MiLBYs are the end-of-season awards that honor the best players, teams and performances of the Minor League season. For three weeks, fans chose their favorites in 13 categories, and now we're announcing the Fans' Choice winners as well as MiLB.com staff picks for the major awards.
Best Moment: Oropesa stays hot
Ricky Oropesa hit 14 homers over 123 regular-season games in 2013, reaching Double-A in the Giants' system. But his most impressive numbers aren't quite apparent when you look at his season stats. Oropesa, a 2011 third-round Draft pick, carried Class A Advanced San Jose to the California League Championship Series by homering in four consecutive playoff games.
The first baseman's first-inning shot on Sept. 11 helped defeat Visalia, 9-5, and sent the Giants to the Cal League Finals. The streak started in Game 2 on Sept. 8, and Oropesa went deep again in back-to-back fashion with Mac Williamson in Game 3. He made it three games in a row in a 6-5 loss in Game 4.
The streak wowed fans and earned the MiLBY Award winner for Best Moment of 2013.
"It's an awesome feeling -- I'm grateful and humbled by the award. It's cool to hear fans appreciated that," Oropesa said. "I'm appreciative and glad they noticed it."
Oropesa had not homered in consecutive games in 57 regular-season starts with San Jose, nor was he able to do it in 66 contests with Double-A Richmond. In 2012, he failed to connect in back-to-back contests despite finishing with 16 roundtrippers in 134 games.
The Giants prospect said he was locked in and feeling invincible during that stretch at the plate. He was so confident, in fact, that his fourth homer was a called shot.
"It was weird. I was in the clubhouse with my teammates and something came up, and it kind of came out of my mouth, 'I'm hitting another home run today,'" Oropesa said. "Mac Williamson was in the locker next to me and I said to him, 'I've got a feeling, dude -- it's gonna come.' I hit it in the first inning. I was in the zone, just one of those things, kinda flowing. You don't think about what's going on, you just follow your body. My swing was right; everything fell into place. We didn't win the whole thing, but we tried our best."
Oropesa's is the kind of groove that every batter dreams of finding during the daily grind of a season.
"It was pretty surreal, kinda deja vu, one of those things you can't really explain," he said. "It was a weird feeling -- I was feeling good. I didn't feel like anything or anyone could get me out. One of those things where you're locked in. I know every hitter, in that moment they feel they're dominant."
He's also had some time to reflect upon what he did, and for a Minor Leaguer looking to make an impression and raise his stock, the display of power and dominance was pretty special.
"I've kinda thought about that. I don't remember if I ever did it in back-to-back games -- I did it in college but never in pro ball," he said. "For me to do that was kind of a cool feat -- it was fun and I was in a groove."
Best Home Run: Keyes' light tower power
For any baseball fan who's seen it, the moment is sure to provide chills. An injured Roy Hobbs in his blood-stained uniform slams a towering walk-off homer in slow motion, shattering a ballpark light tower and raining sparks down on the field amid overjoyed teammates and fans. It may be the most iconic moment of any baseball film, and it's just that -- a Hollywood movie. These things don't really happen.
But when you see Kevin Keyes connect on a mammoth home run to left in Carolina, it's impossible to ignore the connection: You immediately think The Natural. Keyes' blast off a light tower in left field at Five County Stadium lacks the cinematic drama and pyrotechnics that glowed behind Hobbs, but it was an honest, real-life, actual light bulb-shattering shot that led to a rain of glass shards in an otherwise quiet April Minor League game for Class A Advanced Potomac.
The nostalgia and straight-up respect for such a home run prompted fans to give Keyes the MiLBY Award for Best Home Run.
"It's a great honor," he said. "Someone told me I was up for the award, and I looked at the other home runs and I couldn't believe mine won. There are some home runs that were astonishing. So I'd like to thank all the people that voted and the support they showed me for this and all year."
Light tower or not, Keyes homer traveled an estimated 440 feet and helped the P-Nationals earn a 2-0 win over Carolina. But like a backboard-shattering dunk, Keyes knows his precision strike off the lights was the difference when it comes to impressing fans.
"I'm pretty sure it's the light bulbs breaking," he said. "Never in my life have I done something like that."
And while the fictional Hobbs circled the bases with fireworks in the background, Keyes said he didn't realize he'd hit the light tower until he walked back to the dugout.
"[My teammates] were like, 'The ball shattered the light!' I said, 'No,' until I saw it on video. It was pretty cool."
