Home Run Hopefuls
By IAN WILSON
The slate is set for the Western Canadian Baseball League’s home run derby.
The wall-clearing competition, part of the WCBL All-Star Game festivities, is a fan-favourite event. Who doesn’t dig the long ball?
East Division contestants will do battle against West Division sluggers in the pursuit of homer supremacy.
Here’s a look at the players who have been selected to participate in the derby:
The Moose Jaw Miller Express will send Austin Gurney to the plate.
The product of Campbell River, British Columbia has played 90 games and counting for the Miller Express over the last two summers. In 52 regular season games and 185 at bats in 2022, Gurney launched six homers and produced 44 runs batted in (RBI) while posting a .335 batting average. Through 30 games this summer, the corner infielder has clubbed a pair of doubles, triples and long balls while manufacturing 17 RBI.
Gurney, who is 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, played 47 games for Marshalltown Community College in 2022-23. At the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) level, the left-handed batter bashed 12 round trippers, while adding 43 RBI and a .299 batting average.
In 2022, it was Nolan Machibroda of the Weyburn Beavers who claimed the golden commemorative baseball bat for winning the WCBL home run derby. Machibroda sent nine baseballs over the Seaman Stadium fences in the first round before adding another six long balls in the second round.
Shortstop Ryan Dauphinee will represent the Beavers this time around. The 185-pound slugger from Surrey, B.C. is approaching 80 games played for Weyburn over the last two summers. He has hit two dingers and 12 doubles in that time.
During his time with the Wenatchee Valley College Knights in 2022-23, Dauphinee recorded one home run, 16 RBI and six doubles.
The 57’s will send homegrown talent Ethan Murdoch to the dish.
In his first season with Swift Current, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound outfielder has smacked four long balls, swiped four bags and contributed 24 RBI to the 57’s offence. The 20-year-old also has a .347 batting average, 25 runs and eight doubles.
After undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2022, went on to play 62 games for McCook Community College this season. He was stellar, putting up a .396 batting average, 18 homers, 82 RBI and 78 runs. Murdoch also claimed the school’s Male Academic Athlete of the Year honours.
Representing the Medicine Hat Mavericks this year is Nathan Tarver, a third baseman from Phoenix, Arizona.
In his 37 games with the Mavs the righty slugger has three long balls, seven doubles, 24 RBI and a .292 batting average.
Before arriving in southern Alberta for the summer, Tarver played 39 games for the Ottawa University Spirit, where he hit .303 with three homers and 27 RBI.
Catcher Hank Dodson will hack away on behalf of the Sylvan Lake Gulls.
The 22-year-old from North Carolina has four home runs in his 23 games with the Gulls, along with a .355 batting average, 18 RBI and eight doubles.
During 38 games with Utah Tech this year, Dodson punched out four long flies and 19 RBI.
The Fort McMurray Giants will be repped by infielder Alfonso Villalobos, a right-handed hitter from Kirkland, Quebec.
Villalobos is in his second season with the Giants. Last year, he knocked out a pair of homers and barreled up 14 doubles in 51 games for Fort Mac. So far in 2023, he has four home runs and eight RBI in just nine contests.
Over two campaigns with the Galveston College Whitecaps, Villalobos picked up 12 homers, 25 doubles and 66 RBI in 97 games.
The hometown favourite in the derby is Nash Crowell of the Okotoks Dawgs.
A corner infielder from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, Crowell is putting together an excellent season for the Dawgs. The 215-pound hitter has eight long balls and 28 RBI through 19 outings for Okotoks. He’s also batting .299.
Crowell was a beast with Reihnardt University this season, as well. In his 47 games with the Eagles, he launched 20 dingers, while knocking 10 doubles and 56 RBI to the tune of a .356 batting average.
The long ball leader at the midway point of the WCBL campaign is Eric Rataczak of the Brooks Bombers.
Derby watchers will be eager to see if he can do in the long-ball competition what he’s done to pitchers all season … go deep.
The Circle Pines, Minnesota product has been destroying baseballs at will, registering nine homers, 10 doubles, 39 RBI and a .377 batting average in 30 games.
HOME RUN DERBY RULES
The action gets underway at 5 p.m., with player introductions followed by plenty of dingers.
According to the WCBL, each regulation round will consist of a three-minute time block that includes one 30-second timeout. Homers hit during that time will count during that round, but long ball totals will not carry over to other rounds.
The tie-breaker for the first round will be determined by the earliest home run that was recorded.
The top home run hitter from each division will advance to the second and final round, which will feature the best homer producer from the East vs. the top long ball launcher from the West.
If a tie-breaker is required in the final round, an additional two-minute time block will be added for each player. If that does not result in a champion, another one-minute block of overtime will be added for both contestants. No time outs will be available during these overtime sessions.
In the unlikely event that a tie remains, a sudden-death hack off will take place. Each slugger will get one swing until one of the two players does not hit a homer
Derby competitors will be pitched to by selected coaches from their respective divisions.
The derby winner and runner-up will receive commemorative gold and silver baseball bats.