Clay Council gets Triple-A Derby crowd’s love

nmartin@newsobserver.comJuly 14, 2014 

— He might not have been throwing to Josh Hamilton in 2008, but Clay Council still had the magic touch during Monday’s Triple-A Home Run Derby.

Council came on to pitch the final round of competition and was met with a standing ovation from the crowd, which recognized the local legend’s place in baseball history.

Council, 76, famously threw a round of the major league home run derby to then-Texas Ranger Josh Hamilton in which the Raleigh native blasted a record 28 home runs in the round. Hamilton had Council – his former American Legion coach – throw to him after promising to bring him to the home run derby if he ever made it.

Raise the roof: Before Council could steal the stage, fans were treated to a softball home run derby, in which the participants – professionals who travel and perform at different professional stadiums – blasted towering 400-plus-foot shots.

The highlight of the show occurred when one of Chris Greinert’s home runs landed atop the roof of a five-story building sitting beyond the 32-foot left-field wall – the Blue Monster – much to the crowd’s delight.

“We travel around to the pro baseball stadiums and they tell us, ‘A guy hit this’ or, ‘A guy hit that.’ We try to outdo it,” Greinert said. “They said nobody hit it (on the roof) so that was my goal, to hit it up there.”

The Derby: Mike “Crash Davis” Hessman of the Toledo Mud Hens seemed poised to be a fan favorite, as the slugger owned the nickname of legendary Durham Bulls player Lawrence Davis and Kevin Costner’s character in the classic film “Bull Durham.” But a knee injury forced him to miss the All-Star festivities, much to Hessman’s disappointment.

Mikie Mahtook of the host Durham Bulls was a late addition, being added in the morning after Hessman had to pull out because of injury. Mahtook had the crowd behind him but could not capitalize, failing to send a ball out of the park in the first round. Mike Jacobs joined Mahtook in posting a goose egg, with both being eliminated after the first round.

Jesus Aguilar of the Columbus Clippers entered the contest with the most home runs of any participants with 18 but was eliminated in the second round. Aguilar had four homers to end the evening.

Francisco Pena’s 416-foot shot was the highlight of his second round, which gave him a total of eight and secured his spot in the final.

Matt Hague had a bounce-back second round and got the fans – or at least their stomachs – on his side. After registering two long balls in the first round, Hague blasted four, including the first of the night off the Bull in the second round to secure his spot in the final round. His Snortin’ Bull shot earned every fan in the crowd a free steak taco at Moe’s.

But Hague wasn’t the only one with a breakout second round, as Allan Dykstra caught up and passed Hague in his second plate appearance. Dykstra took second place from Hague after blasting four home runs to give him a total of seven heading into the final.

Dykstra vs. Pena: Council was brought out for the third and final round of competition as the crowd stood and applauded the ace of batting practice. Unfortunately for Pena – the hottest batter and leader through two rounds – Council’s pitches would not be met with the same result they were in 2008.

Pena was the first up in the final round and unlike the previous two rounds, he could not find his groove, coming up empty on all five swings.

Dykstra came up knowing he could end the contest with one swing and did just that, sending a ball to deep right-center field to secure the win.

“With that one, I only had to hit one and I got it good,” he said.

Dykstra is no stranger to North Carolina baseball – he played at Wake Forest from 2006-2008, picking up ACC Rookie of the Year honors in 2006. Monday’s derby marked the first time Dykstra had played at Durham Bulls Athletic Park, but his time playing in the Triangle in college helped to get the crowd behind him.

“It’s the first time in a while I’ve been back to North Carolina,” Dykstra said. “I know a bunch of my former teammates and definitely some of the fans I had at Wake Forest out here supporting me.

“I’m just out here having a good time and happy to come out on top.”

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