Kurpiel's homer kept going and going
Minor League Baseball is known for its rich history dating back more than 100 years. While much has been written about the best teams and top players who have graced the Minors, there remain many stories either untold or largely forgotten. Each week, MiLB.com will attempt to fill that gap
Minor League Baseball is known for its rich history dating back more than 100 years. While much has been written about the best teams and top players who have graced the Minors, there remain many stories either untold or largely forgotten. Each week, MiLB.com will attempt to fill that gap and explore these historical oddities in our feature, "Cracked Bats."
Moana Stadium in Reno sits some 4,500 feet above sea level and let's just say at that altitude, baseballs have a tendency to travel a bit. Ed Kurpiel can tell you.
After all, "Fast Eddy" connected for one of the longest home runs ever hit in Reno. In fact, Kurpiel's shot on May 31, 1972 could be one of the longest homers hit anywhere, depending on what you believe. The line between myth and fact can sometimes be blurred when talking about such monumental blasts, but a few things are certain about what Kurpiel did that evening.
The former first-round Draft pick of the Cardinals (1971) was playing for the Modesto Reds in the Class A California League. The Reds topped the Reno Silver Sox, 11-5, in the game in question and Kurpiel hit a pair of homers off starter and loser Richard Kavanaugh.
The debate, however, begins when discussing his first-inning homer -- a three-run blast that hugged the right-field line before taking off into the night. Steve Sneddon was covering the game for The Reno Gazette-Journal and reported in his game story the following day that the ball traveled about 450 feet in the air, finally coming to rest approximately 500 feet from home plate.
But Sneddon arrived at that figure without measuring the blast himself. It wasn't until years later that he and another writer decided to actually measure how far the ball traveled. Using a 200-foot fiberglass tape measure, the pair determined that the ball traveled 738 feet from home plate before coming to a stop.
That's five feet further than the loosely measured blast Gil Carter hit in Carlsbad, New Mexico on Aug. 11, 1959, while playing for the Carlsbad Potashers of the Sophomore League.
"There were a lot of big home runs there," said Sneddon, now a columnist at The Reno Gazette-Journal. "Some of those big ones hit things or they would have gone farther. They had a jet stream there and on some nights, the winds would be going out up to 30 miles an hour. You would get it up there and it would keep going. But on that home run, I don't remember the wind being anything but normal."
Kurpiel, however, remembers the shot pretty clearly for a few simple reasons. He had been struggling at the plate and had only one or two home runs heading into that game, so the blasts served to jumpstart his season. More importantly, however, was the fact that his fiance, Kathleen, was in attendance that night. The couple had recently gotten engaged and she had made the trip with him from Modesto, making the game that much more memorable.
"I probably never hit a ball that far again," Kurpiel said. "I don't know if it was the thin air, if that had anything to do with it. But it's something that's always been talked about."
There was -- and still is -- a large swimming pool beyond where the right-field fence stood. Sneddon said there were other balls that came close to matching the one Kurpiel hit, but they couldn't be measured because they landed on the roof above the pool. Kurpiel's blast cleared the roof.
"That ball went a long, long way," Sneddon said. "There was a kid riding a bicycle out on the street and the ball landed in front of him. He almost lost control of his bike. That was a monster.
"We measured it later on because I always thought the fence measurements in Moana were faulty, and we measured them too. I'd remember that one though, even without measuring it. It was one of the farthest balls I'd ever seen hit."
Kurpiel used a 36-inch, 40-ounce bat to hit a career-high 22 home runs that season, but doesn't know what happened to the hunk of lumber he was holding when he hit the blast in question. He's pretty sure he cracked that bat, but has one just like it in his Virginia bedroom "in case anyone comes in."
"People have always called me after that, wanting to talk about it," Kurpiel said. "It was just one of those things where you're in a groove and everything goes your way. I guess the pitcher had something to do with it, the speed at which he was throwing the ball."
The homer proved to be one of the highlights of Kurpiel's career. He reached the Major Leagues briefly at the end of the 1974 season with St. Louis, where he was able to share in a more concrete history-making moment. Lou Brock stole his 105th base of the season in Kurpiel's first game with the Cardinals, breaking Maury Wills' single-season mark.
"What a great memory that is for me," Kurpiel said. "He's a class gentleman."
Kurpiel, who helped Tulsa win an American Association title the night before he was called up to the big leagues in '74, played in the Minor Leagues and in Mexico until 1980. He retired and took a job with UPS, where he's worked for more than two decades.
While he never reached the heights one would have expected as a first-round pick, Kurpiel clearly had an impact on the game, particularly in Reno.
Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for MiLB.com.