Keyes enjoyed his 15 minutes of fame when MLB Network replayed the video and discussed it's comparison to The Natural.
"People told me it was on MLB Network, but I didn't get to see them talking about it," he said. "But people were like, Roy Hobbs -- it's a really cool moment, probably something I'll never ever do in my life again."
Keyes said the game wasn't delayed and that he gave the home run ball to the Mudcats' groundskeeper.
"The grounds crew guy in Carolina put it in my locker, but I signed the ball and let him keep it," he said. "They didn't stop the game, they just kept going. It was a big moment -- it was my first [homer] of the year. It was the only two runs we scored all game, so that was also another good thing."
Keyes, who said he's seen The Natural and the iconic scene, went on to hit 12 more homers, finishing the year at .233 with 79 RBIs in 117 games. He won't ever forget his first, though.
"Mostly through Twitter, people were asking me about it, how cool it was to hit it," he said.
Best Blooper: Awkward kiss cam moment
A young couple is taking in a Minor League Baseball game when the man and woman are unexpectedly shown on the infamous "Kiss Cam," a popular gimmick at arenas and stadiums that's sure to produce cute moments and, sometimes, hilariously awkward ones.
If you're one of the millions of people who've found the video online, you know what happens next. The young man, too occupied with his cell phone, brushes off his girlfriend's repeated attempts for a quick ballpark smooch. Finally, she stands up and dumps a big cup of water in his face, shocking fans at the Grizzlies' May 3 Triple-A game. (Look closely and she can be seen walking away, arm-in-arm with Fresno mascot Parker, a huge, fuzzy, opportunistic orange bear who was quick to score a new friend).
"People are naturally attracted to the video for various reasons," said Fresno VP of marketing and operations Drew Vertiz. "It's like reality TV. It's relationship based. It's 'Battle of The Sexes'! People experience similar situations, but this was played out in front of thousands of people. People love watching hilariously unfortunate things happen to other people that are not them, especially when they feel they deserve it."
But that's just where the story begins. The video instantly went viral and was reposted dozens of times on YouTube, garnering more than 3.5 million views and earning a feature on the local news. And sadly -- or perhaps fortunately -- the whole thing was fake, earning enough attention to be confirmed by Snopes.com.
Either way, it was the fans' choice for a MiLBY as the Best Blooper of 2013.
Kellie Henderson, the Fresno Grizzlies' promotions manager, played the part of the frustrated girlfriend in a staged rejection that certainly entertained and reached far more fans than the team ever expected. The clip looks authentic, with the camera cutting back between actual couples smooching in their seats and the drama unfolding between Henderson, who repeatedly points to the ballpark videoboard, and her anonymous boyfriend, who looks genuinely stunned when he gets soaked. Fans young and old sitting nearby are shocked and amused, with plenty of jaw-dropping and finger-pointing.
"It is a skit that we have done before," said Vertiz. "The last time we had done the skit was back in 2012. It's not new, but it was executed to perfection."
The clip was scrutinized by fans, bloggers and the media, with the Huffington Post running a story headlined, "Kiss Cam Breakup: Couple Appears To Split During Fresno Grizzlies Baseball Game." From there, the Daily Mail, Perez Hilton, NPR, Yahoo's Big League Stew blog, the Los Angeles Times and other media outlets debated whether the moment was staged. The Grizzlies did their part to preserve the mystery, but the truth finally came out.
Best Play: Toledo's game-ending triple play
The Mud Hens wrapped up their home finale with probably their most unusual play of the entire season.
"You know what we say, 'Holy Toledo,'" play-by-play man Jim Weber exclaimed.
Triple-A Columbus, trailing in the ninth inning, 4-1, brought the tying run to the plate with runners at the corners and no outs Aug. 31. Toledo reliever Jose Alvarez had given up a leadoff homer to Matt LaPorta before Jeremy Hermida doubled to right field and Chun-Hsiu Chen singled to left. That brought up Ryan Rohlinger, who hit what appeared to be an ordinary fly ball to left.
Mud Hens left fielder Gustavo Nunez made the easy catch and immediately threw home, barely gunning down Hermida at the plate on a nice tag by Bryan Holaday. The catcher quickly ran toward second base when he saw Chen trying to advance. Despite second baseman Danny Worth momentarily bobbling Holaday's throw, the game ended when Worth's relay beat Chen back to first baseman Jordan Lennerton.
It was a game-ending 7-2-4-3 triple play and a moment good enough to earn the fan's choice as MiLBY winner for Best Play of 2013.