DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Home run derbies at All-Star Games are supposed to be fun exhibitions, entertainment for the fans, a low-pressure, laid back situation for the participants.
Someone forgot to tell Clearwater Threshers outfielder Jeremy Slayden about all that.
Actually, all of the sluggers involved in the Florida State League All-Star Game Home Run Derby on Friday night had game faces on, but it was Slayden who got hot at the right time to win the title, something he wanted once he found out he'd be in the competition.
"I wanted to win it the minute I was on the paper, but that's just how I am," said Slayden, who's tied for ninth in the league with eight home runs this season. "It really kicks in once you hit that first home run. Once you realize you can hit one, that's when you feel it and you really want to turn it on."
Slayden only hit two in the opening round to move on for the Western Division. Lakeland Flying Tigers outfielder Michael Hernandez -- and Slayden's Western Division teammate -- led all first-round participants with six homers. For the East, Palm Beach first baseman Mark Hamilton advanced with five, while fellow Cardinal Allen Craig and hometown favorite, Cubs' 2006 first-round pick Tyler Colvin were forced into a faceoff after hitting four apiece.
With only two players from each division advancing to the next round, Craig caught fire with five homers in the extra inning to move on.
"I think I was lucky I only hit two," Slayden said. You never try not to hit a home run. I kind of saved the best for later by only hitting two."
He saved his best for the second round, when he led the four semifinalists with eight homers. Craig was forced into another extra frame, this time with Hamilton, as each hit five. This time it was Hamilton to emerge from the playoff with just one more homer as Craig got shut out.
Could those extra cuts worked to Slayden's benefit? He didn't think so.
"We got long breaks in between," he said of the FanFest activities that took place between rounds. "He's got a lot of power. It's just a matter of who finds their swing."
Hamilton managed to hit only two more out of Jackie Robinson Ballpark in the final. Slayden hit his third with plenty of outs to spare to win the title but smiled and kept going until he used up all of his outs. He finished the round with five home runs.
"It's fun, man. I'm not going to quit," Slayden said. "You might set some kind of final-round record."
More than record-seeking, Slayden is just happy to be having success on the field, completely healthy and having fun. After a tremendous start to his college career at Georgia Tech, injuries derailed him and he's just now getting back to the player he was.
"It's kind of come full circle," Slayden said. "Last year was the first full season I'd played, and I had a successful year. Nothing bad happened and I showed I can be a winner to myself. I can play a full season and stay healthy. I'm looking to advance the career I had early in college."
And he's looking to enjoy the game again, something that didn't always happen when he was going through those tough times with injuries. He admits getting hurt again took a long time to leave his mind, but he's learned to get past it by going out and playing the game the way he used to.
"I think both things happen," Slayden explained. "You're always worried a litle bit, but at the same time, you can't let it affect your thoughts or your play. That's when you have bad streaks. It's best when you can just have fun playing the game, playing it like you did when you were a kid. That's when you have the most success."
THEY'VE GOT SKILLS: In addition to the obligatory home run derby, the FSL added an interesting wrinkle to its All-Star Game festivities with a skills competition. A variety of players got to show off what they could do with their legs, arms and bats.
First came the baserunning competition, with the fastest All-Stars seeing who could clock the best time going first to home. St. Lucie Mets outfielder Dustin Martin had the best time of 10.07 seconds -- barely edging Brevard County Manatees shortstop Alcides Escobar -- until the final participant, Lakeland outfielder Cameron Maybin took his turn.
"I was a little skeptical at first when I found out what it was, when I found it was first to home," Maybin said. "It wasn't game speed, so I wasn't sure how I'd do."
He did just fine. With a time of 9.98 seconds -- the only competitor to break the 10-second barrier -- Maybin won the event hands-down.
"It's kind of like going home to third," he said. "My coaches have said I'm as fast as anyone they've seen going home to third. I tried to get a good turn around second. I made sure I was loose and made my strides work for me."
The only thing that would've made it more interesting was if Maybin had attempted a speed-power combination by participating in the home run derby. He had a great time watching that event, but, truth be told, would've preferred to take his hacks.
"I wanted to, I really wanted to," said Maybin, who has six homers and 19 steals this season. "They already had it picked, but I would've loved to participate in the derby.
"I missed the Midwest League All-Star Game last year, so I'm having a blast this year."
In the other events, the All-Star catchers got to show how accurate they were to second base. Jupiter Hammerheads backstop Andrew Jenkins won that event, edging Christian Lopez of the Vero Beach Devil Rays.
Outfielders also got to showcase their arms, making three throws from a variety of spots and earning points by hitting a target at home plate. The home crowd was pleased when Daytona Cubs outfielder Jesus Valdez won that crown, thanks to a perfect toss on his first attempt.
Finally, there was a hitting competition, a duel of bat control instead of power. Each participant had to lay down a bunt in a certain area, hit a ball to each side of the infield in a certain range, then do the same thing to left-center and right-center. On the final pitch, the goal was to hit a big sign in straightaway center field. Each player also won $500 for a selected fan.
Those turned out to be pretty difficult tasks, with hitters having the most success with the bunt but little else. Sarasota Reds infielder Mike Griffin was the last competitor in the event and trailed Mets catcher Drew Butera by one point with only the center-field hit to go. None of the others had hit the sign, but Griffin was able to deliver for his lucky fan, who was dressed in Cubs garb while swearing his allegiance to Sarasota after Griffin came through.
"I just tried to hit it dead center and it just got there," Griffin said. "It was the last ball, so there was a little pressure out there."
INMAN IS OUT AND UP: Manatees fans hoping to see starting pitcher Will Inman may have been disappointed that he was a last-minute no-show to the All-Star festivities, but Brewers fans -- and likely Inman himself -- should be more excited than let down.
Inman, who was in line to start the game for the Eastern Division after posting a 1.72 ERA and a league-leading 98 strikeouts in 78 2/3 innings, got promoted to Double-A Huntsville on Thursday. He didn't have to wait long to get a taste of the Southern League, getting the start in the second game of Friday's doubleheader against Birmingham.
Things didn't go so well -- the Brewers prospect gave up six earned runs in 2 2/3 IP -- pehraps making Inman wish he could've stuck around in Florida a little while longer. But it certainly had to be a boost of confidence that the organization wanted him to join Huntsville as the Stars try to clinch the first-half title in the North Division.
"Huntsville is vying for a playoff spot," Brewers director of player development Reid Nichols said. "If he can help them, he's well-deserving."
With a doubleheader loss on Friday night, Huntsville is tied with Tennessee atop the division. Even though Inman wasn't able to come up with a win for the Stars, it's clear Nichols and the Brewers believed that Huntsille, not Daytona, was the place for the right-hander to be this weekend.
"To put him in a playoff situation in Double-A is probably comparable to starting an All-Star Game in the Florida State League for him," Nichols said.