FORT WAYNE, Ind. -- The first Home Run Derby in Fort Wayne in 16 years proved to be well worth the wait for TinCaps fans -- especially those sitting in left field.
Wisconsin outfielder Khris Davis (Brewers) turned a seating area known as the "Home Run Porch" into his own personal target practice landing strip Monday night, sending 11 souvenirs to the fans in that section during the final round en route to the title.
"They should've brought gloves with them if they were going to catch 'em," Davis said.
Wearing his hat backward like his idol, the recently retired Ken Griffey, Jr., Davis set the tone from the start. He lofted nine balls out of the yard in the first round and five in the second, setting the stage for an epic final against hometown favorite Nate Freiman (Padres) of Fort Wayne.
"He was making it look easy," Davis said of his opponent. "I just wanted to get as many as I can."
Freiman certainly had his moments in the spotlight, though.
The slugging first baseman made a grand entrance on a golf cart, waving an American flag. Once the pageantry stopped, the real first-round fireworks began.
"[Burlington hitting coach Omar Ramirez] threw to me here -- he was great, just serving them up," Davis says. "I just found my rhythm and he just found my place."
Freiman also took aim at the Home Run Porch early on, hitting 13 home runs to that part of the ballpark to establish himself as the early favorite.
"You try not to swing too hard," he said. "You have to swing hard enough to get it out, but you don't want to wear yourself out."
But in the end, Davis had just enough left in the tank, withstanding a late onslaught by Freiman, who ended up with eight in the round.
"It would have been nice to win, but being here in the finals and putting on a great show, it was a lot of fun," Freiman added.
Meanwhile the Derby pitchers were able to do something few Midwest League pitchers have been able to this season -- keep Great Lakes first baseman Jerry Sands (Dodgers) from leaving the yard. Sands was eliminated early on, only sending two balls out of the yard in his first-round exit.
Skills that pay the bills: The old saying goes "If at first you don't succeed, try try again," and for one All-Star, that became a mantra during the Skills Competition.
Wisconsin second baseman Scooter Gennett put his first throw from shortstop into the first-base dugout and the second one into the fifth row of seats before becoming the first and only position player to put one through the target. He finished in second place among the infielders.
Great Lakes shortstop Christian Lara (Dodgers) scored the most points among all fielders, hitting the target four times for four points en route to the infielders' victory.
Three of the four catchers -- Kane County's Max Stassi (A's), Lake County's Chun-Hsiu Chen (Indians) and South Bend's Tyson Van Winkle (Diamondbacks) -- tied for the win in the catchers' competition with two points each. Beloit's Aaron Hicks (Twins) and Fort Wayne's Denny Payne tied for the win in the outfielders' competition with one point apiece.
Hometown hitter: Freiman wasn't the only hometown hero participating in this year's Derby.
Recent Garrett High School (Ind.) graduate Spencer Burns earned the chance of a lifetime, competing in this year's Derby as the Hometown Hitter. Burns earned his coveted spot competing against the pros after beating out a host of other top area hitters.
Entering to one of the evening's louder ovations, Burns did not disappoint, using his aluminum bat to give his hometown fans a thrill. Burns sent one pitch flying out high over the left-field wall on to one of the streets surrounding the stadium.
Despite some hard-hit line drives, that dinger would be Burns' only blast of the evening, though. Even still, he says it was one of the more memorable experiences he's had on or off a baseball field.
"Coming here, I was a little nervous," he said. "These guys have all treated me real well. It's great to be out here competing with these guys."
It's also likely the final hurrah in his baseball career. Burns will head to the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater to compete on the school's football team. He says football is his top priority, but he hasn't entirely ruled out trying out for the school's baseball team.
Notes: This is the 16th year the Midwest League has gone with the East-West format for the All-Star Game, with the East having won 10 of the previous 15 games. ... The East topped the West, 36-27, in the cumulative point totals of the Skills Competition. ... Both of the East's starting catchers were injured in action Sunday. Van Winkle replaced Lake County's Roberto Perez on the Eastern Division roster, but original starting catcher A.J. Jimenez (Reds) of Lansing will not be replaced on the roster. Chen, who was originally scheduled to start at designated hitter, will start at catcher. The average age of the East squad is 20.7, while the average age of the West stars is 21.1.