STRASBURG — Tyler Johnson wasn’t planning on being in the Valley Baseball League’s Home Run Derby on Sunday. Just minutes before it began, one of the players decided not to participate and Johnson was happy to take the open spot.
Johnson (Eastern Oklahoma State College) made the most of his opportunity and won the Derby title.
“It was about to start and (Strasburg assistant) Coach (Michael) Skelly was like ‘hey you want to hit in the derby?’” Johnson said on Monday afternoon. “I was like ‘yeah.’ So I got my batting gloves and started swinging a little bit, stretching.”
There were 10 participants in the VBL Home Run Derby but none of them hit a homer in the first round of the competition, held at JMU’s Veterans Memorial Park in Harrisonburg. Each player was only allowed five misses (or outs) in each round. Johnson said that the derby had been delayed due to the rain and most players didn’t have a lot of time to take batting practice before the derby.
“It seemed like balls were just hitting a wall in the outfield,” Johnson said of the lack of homers in the first round. “We couldn’t really get a rhythm going.”
All 10 players advanced to the second round and that’s where Johnson was able to win the title with four homers. Johnson said he hit eighth out of the 10 competitors. Charlottesville’s Walker Imwalle (Davidson College) hit three homers to take the lead as Johnson stepped to the plate.
“It was good,” Johnson said. “I was trying to calm myself down because my big problem is I swing too hard. So after I hit the third one, I was trying to calm down. Then I hit the fourth one and the next one I rolled over and my round was over. I was able to contain it to get the lead at least.”
Johnson is from Bella Vista, Arkansas and said his parents drove 18 hours to see him play in the VBL All-Star game and, as it turned out, to see him win the VBL Home Run Derby title.
“It was really cool,” Johnson said. “I have never participated in one, so it was cool to win that one. It was really exciting. Then I was walking back to the dugout (after his second round) and saw my dad taking a picture of me and smiling. So that was a really cool experience.”
Johnson is tied for the team lead in homers with four. He is batting .254 (17-for-67) with 10 RBIs and 17 runs scored for the Express.
The North Division beat the South, 1-0, in 3.5 innings. The game was called in the bottom of the third due to rain.
Johnson said it was a great experience, despite the rain-shortened game.
“It was just so fun to be in the game and see all the other guys on the other teams,” Johnson said. “...And just the experience of playing at JMU is obviously great, too. They have a turf field and they have great facilities and everything. It was just a really cool experience.”