By Emma Betuel
Sean Mott planned to be a spectator when he arrived at the Sag Harbor Whalers doubleheader against the Shelter Island Bucks on Sunday. Instead, he found himself in the Mashashimuet Park batter’s box, sending line drives deep into centerfield.
After five swings, he walked away as the winner of the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League’s first-ever Home Run Derby.
A coach for the Sag Harbor Little League Minor League All Stars, a season of hitting pop-flies and fungos paid off for Mott, who didn’t linger after he claimed his prizes: a bottle of prosecco from Sag Harbor Liquors, which sponsored the event, and some Whalers apparel.
“It was good,” Mott said in the parking lot. “I wasn’t going to do it, and then my kids ran home and got my sneakers.”
An event intended to benefit the HCBL, the home-run derby was light on home runs as no one managed to clear the fence. Mott’s winning hit was a ground rule double sent to deep center field.
Regardless, Sag Harbor’s sluggers were happy to come out of retirement for the price of $5 for five swings. While only eight hitters had signed up ahead of time, Whalers co-GM Tom Gleeson was soon approached by several other fans who were inspired — maybe by the lack of homers — to take some swings. In the end, 13 batters including former Pierson players and Little League coaches stepped up to the plate. Mott batted in the cleanup spot, perhaps foreshadowing his eventual victory.
Gleeson is hoping to make the derby a staple in the HCBL’s July 4th programming.
“This whole thing was Bob Schmidt’s idea,” Gleeson said about the long-time owner of Sag Harbor Liquors. “This is the first time we’ve done this, and it’s been a ton of fun.”
Dennis Ruiz Jr., an East Hampton resident, sought to increase his odds by spending more time in the box. Using a wooden bat — a mistake, according to current Whalers infielder Cole Coker — he tried his luck over 20 swings.
“Using a metal bat is cheating,” Ruiz insisted. “It went alright, but I should have taken more time in between pitches. By the time I got to 14, 15 I was tired.”
For those already planning to enter the 2018 Home Run Derby, this year’s competitors have some advice: take your time between pitches, use a metal bat (even if it’s cheating), and try to lift the ball. If that doesn’t work, Tim Nolan, a pitching coach for the Shelter Island Bucks, suggests you “just grip it and rip it.”
And If Mott’s victory is any indicator, also doesn’t hurt to spend a season or two coaching a Little League team.
All Stars Set For Their Own Home Run Derby
The HCBL will hold its 3rd Annual Home Run Derby on Monday, July 10, at Baseball Heaven in Yaphank. There will be seven participants representing each team in the league, with Justin Lebek (Davidson) slugging for the Whalers. The home run derby begins at 1:30 p.m. and will be followed by the 5th Annual HCBL All-Star Game at 5p.m.