Witherspoon captures unique Derby

Known more for his speed, Angels prospect wins competition

Travis Witherspoon has four homers and 31 steals at the All-Star break. (Paul R. Gierhart/MiLB.com)

By Don Doxsie / Special to MLB.com | June 21, 2011 9:26 PM

DAVENPORT, Iowa -- Minor League baseball is known for its gimmicks and creative promotions.

But the host Quad Cities River Bandits may have staged the most unique Home Run Derby on Monday, the eve of the Midwest League All-Star Game.

Hitters not only were awarded points for slugging the ball over the fence but also for hitting designated targets scattered around the field. Among the targets? Beer kegs, pizza boxes, a life-size cutout of NASCAR driver Kurt Busch, a beat-up van that normally resides beyond the right-field fence, some 50 bedpans and assorted other debris.

The winner was Cedar Rapids Kernels outfielder Travis Witherspoon, who hit only four homers before the All-Star break but ranks among the league leaders with 31 stolen bases.

"The format was different, but it added a lot," said Witherspoon, an Angels prospect. "It was kind of crazy."

Jake Blackwood of the Fort Wayne Wizards, who hit seven homers in the semifinals, was a close second. However, the most popular hitter of the night undoubtedly was Daniel Ortiz of the Beloit Snappers. He rifled a line drive off a giant beer bottle, which allowed fans at Modern Woodmen Park to purchase $2 beers for the next 10 minutes.

In brief

Everyone gets involved: There was no shortage of sideshows at the All-Star Game. In addition to having fans race toilets and catch water balloons in their pants between innings, the event included periodic appearances by the gymnastically gifted Russian Bar Trio and juggler David "No Way" Burlet.

Even the players got into the spirit. During a pitching change in the sixth inning, Bowling Green Hot Rods shortstop Derek Dietrich bounced out of the visitors' dugout and did his own juggling act, nearly equaling Burlet's performance.

Later, Western Division players began pelting fans behind their dugout with the leftover water balloons.

This was the eighth time Quad Cities has hosted the All-Star Game dating all the way back to 1964. The last time it was held at Modern Woodmen Park was 2006, when the MVP was current Cincinnati Reds slugger Jay Bruce.

Numbers game: A total of 57 players appeared in Tuesday's game, 28 for the East Division and 29 for the West. West manager Johnny Rodriguez of the Quad Cities River Bandits proudly pointed out that not only did he get every position player at least two at-bats, he used 14 pitchers in the nine-inning contest.

"I made sure I used starting pitchers to start innings and then brought relievers in to replace them," he said. "It worked out perfectly."

It really did. West pitchers allowed seven hits and two walks while recording 14 strikeouts.

Soaking it in: Tuesday's game attracted a sellout crowd at Modern Woodmen Park, which sits in an idyllic setting alongside the Mississippi River. The players generally raved about the atmosphere.

"It was great," said MVP Nino Leyja of the Burlington Bees. "Everybody's excited, everybody's pumped up, there are a lot of people in the stands. It was just a lot of fun."

Don Doxsie is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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