TOLEDO -- Andy Marte took a step out of the batter's box and turned to his fellow contestants in Monday's Triple-A Home Run Derby. Cleveland's top prospect held up one finger, asking the group seated in folding chairs in front of the home dugout at Fifth Third Field if that was all he needed for victory.
The nine players against whom Marte had competed nodded, almost in unison and the slugging third baseman shook his head before digging back into the batter's box. He took one more pitch before ringing a fat 50-mile-an-hour fastball off the video screen in left field, much to the delight of the sellout crowd of 10,300. That towering shot was Marte's sixth of the final round, lifting the Buffalo Bison passed Mud Hens hometown hero Ryan Ludwick for the 2006 Triple-A Derby crown.
Marte collected 29 home runs during the three-round event, many of which were tape-measure shots that cleared the scoreboard and bounded off the Seagate Center across the street. The 22-year-old Marte took home $1,000 and a glass sculpture for his effort. It was his second derby crown, he had taken home the South Atlantic League title with Macon in 2002.
"I just wanted to swing at good pitches and see what happened," said Marte, who had 13 home runs heading into the break. "There was a lot of competition here. When I saw all the guys I would be competing against, it was awesome. I just wanted to be selective and get a good pitch to run out of the park."
Marte reached the finals after banging out 23 homers in the first two rounds, while Ludwick had 13 through his first two plate appearances. Ludwick led off the final round with five homers, but ultimately that was no match for Marte.
"He probably would have hit 18 in that final round if we kept going," said Ludwick, who had 14 home runs in the first half for Toledo.
The night proved to have several interesting twists, not the least of which had a pair of local high school players competing. Dom Coduti, using an aluminum bat, collected two homers in the first round but was eliminated while fellow prep slugger Chris Chaney remained in the yard.
The high school stars weren't the only ones who got to use the aluminum bats, though. Each of the other contestants, including coaches Leon Durham (Toledo) and Howard Johnson (Norfolk), got to take three swings with the aluminum bats. The lightweight, artificial lumber produced some tape-measure shots but for the most part it didn't play a factor.
There were 73 home runs hit Monday night but only 12, including the two hit by Coduti, came with metal bats. Only one of Marte's 29 homers came with aluminum. Ludwick hit six with the college bat.
"It was light," Ludwick said. "Some of the guys, I think, because they are so light, just rolled over the ball. Some guys are just used to the different wood models.
"I was just out there having fun, though. It's more fun to play in front of the hometown fans. And it was a real honor for the high school kids. Hopefully they had a good time."
Durham had better time of it than Johnson, though, in the coach's portion. The Bull had a pair of homers (one aluminum) and rang a ball off the warehouse wall just foul in The Roost high in the right-field corner. Johnson had one homer.
As Durham walked off the field he smiled and said "I'm done".
"This is a young man's game," he added afterwards. "It goes quick."
Almost as quick as one of the shots Marte sent out of Fifth Third Field.