Phillies Home Run Derby is a baseball and softball hitting contest for children aged 7-12 years old.
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A home run is thrilling to perceive and can, in one instant, change the tempo of a game. It can give a batter confidence, rally a team and excite the fans. Home runs had that effect on Jack Bradley and he turned his love of home runs and baseball into one of the Phillies' most successful and long-running programs, Home Run Derby. The home run hitting contest for boys and girls between the ages of 7 and 15 now annually serves over 22,000 children.
Bradley, who played semi-professional baseball before becoming a photographer, enjoyed working with children and wanted to create a program that would merge his love of children and baseball. The lighting bolt hit when he spotted a pitching machine and realized that he could create a hitting contest that was fair from the first batter to the last. A pitching machine could be adjusted to a set speed and height and would allow each batter an equal shot at becoming a hitting champion.
But, while he knew that everyone wanted to see a home run, he realized that home run hitting power is not the only definition of a great hitter. Hitting for average and getting on base was also important. Bradley wanted to account for those children who had hitting talent but did not have quite the punch to launch one over the fence. Therefore he divided the baseball field into sections and designated a point value for each. Anything fair earned the batter one point, past the infield was two points and a home run was five points. He then decided that each batter would have 10 swings, thus giving both the power and the for-average hitters an equal shot at racking up the points.
With his Home Run Derby model firmly in place, he looked to his favorite team to help make his dream a reality. Bradley felt that his concept could endear the game of baseball in the hearts of young fans. Believing that his proposal had merit and recognizing his passion for the game, the Phillies felt that Bradley would be a strong ambassador for the team and a partnership and friendship were born in 1971.
He started small. Six Home Run Derbies were held in 1971 and children competed in three age divisions. The winners of each local competition competed in the Home Run Derby Championships held at the Phillies' new home, Veterans Stadium. Word of the program quickly spread and Phillies Home Run Derby responded to the call. The competition became one of three levels, a local competition and a regional competition that determined what local winners would compete in the Championship round at the Vet.
To help run the Derbies, Bradley looked to his own sons, Paul and John. Both children inherited their father's love of baseball and soon found themselves on both sides of the pitching machine as competitors and workers. Though their competition days came to an end when they turned 16, their work with Home Run Derby continues to this day.
On weekends when the masses were at the shore, John and Paul found themselves on a baseball field, which quickly grew to encompass a softball field, too. In the early 1980s the Bradleys and the Phillies decided that the number of girls interested in competing merited the creation of a softball competition. Until that point, the girls had competed with the boys. Once softball was introduced, it grew rapidly and today, 56 of the 129 local competitions held are for softball. "It's great seeing towns that didn't have softball and now do," said John.
One city that has seen softball become an integral part of its program is Millville, N.J., which hosts both a local and regional Home Run Derby competition in baseball and softball. Rich Romanik, Millville's Superintendent of Recreation, has been involved with Home Run Derby since its inception almost 88 years ago. "This is a great event community- and baseball- wise," said Romanik. "It's a pretty top-notch program and everyone involved really enjoys it." But to Romanik, nothing is more enjoyable than watching a child from Millville make it to the Championship round at the Vet. "I don't have kids so these are my kids during the summer. I guess you can call me a proud parent."
Proud is a word you often see associated with Home Run Derby. Sportsmanship is another. One of Paul's favorite memories is of a 12-year-old boy who watched his almost certain regional victory and trip to the Vet end in the final batter's last swing, a home run. The former leader, who ended up losing by just one point, instantaneously started running to the batter's box where the winner stood. Paul thought, "Oh no, this is going to be a fight." But instead of throwing a punch, the young man extended his hand and congratulated the victor. "That was a great moment," said Paul. "This isn't about winning and losing, it's about having fun." John agreed, "I get just as excited for the kid who gets one point as the kid who hits all home runs. Making each kid feel special is important."
The Bradleys do not plan on slowing down anytime soon and like their father did with them, they are passing the baseball and Phillies Home Run Derby tradition down to their sons. John's son Shawn is already a familiar face at Home Run Derby competitions as he runs around the outfield shagging balls for his dad. Good practice for a kid who is already planning to run his own derbies in the future because, as Shawn said, "it's fun [and] it's a family thing." But Phillies Home Run Derby is not just a family thing, it is about creating fun and positive memories for all the boys and girls involved.
Competition is broken into three age levels; Division A (7-8 years), Division B (9-10 years) and Division C (11-12 years) for both baseball and softball.
Batters receive one practice swing and 10 competition swings. Since a pitching machine is used, every pitch should be the same. However, there are times that a pitch is either too high or too low and this is determined by the Home Run Derby operator. If this happens, the batter receives another pitch. Batters do not have to swing at every pitch.
Batters are awarded points for each swing and the distance of each hit. Distances differ by age group:
There are three levels of competition:
To receive information on how your town or child can participate in the Phillies Home Run Derby e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 215-463-1000.