Back in another baseball universe when I was 14, I saw a 6-foot-7, 230-pound colossus clout a monstrous home run for East Chicago, Indiana, American Legion Post 266 that bounced off a sea wall of giant limestone boulders that, along with a narrow footbridge, were all that separated Lake Michigan from right-center field at the lakefront diamond in my hometown.
Tim Stoddard starred alongside Junior Bridgeman (Louisville and Milwaukee Bucks) and Pete Trgovich (UCLA) on the undefeated East Chicago Washington basketball team. Then he became a starting forward on North Carolina State’s NCAA championship-winning squad that included prolific David Thompson and 7-4 Tom Burleson. The team that beat UCLA, Bill Walton and Pete Trgovich in the national semifinals.
Before all of that, and before he spent 13 seasons as a major league relief pitcher, Stoddard also could hit a baseball as far and as hard as he could throw one.
When I hopped on my 10-speed to see if I could find that home run ball of his, it was bobbing for perch in Lake Michigan and turning a rust-colored hue due to the toxic sludge the steel mills in nearby Indiana Harbor would release into the water when they thought nobody was looking.
There’s just something about long home runs that draw water that resonates in the memory.
I was reminded of that this week when two sluggers with Las Vegas ties launched baseballs that plummeted to earth via majestic splashdowns that would have impressed the original Mercury astronauts.
— MLBPAA (@MLBPAA) March 29, 2017
Brown goes deep, shallow
On Monday night, Aviators first baseman and cleanup hitter Seth Brown went deep three times and shallow once. His first two homers against the Fresno Grizzlies came to rest on terra firma. His third one landed in the three-foot shallows of the swimming pool just to the right of dead center field at new Las Vegas Ballpark.
Hangar LV website reporter Scott Gulbransen’s line after the game was almost as impressive as Brown’s during it: Four at-bats, three runs, three hits, six RBIs and the first pool shot in ballpark history, discounting a couple of cued nubbers off the end of the bat.
“Was the ball just looking like a beach ball out there for ya’?” Gulbransen asked with nary a chuckle.
“Yeah, I was seeing it pretty well tonight,” Brown said, also with nary a chuckle, after going deep — and shallow — three times in first-place Las Vegas’ 7-6 victory.
— Minor League Baseball (@MiLB) April 16, 2019
Alonso finds fountains
Brown’s long-ball depth charge came just four days after Pete Alonso, last year’s Las Vegas 51s top slugger, jacked a 454-moon shot that left his bat at a German Autobahn-like 118.3 mph. It landed in the center field water feature beyond the batting eye at Atlanta’s SunTrust Park.
Las Vegas baseball fans will remember it was Alonso who literally brought down the press box roof in the final at-bat in Cashman Field history on Labor Day. His walk-off home run had 51s fans jumping up and down with so much vigor that a shingle fell from the press box ceiling (which team president Don Logan autographed for this reporter, and is now a prized possession.)
Pete Alonso was Peter Alonso then.
But in addition to dropping consonants from his first name, he has been dropping baseballs beyond outfield walls and inviting comparisons to the Yankees’ Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. One New York baseball writer of a longer tooth even mentioned Dave Kingman, whose nickname was “King Kong” when he played for the Mets and Yankees (briefly) and about 32 other teams.
Alonso, who was the last Las Vegas hitter to slug three homers in a game before Brown did it, already has six home runs in 65 big-league bats and is batting .323 with an OPS of 1.121 after Wednesday’s game against the Phillies. Even more remarkable: He actually thinks the Aviators’ much despised Ant-Man logo is dope. Or something like that.
“I think it’s really cool,” Alonso said about the logo after receiving the Joe Bauman award at the Winter Meetings at Mandalay Bay after hitting a minors-leading 32 homers in 2018. “I want a hat. Size 7⅜.”
The Aviators sent him two. One with Ant-Man, and one with the more sedate LV patch logo on front. So now when the Mets visit Chase Field to play the Arizona Diamondbacks at the end of May, Pete Alonso will have something to wear around the pool.
“You don’t see stuff like that. It’s a line drive and it goes into the fountain and you see a splash. That’s…that’s insane.”
Mickey Callaway is all of us while discussing Pete Alonso’s 🚀. pic.twitter.com/go4KtcvAbD
— Steve Gelbs (@SteveGelbs) April 12, 2019
Home run keepsakes
Seth Brown’s blast into the swimming pool was one of two historic home runs at Las Vegas Ballpark during its inaugural homestand.
Brown’s long ball as well as one by Aviators catcher Sean Murphy on Thursday night that cleared the pool for the first HR in the ballpark’s history have been put into a safe place. They will be put on display at a later date, said longtime team spokesperson Jim Gemma.
If you’re wondering who hit the first HR in Cashman Field’s 36-year history, look no further than Bruce Bochy. The soon to be Hall of Fame manager on April 10, 1983 drove a pitch over the outfield wall during the Las Vegas Stars’ 11-8 victory over Salt Lake City in their Pacific Coast League debut.
— By Ron Kantowski