Wielding a big stick - Area Little League home run derby

June 28, 1998|By BOB PARASILITI

Television commercials tell young athletes to be like Mike. Little Leaguer Jared Helman would like to send one like Ken.

Helman, like most other 12-year-olds, gets in the batter's box and tries to crack that long, majestic home run, just like his idol, Ken Griffey Jr., has a habit of doing ... someday.

"I'm not like him now," Helman said. "But it could happen."

That someday may be today for Helman who will represent the Waynesboro Youth League along with seven other local long ball phenoms as they compete in the first Little League Home Run Hitting Contest at 5 p.m. at Municipal Stadium before the Hagerstown Suns play the Cape Fear Crocs.

The contest, sponsored by Play It Again Sports of Hagerstown in conjunction with the Suns, will pit the Griffeys-to-be from Washington County and Franklin County in a competition similar to the one held the day before the major league All-Star Game.


"This will be awesome just because I've never done something like this before," said Dave Siebert of National Little League. "I feel like I'm carrying the banner for the whole league."

The contest is the brainchild of Tom Hoffman of Play It Again Sports as a way to highlight "the area's love and rich tradition in baseball."

"It actually started at a corporate marketing session," Hoffman said. "We were throwing ideas out and we wanted to do some promotion with Little League. The first thing that popped into my head was something with the Suns. Hopefully, this will the first year of many for this contest."

Each player will get 10 outs - which is any hit pitch that isn't a home run - to hit as many balls over the temporary fence as possible. The fence in Municipal Stadium's outfield will be located at 185 feet down the foul lines and 200 feet in center field.

If time allows, the top three hitters will advance to the finals for 10 more outs. Otherwise, the first 10 swings will determine a winner. They will all receive prizes. Each player will receive a Hagerstown Suns team-autographed ball for participating.

"I think this is great," Suns general manager David Blenckstone said. "It's all Tom's idea, but it's wonderful. We are happy to join in because we wanted to get involved with the Little Leagues, too."

Suns pitching coach Hector Berrios, a former minor league pitcher, is scheduled to pitch in the competition. Suns players and batboys will be in the outfield retrieving the outs.

Helman and Siebert were selected because they lead their leagues in home runs. They are the top home run hitters in the competition: Helman has 11 for Grove Funeral Home of Waynesboro and Siebert has nine for Elks.

Both admit they don't head to the plate looking for home runs, but for one day, that thinking will change.

Siebert said he has been taking extra batting practice at South Hagerstown High to get ready for today's chance of a young lifetime.

"I've been hitting for two to three hours a day to get ready for this," he said. "Now I'm in a slump. I think 99 percent is because I've been going up trying to hit a home run every time. I haven't been hitting many balls, but when I do they have been going a long way."

Helman has been taking a laid back approach to this first-ever contest.

"I think it's an honor to be representing Waynesboro," he said. "I'm not nervous, but it's going to be fun. There are other kids who are near me in home runs, but I'm glad I got picked. There will be a lot of people there watching."

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