Chris Marrero swung his bat, stared straight at center field and then flipped his bat. Steve Smith Sr., formerly of the Carolina Panthers, threw his hands in the air to celebrate. There was still a minute left on the clock, but Marrero had officially won the 2016 Triple-A Home Run Derby.
Marrero hit 18 home runs in the final round to best Kyle Jensen. Now with the Pawtucket Red Sox, Marrero’s win in Charlotte was a hitting homecoming — he spent part of last season with the Charlotte Knights.
“I knew I needed a lot of home runs, but the adrenaline kept me going,” Marrero said. “I had fun, and I had Steve Smith there.
“That’s a memory I’m going to remember for the rest of my life.”
Here are some other observations from Monday’s derby:
▪ Before the derby started, Smith was playing softball catch with Kevin Harvick’s 4-year-old son.
▪ During introductions, Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford and his hitter, recent Lake Norman graduate Riley Zayicek, weren’t talking baseball at all. Zayicek said the pair talked about the Hornets’ playoff loss to the Miami Heat — and how Heat guard Dwyane Wade “shut them down” in the playoffs.
“There’s no pressure on me,” Zayicek said before the first round. “If these guys get beat by a high school kid, they look bad.” He hit five home runs in the first round but didn’t advance.
▪ The other recent high school graduate, Trent Alley of Charlotte Country Day, knew his celebrity captain long ahead of Monday’s contest. Alley’s mom and Jack McDowell’s wife have done a dance workout class together for the past three years since McDowell moved to Charlotte.
▪ Rob Segedin of the Oklahoma City Dodgers also had a prior connection with his celebrity co-captain, Jason Sehorn. Segedin grew up in New Jersey at the same time Sehorn played for the New York Giants, and he even owned a Sehorn jersey at one point.
▪ Charlotte 49ers coach Mark Price joked during the first round Monday that his baseball career only went as far as little league. “I was good in the field, but I sucked at the plate,” Price said, “so it’s perfect I’m a captain for this.”
▪ The loudest cheer during celebrity co-captain introductions? Smith, barely edging out current Panthers linebacker Shaq Thompson.
▪ Kevin Harvick had a relationship with the Charlotte Knights ahead of Monday, too. Knights hitting coach Andy Tomberlin was sitting with Harvick’s pit crew two years ago when Harvick won at Phoenix, and the two caught up on the sidelines during the first round.
▪ Zayicek’s younger brother, 16, got a Smith Fathead during Smith’s early years in Carolina. Smith left for Baltimore after the 2014 season, but the Fathead is still up. Zayicek’s father told Smith about it Monday, and his response? “You the man for that.”
▪ Jensen, who finished second in the derby, had his catcher wear a GoPro during each of his rounds. The reason? Jensen’s girlfriend keeps up a blog and her YouTube account, so he was getting her footage.
▪ Smith and Marrero, when they first met before the derby, took a Snapchat photo together. After Marrero won it all, they took another — this time with the championship belt in hand.