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Former 51s slugger, minor league HR king goes out on top

As much fun as it was watching Pete Alonso transform juiced baseballs into distant specks as they exited the confines of Cleveland’s Progressive Field during baseball’s Home Run Derby, that was only my second favorite story of the week pertaining to a former Las Vegas 51s slugger.

The first happened Friday when Cody Decker stepped to the plate for the Reno Aces with the home team trailing Sacramento 9-8 in the ninth inning at Greater Nevada Field and a man on base.

Decker transformed the equally juiced Pacific Coast League baseball into a distant speck that cleared the fence in deepest left-center field to the right of the scoreboard and the Dillard’s sign.

Home run. Walk-off home run.

As he rounded second base with his right fist aloft, a la Steve Garvey when he hit that homer for the Padres off Lee Smith in the ‘84 playoffs, it occurred to 32-year-old Cody Decker that at this stage of his career, it probably wasn’t going to get any better than that. Then this:

When he arrived at home plate and was mobbed by teammates, he retired on the spot.

Be like Crash

The game-winning home run was the 206th of his minor league career. No active player who has boarded a bus for a long ride between minor league baseball towns has launched more balls over outfield walls plastered with advertising for local steakhouses and auto dealerships than Cody Decker of Santa Monica, California.

He was the real-life version of Crash Davis — the Crash Davis as portrayed by Kevin Costner in “Bull Durham,” not the real-life Crash Davis, a utility infielder for the Philadelphia Athletics during the early 1940s.

Cody Decker played in 1,041 professional baseball games, with 1,033 coming in the minors. The San Diego Padres, who drafted him in the 22nd round out of UCLA in 2009, called him up for a mocha latte in 2015. Decker went 0-for-11 with a RBI in eight games.

He played for 13 professional clubs. The 51s were his eighth — last stop before the Mexican League. He was brought in to transform baseballs into distant specks and lighten the mood in the clubhouse. For as good a minor league slugger as Decker was, he was a major league clubhouse prankster.

When he was with El Paso, Decker convinced former Atlanta Braves first-round draft choice Jeff Francoeur that their teammate Jorge Reyes was deaf. The ruse went on for more than a month. Decker, who studied film at UCLA, made a short movie about it. When it went viral, the esteemed baseball writer Peter Gammons called Decker “my new favorite person.”

When word of Decker’s retirement got out, Gammons congratulated his still favorite person via Twitter. So did Frank Viola, who won the American League Cy Young Award before he was pitching coach for the 51s when Decker was lightening the mood in the Cashman Field clubhouse:

“Congrats to @Decker6 on a fantastic career!!! Your attitude and work ethic should be followed by some of today’s players. You get it!! You have shown what baseball should always be — FUN!!

Picture perfect

Decker, who is married to former model and New York Jets game day host Jenn Sterger, told TahoeOnStage.com that the couple will move to El Paso, where he was wildly popular, and will tutor local baseball players for a nonprofit organization. He also spoke of why he decided to retire after hitting that clutch home run on Friday.

“I never really knew I’d get the chance to do it,” Decker said. “That moment coming off the field is something I never knew would happen. Getting all those hugs at home (plate), then having a curtain call from the fans … ”

It seemed appropriate that his first in-depth interview as a retired ballplayer would be with an obscure website. Even more appropriate, he said, was the story that appeared on ESPN’s internet site.

The eight-paragraph tribute said many nice things about Decker being the modern day Crash Davis. It also included a nice photo — of Drew Butera, a well-traveled big league backup catcher, running the bases.

Wrote Cody Decker on his Twitter account: “There is no more fitting end than @espn writing an article about me and my retirement and using this stock photo of @drewbutera. It MUST be this way.”

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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