Fort Wayne, IN - The two Great Lakes Loons players that participated in the Midwest League's Skills Competition / Home Run Derby Monday put up six of the East's 36 All-Star points.
It started with Loons shortstop Christian Lara, who was selected to showcase his arm by tossing five groundballs across the diamond to first base at a large plywood target.
The players were awarded one point if they hit the circular target, which stood vertically about six feet tall, and three points if they hit the bullseye.
Lara was the third of four Midwest League shortstops to take the stage in the night's first competition. Ryan Gennett of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers hit the target three times, and Peoria's Hak-Ju Lee got two points, so the pressure was on for Lara to do well.
"I was a little nervous when I first came here, but when I started throwing I said 'Let's just do it like a game,'" he said.
Lara proceeded to hit the target four times to beat out Gennett, Lee, and South Bend's Chris Owings (1).
"It was great for me to win I feel great," he said. "It's pretty good my first time to get in the All-Star Game [and compete] with the best shortstops here right now. I came to the competition and won. I'm very happy."
At the end of the night Lara received an All-Star Shortstop Skills trophy for his efforts.
The competition continued around the diamond, as catchers threw to the target at second and outfielders threw from center to the target at home plate, all adding to the East-West totals, but it wasn't until the Home Run Derby when the numbers started soaring.
Representing the Great Lakes Loons was Jerry Sands, who leads the Midwest League in home runs with 18 this season. However, the 22-year-old wasn't sure how he'd fair in the Derby, despite his league-leading totals.
"I'm not a big home run guy in batting practice to be honest with you," he admitted before reaching Fort Wayne. "That's just not what I try to do during BP and it's not really my approach. If I try and go out there and hit the ball out of the ballpark every time, it's just going to create bad habits for me. I'm more of a line drive guy. We'll see what happens, I might try and turn on some balls and get them out of Fort Wayne."
Sands was the eighth of nine sluggers to swing for the fences at Fort Wayne, where each were allowed 10 outs to get as many balls out of the park as they could. The top four would advance to the next round, but only round one counted for the East vs. West points total that was accumulating.
Sands was asked to follow South Bend's Matt Davidson, who left the crowd happy by belting eight over the walls of Parkview Field.
It took a while for Sands to find his swing, rattling off the deep liners he had predicted, before finally connecting. Sands finished with only two home runs, both to left-center field.
The first ball he hit out became a souvenir to one of the fans seated on the berm, while his second was blasted out of the stadium on to Jefferson St., charted well over 400 feet.
Though his efforts did not advance him to the next round, Sands brought the East's points total to 24, trailing the West by only three. Fort Wayne's own Nate Freiman came in after Sands to win it for the East, blasting a first round-high 12 home runs.
The East won the evening's competitions by a score of 36-27, but it was the West's Khris Davis who was eventually crowned as the 2010 Home Run Derby Champion.
The focus now shifts to the All-Star Game for the players. Joining Sands and Lara of the Great Lakes Loons, are pitchers Will Savage, Luis Vasquez, Allen Webster, and reserve position players Angelo Songco and Rafael Ynoa.
Lara concluded the evening by making some predictions of the big All-Star Game to come.
"I want to start the game already because I know we have a good team, and I think we're going to win the game," he said. I'm excited."
"I have to [get a hit]. I don't know where they'll have me, whether leading off or second, I don't know yet but I'm going to do my best in the game."