As an American college student on the fourth of July, I can’t help but find myself thinking, “What is more American than college?” Quickly I realize that that is a dumb question and answer myself, “Of course baseball is more American than college, duh.” But then a small shadow of doubt creeps in. “What’s more American than baseball?” I ponder aloud. At this point, inspiration strikes. “Eureka!” I exclaim, “The only thing more American than baseball is college baseball!” Fireworks shoot off spontaneously after this discovery and the smell of apple pie follows me around for the rest of the day.
Joking aside, is there really anything more American than college baseball? It combines the national pastime with the best years of any young American’s life. After watching my hometown Vanderbilt Commodores take the College World Series last week on the legendary John Norwood’s home run, I celebrated the night away only to realize college baseball was over until next spring. But something miraculous occurred last night, July 3, 2014. On the night before Independence Day, the baseball gods brought college baseball back.
As some of you may know, the College Home Run Derby aired on ESPN last night for any moping college fans like me. It pitted eight of the top power hitters in a powerless sport (only three home runs were hit at the College World Series this year) to duke it out for the title of Home Run king. Now I’m not entirely sure, but I don’t think there is anything Americans enjoy more than a good, old-fashioned home run derby (besides Freedom of course), so this event was just primed to bring out the stars and stripes in everyone just a day early.
Over the years, the Cardinals have seen their fair share of power hitters. McGwire famously hit 70 home runs in a single season wearing a Cardinals’ uniform. Stan the Man jacked 475 dingers during his time with the Cards. And of late, Albert Pujols was sending moonshots into the night at the new Busch Stadium. Even power hitters not in Cardinal red were a staple in St. Louis. Sammy Sosa battled against McGwire as a member of the Cubs. Hammerin’ Hank Aaron made his trips to the Gateway to the West with the Braves. Ken Griffey Jr., albeit past his prime, even journeyed down the Ohio River as a Cincinnati Red to hit some of his 630 career home runs in Busch. All of this to say, the natives of St. Louis aren’t unaccustomed to seeing men do spectacular things with a bat and ball.
Well last night’s show might have put even the oldest and most tenured Cardinals’ fan in a state of awe. At TD Ameritrade park in Omaha, Nebraska, Eric Gutierrez of Texas Tech blasted a total of 52 home runs into the night, only to finish second to his high school teammate Tres Barrera of Texas. While watching Gutierrez send ball after ball 440 feet into the left field stands, I sat in utter amazement, never before seeing a display of power so great. It rivaled and even surpassed the 27 home runs Josh Hamilton hit in one round at the old Yankee Stadium a few years ago. At one point in the Derby, Barrera run up the baseline watching a ball fly out of the cavernous park, only to turn around to Gutierrez and yell, “Stop it, man!”
Barrera won the Derby with 25 final round home runs, but the real star of the show was Gutierrez. You may be wondering at this point what exactly this post has to do with the Cardinals and the answer is not much. This is just a baseball post. I urge any baseball purist to go watch re-runs of what Gutierrez did last night because it is so rare in a sport starved for power. With the long Major League season and formality of professional baseball, last night reminded me why I love this sport so much and how it can bring the kid out of anyone.
So on this fourth of July, play catch with your sons if you have them or your father if he’s still alive and celebrate. Because this game is just a game and in the end the standings don’t matter, so take the time to return to your youth and smile a little bit. Maybe go to a field and hold your own home run derby to try to hit 52 home runs. I bet you can’t.
The most American thing I’ve decided is not college baseball or even home runs, it’s the fountain of youth our national pastime brings to every one in this great country. Happy Fourth everyone.