings until Winker scored the winning run on a single by Juan Duran. It was an exciting finish, but the memory of that 11th inning will always stick with the defensive replacement.

"I really enjoyed robbing that," he said, his smile evident, even on the phone. "That was definitely the highlight of my year."

Top Home Run: Brugman does it again

Jaycob Brugman admits to having a bad memory, but one thing he won't forget is a pitch he was served from Double-A Northwest Arkansas pitcher Matt Murray in Game 2 of the Texas League Finals.

He had already homered in three straight games as Midland honed in on its second title in two years.

"On the fourth day, I was like 'Oh, man,'" he remembered. "The pressure started getting real at that point."

The nerves faded when Brugman slapped a leadoff double to center and came around to score in the first. He didn't have to hit a home run; he knew, even if the streak ended, his contribution didn't have to come to a halt as well.

So the 23-year-old came up to the plate in fourth more relaxed, but the idea of a long ball crept into his mind once again. With a runner on first, the A's No. 21 prospect knew he needed a "home run or a ball to the wall" to bring in Beau Taylor. The No. 9 hitter stole second, but the plan didn't change. On a 1-2 pitch, Brugman knew exactly what he wanted.

"I'm looking out over the plate, trying to see a ball up in the zone, and that's exactly what that pitch was -- up in the zone, out over the plate," he said. "I put the best swing I knew I could on it."

Brugman wasn't sure if the ball would go over the fence, so he ran hard to second. As he rounded the bag, he saw the ball drop in the bullpen and the umpire give the signal for a home run. The left-handed hitter -- who left the yard six times in the regular season -- couldn't help but smile.

"I was just thinking, 'This is crazy. This is the playoffs and I'm doing this.' It's kind of a weird feeling," he said. "You always wonder, who's going to be 'the guy' in the playoffs and in such big situations? So it kind of makes you proud of yourself that you could be a guy that helps the team win in the playoffs."

The crowd went crazy for its postseason hero. And when Brugman got back to the dugout, his teammates were just as mystified.

"'Oh, my gosh, you really did it again,'" he remembers hearing.

Two days later, the RockHounds swept the series, and Brugman got to celebrate with his teammates one final time. With their season-long victory song of "Good Vibrations" by Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch blaring through the clubhouse, the BYU product soaked it all in, figuratively and literally.

"You're here to play and win the championships, so it's almost like a fulfilling feeling. It brings everything together and puts it in perspective. This is where my hard work pays off. [It was] a little better than a normal home run throughout the season," he said. "Everyone works hard to get to this spot, so we all deserve [the celebration].

"It's an awesome feeling, the cold champagne on you. It's pretty fun."

A little over a month later, Brugman watched the Mets' Daniel Murphy slug his own streak in the postseason. The Arizona native took comfort in relating to the Major Leaguer. But as Murphy's streak went on, Brugman became a spectator in awe, just like the crowd was that Sept. 16 night at Security Bank Ballpark.

"I was like 'Man, I know how he feels, like how locked in he is.' And then he kept going," the Minor Leaguer said. "It's so fun to see that. As a fan of baseball, you have to love that."

Best Blooper: Show 'em the heater

Before the first pitch was even thrown, West Michigan Whitecaps fans were on the edge of their seats. Captivated by a tale of sabotage and karma, many in attendance couldn't stop themselves from crying.

OK, so maybe it wasn't that dramatic and maybe the tears were from laughter, not pain. But there was a race with a winner and two almost winners.

The promotions team for the Tigers' Class A affiliate began the appliance race a year prior, but with Matt Hoffman taking over as manager of the promotions team, this year was going to be different. About $1,500 went toward making sure the costumes of the three contestants and the thermometer were perfect and durable enough to last for years.

Batting practice after batting practice, children ages 7 to 13 took to the appliances races. But it wasn't until home game No. 51 that the promotion heated up.

On July 25, along the third-base line, birthday boy Caleb, 8, in the green dryer, Luke, 11, in the red range and Reese, 11, in the blue water heater fidgeted in their costumes as they prepared for host Bob Wells to say, "Go."

"The kids were very excited to do it," Hoffman remembered. "They were talking back and forth to each other, saying 'I'm going to beat you,' 'I'm going to beat you.'"

The race commenced and the first tumble followed shortly after, with Luke falling oven-first after getting off to an early lead. Caleb took the next spill, and Reese took a commanding lead as he circled the thermometer.

"I felt nervous at first 'cause I didn't think I was going to do that good," Reese said. "[The water heater costume] was really heavy and when I would run, my knees would hit the side, so I felt that."

A member of the promotions staff dressed up in the fourth costume moved closer to the third-base line to even the playing field for Caleb and Luke.

Making one last literal push toward the finish line, Luke took a step back from his lead to knock out the competition. It was a clean range-to-heater hit that created more chaos in the backfield as Caleb tripped over the fallen Reese.

Luke bolted to the finish line but fell and landed stove-down just a couple feet from the flag. With a big grin on his face, Caleb cruised into the lead and the hearts of fans as he became victorious.

"I heard a bunch of laughs from the crowd. I honestly didn't think it was that funny though," Luke said. "It was more painful than funny."

"I thought it was funny," Caleb added with a laugh.

Even Wells was laughing too hard to say anything on the loud speaker, and the reaction was similar for the fans and employees watching.

"There was people crying laughing. I've never laughed so hard at work than when I was watching that," Hoffman said. "You talk about a rise and a fall and having the fans on the edge of their seat -- it was just so funny to see.

"That's what made it the best promotion we've done all year, just the fact that everything you want to have happen in a promotion happened."

Kelsie Heneghan is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @Kelsie_Heneghan. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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