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Relaxed Dunigan wins Home Run Derby

Generals slugger tops hometown favorite Bour in extra round
June 19, 2012

KODAK, Tenn. -- Joe Dunigan was in one previous Minor League home run contest, the California League-Carolina League event in 2009. It didn't go well.

"I think I hit one home run," the Jackson Generals outfielder said. "I was a bit nervous for it."

That wasn't the case Tuesday night.

His Generals teammates helped make sure of that as the Mariners' fifth-round pick in the 2007 Draft won the Southern League Home Run Derby.

"They kept me loose," said Dunigan, who took a couple of breaks as Nick Franklin and Jesus Sucre worked on him as if it was between rounds of a boxing match. "Everybody was having fun. Last time, I took it too seriously."

A relaxed Dunigan showed just how far he can hit a baseball, almost clearing the hill beyond the right-field fence a couple of times, as he edged hometown favorie Justin Bour of the Tennessee Smokies in an extra round at Smokies Park.

North Division teammates Dunigan and Bour, both left-handed hitters, smacked five homers apiece in the first round and one in what was supposed to be the championship showdown. Forced to go an extra round, Bour again homered once. That wasn't enough.

Dunigan cleared the fence on his second and third swings, his winning blast landing high on the hill in right-center.

"Joe is obviously one of the strongest guys and best home run hitters in the league," said Bour, who won Home Run Derby at last year's Florida State League All-Star Game. "I gave him a run for his money, but I should have hit a couple more in that last round. Still, it was fun."

Dunigan, 26, is third in the league with 12 homers, including four this month. It has been a bounce-back season for the former University of Oklahoma standout, who had his 2011 season ruined by arthroscopic elbow surgery in April. He hit 30 homers in 2009 for High Desert in the Class A Advanced California League.

"I don't usually try to swing like that," Dunigan said of his uppercut efforts. "I take batting practice very seriously; I try to go the other way. But today it was straight hook."

Balls rarely travel as far as some of those Dunigan hit Tuesday. But this wasn't the first time one of his blasts reached the hill at Smokies Park.

"I hit one here in a game last year that went up there near the top of the hill," said Dunigan, the only non-All-Star starter who participated in Home Run Derby.

Eight players were entered, four from the North and four from the South. Bour's six homers in the first half were the lowest total, but he leads the league with 52 RBIs.

Hunter Morris of the Huntsville Stars just missed reaching the final round, hitting four homers. Matt Davidson of the Mobile BayBears, the regular-season leader with 15 homers, blasted three.

In brief

Thornburg promoted: Instead of pitching for the North in the All-Star Game, Tyler Thornburg started for the Brewers on Tuesday night against Toronto in place of Shaun Marcum. The Huntsville right-hander got the word he was being promoted Monday while en route to Tennessee. The Brewers' No. 4 prospect was 8-1 with a 3.00 ERA in the first half for the Stars. His win total tied him with Jackson's Danny Hultzen for the league lead.

Long time coming: No one enjoyed the All-Star Game experience more than Birmingham's Damaso Espino, the North Division's backup catcher. It was the first time the native of Panama had been selected for such an honor during his 13 Minor League seasons. The 29-year-old hit .287 with 16 RBIs in the first half.

No missed opportunity: An elbow injury kept Todd Cunningham from playing for the Carolina League against the California League in their annual All-Star showdown last year. But the Mississippi Braves outfielder came into the Southern League All-Star Game healthy and red-hot. Cunningham, who started for the South in left field, finished the first half with a 15-game hitting streak as he claim the league batting lead with a .325 average.

Quite a turnaround: A year after being released by the Braves, Jesus Sucre found himself as the starting catcher for the North in the All-Star Game. The 24-year-old native of Venezuela hit .307 in the first half for Jackson. That's a far cry from last season, when Sucre batted .219 with Mississippi and .214 for the Generals after being signed by Seattle.

Next year in Jacksonville: The 2013 All-Star Game will be played at The Baseball Grounds in Jacksonville. The city last hoted the Midsummer Clasic in 2003, when the Southern League still had East and West divisions. This year's game was the third at Smokies Park, which opened in 2000 and hosted the festivities in 2001 and 2002.

Mincher remembered: A moment of silence was observed before the All-Star Game for Don Mincher, who served as Southern League president from 2000-11. The former Major League slugger died on March 4 in Huntsville at the age of 73 following a long illness.

Guy Curtright is a contributor to