For the first time in the event’s history, the finals of the Home Run Derby at the 16U East were held inside Roger Dean Stadium prior to the Florida State League game. After an impressive performance by eventual champion Dan Vogelbach, I would say we’ll try to do it again next year.
Vogelbach (pictured right), a first baseman for Black and Gold Baseball out of Bishop Verot HS in Ft Myers, Florida, was joined by Dylan Butler (pictured center) of the Baseball Factory, and the Live Oak Eagles’ Blake Viator (pictured left) who led all of the competitors with five homers during the preliminary round on Friday. The three squared off in the finals with each being allowed 15 outs.
Butler went first, but the righty had a tough time getting the ball through the wind that was blowing in from left and was eventually shut out. Viator, another righty, faced the same predicament and was not able to match his output in the prelims and finished without a homerun, as well.
The left-hand hitting Vogelbach, however, had no trouble at all as he blasted 5 balls out to right, three of which hit off the second level of the Cardinals clubhouse and administrative offices beyond the right field fence. Take a look over Viator’s right shoulder in the above image and you’ll see the balcony that took the brunt of Vogelbach’s assault. It was an impressive display, and for his victory he was rewarded with a USA Baseball pullover.
Presenting Vogelbach with the pullover was a special guest. Aaron Luna, an IF/OF on the home-team Palm Beach Cardinals, hurried over from batting practice to congratulate the powerful lefty and say a few words to the crowd. Luna was in the shoes of all of the players in attendance in both 2002 and 2003 when he participated in the tournament with the Dallas Panthers, a program which still participates in the event.
Luna was fortunate enough to be selected to Trials both years and eventually became a two-time member of the 16U National Team, winning a Silver Medal in the Pan Ams in Venezuela in 2002 as a 15 year old, and then becoming a World Champion in 2003 with a Gold Medal victory over Cuba in Taiwan to exact a little revenge for the previous year. He urged the players to finish the tournament strong as the last two days are very important for National Team selection purposes. He also spoke about his USA Baseball experience in general, and particularly about the friendships he formed and keeps to this day with many of his teammates with whom he wore the Red, White, and Blue.
Overall, it was a great start to the end of the week. Congrats to Dan, thanks to Aaron, and best of luck to all of the players and teams as you play towards both a championship and a spot at Trials.