CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y.— Near-record heat didn’t sap Ray Navarette’s power. But Somerset’s Josh Pressley also thrived against the elements, belting two home runs with just one out remaining to capture the Atlantic League’s home run derby prior to Tuesday’s All-Star game at Suffolk County Sports Park.
Navarrete finished in second place the last time the contest was held, placing behind Pressley at Somerset’s ballpark in 2008. After a one-year hiatus, the exhibition returned to the schedule and Navarrete and Pressley advanced from a six-player field to again face-off in the last stage.
Both sluggers failed to go deep in a three-out tiebreaker to force a second three-out playoff round. Navarrete—the contest’s only right-handed hitter—pulled two home runs to left and appeared to avenge his loss in 2008. But Pressley battled back with two outs and one home run to his credit by slamming two shots to right-centerfield.
Navarrete, who hit seven first-half home runs to tie the Ducks lead, finished with seven total home runs in the derby despite slugging in almost-triple-digit degree temperatures with zero cloud cover. But the four-time Atlantic League All-Star again could only muster a runner-up performance. Pressley hit five home runs for the Patriots before the break and smacked 10 home runs in total.
“It was hot out there but you don’t get that opportunity too often,” Navarrete said. “I’m grateful. I had a blast.”
Navarrete participated in his third derby and second since his debut in the 2007 event at Lancaster.
“I was a nervous wreck that day,” he said. “I was as comfortable as you could get today. I was looking forward to it and I think it’s ironic that him and I ended up the last two guys. It’s a good story.”
Players on both the Liberty and Freedom Division started the contest sitting down or longing on the sun-splashed grass in front of their respective dugouts. Both groups were on their feet for the finale.
“It was an honor and a lot of fun to be paired against the greatest hitters in the league,” Pressley said. “To get paired up with Ray on his home field was an honor and I had a blast.”
John Rodriguez joined Navarrete in the initial field along with Lancaster’s Jason Perry, Camden’s Brian Burgamy and York’s Ian Bladergroen. The hometown Ducks were the only team with two entries. Rodriguez, a former St. Louis Cardinals outfielder, did not hit a home run in the six-out opening-round before being eliminated.
Ducks third-base coach Kevin Baez threw to Navarrete, Rodriguez and Liberty Division-teammate Burgamy. Navarrete, Pressley and Bladergroen made it to the finals.
“When we take normal batting practice, your first two-or-three rounds, you have to work on stuff, especially when you’re not doing so well in the games,” Navarrete said. “But today, it was all about KB [Baez] throwing something middle-in and let’s turn and burn.”
Navarrete said the occasion was special because of the ovation he received from the home fans. After playing in the game in Lancaster, Somerset and Newark, Navarrete said the home-crown ovation made the event as positive as he anticipated.
“When they announced my name and I walked up to hit, I heard how loud the fans were cheering,” he said. “That’s once-in-a-lifetime. It doesn’t matter what league you’re in, that’s a pretty special moment. It means the world to me.”