Dylan Pratt spent the holiday weekend doing yard work, and narrowly missed the final cut.
Pratt went to Omaha, Neb., Saturday to defend former East Tennessee State teammate Paul Hoilman’s title in the second annual College Home Run Derby at TD Ameritrade Park.
Pratt hit three home runs and finished third in the eight-man competition. College of Charleston freshman Daniel Aldrich won the event. Georgia Southern’s Victor Roache came in second.
Pratt batted fourth in the first round and hit two home runs to take the lead. He hit another in the second round, and was in second place until the final batter, Roache, hit two home runs to knock Pratt out of the final.
Aldrich hit the most home runs in the first two rounds (10). He was the Baseball Writers of America’s Freshman of the Year after hitting .347 with 22 home runs and 73 RBIs this season.
“He got in a groove and he just destroyed some balls,” Pratt said. “He just kept grooving them over the guy down in the bullpen area.”
It was easy to feel anxious and fenced in with a capacity crowd (25,000) looking on at the new ballpark. Having a home run derby there is something akin to having a soapbox derby in Kansas. It’s 375 feet in the gaps and the ball wasn’t carrying particularly well.
“It was basically a graveyard from 375 to 375 (gap to gap),” said Pratt, who tied Bo Reeder for second among Buccaneers with 15 home runs this season. “Even in BP we were destroying some balls and they just would not get out of there. I hit some balls pretty well to dead center that I thought maybe had a chance.
“But they told us before we started that anything to dead center was probably not gonna go out — not unless you just absolutely destroy it. And they weren’t lying. There were a few different guys hitting some balls well to center field and they didn’t even get to the track.”
Not that Pratt was complaining about the venue. Attendance skyrocketed from last year’s se veral thousand thanks, in part, to a post-derby fireworks show.
“That field is just amazing; it’s a cathedral,” Pratt said. “It was wild. I mean the place was completely full.
“I actually ended up being calmer than I thought I’d be. When I got up there the first round it was real loud. All of those people were there and the lights are on you. It was kind of — you get a few butterflies when you first get out there, but after a couple of pitches and a couple of swings you get used to it.”
Pratt, who set a record with 35 career home runs at Daniel Boone, had ETSU coach Tony Skole pitching to him. Skole essentially set balls on a tee for Pratt, who might’ve been concentrating too hard on teeing off.
“I think I was trying too hard to hit home runs, at times,” Pratt said. “I was hitting some balls really hard, but they were top-spinning to left field. I hit a bunch of those line drives.
“Baseball’s a weird sport. Sometimes it seems like the harder you try to do things, the harder it is for you to do. … Some of the balls I hit out were ones where I’d say ‘Okay, just try to relax a little bit and don’t swing so hard.’”
Pratt enjoyed a picnic, signed autographs and visited with former Major League Baseball stars Paul Molitor, Joe Carter and Frank Thomas. He said Thomas remembered Hoilman’s winning performance last year.
“Frank Thomas was actually pretty complimentary about Paul,” Pratt said. “He said he was a real good kid. He told me to tell Paul that he said ‘Hello.’ I’ve been meaning to tell Paul that. … He even made a reference to the Big Mac thing — Paul looking like (Mark) McGwire.”
Pratt got a measure of revenge against two of the derby participants, Clemson’s Richie Shaffer and Virginia Tech’s Andrew Rash. The Tigers and Hokies defeated ETSU this season, and Rash hit a home run in Tech’s win at Cardinal Park.
“Yes, he did — a very, very impressive home run,” Pratt said.
Pratt was relatively pleased with mashing a few “taters” in the company of sluggers. Winning the derby would’ve been gravy.
“Finishing third, I feel good about it,” Pratt said. “Those guys out there can really, really hit. I went out there mainly to enjoy the experience and have a good time.
“It was one of those things that’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It was an incredible experience and something I’ll never forget.”
Pratt, who will be a senior next season at ETSU, still isn’t sure if he’ll go to New Hampshire to finish the wood-bat season this summer in the New England Collegiate Baseball League.