GLENDALE, Ariz. — Home runs simply don’t sound like this.
“We were all in awe.”
Those who were there say they’ve never seen one hit like this, either.
“It just disappeared into the night. The ball just kept on truckin’.”
Last August, White Sox prized outfield prospect Luis Robert grabbed a brand new bat in the Charlotte Knights dugout. From the on-deck circle, he joked to his teammates he was going to hit a home run.
“Because when I get a new bat I usually hit homers,” Robert said.
What happened next on this memorable night in Durham, N.C., only adds to the legend of Robert. He is still in the infancy of his young baseball career, but is already telling a special, even mythical story that will soon be adding many chapters when he makes his major league debut this spring in Chicago.
Those who witnessed Robert completely obliterate this one helpless baseball say they will never forget what they saw. They’re still talking about it six months later.
“I think everyone just looked at each other like, did that really just happen?” said Nick Madrigal, who was standing on first base.
Robert’s towering home run went so far into the darkness, nobody has any idea where it actually landed, which is even more perplexing considering what stands in left field at Durham Bulls Athletic Park, the Triple-A stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays.
First, there’s a 32-foot high fence they call the Blue Monster, named after the famous Green Monster at Fenway Park. Beyond that, there’s a concourse and concession area. And even beyond that, stands a massive 25-foot high snorting bull, made famous in the 1988 movie, "Bull Durham."
Durham Bulls players win a free steak whenever they hit the bull with a home run.
Robert’s homer sailed high over everything: the fence, the concession stand, even the enormous bull. Nothing but gravity could stop it.
“That was honestly the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. He should have gotten a steak for hitting it over the bull,” catcher Zack Collins said.
Robert believes it was the hardest contact he made on a baseball last year. Watching as the ball left the stadium (and possibly the city of Durham) in a heartbeat, his teammates aren’t going to disagree with him.
“One thing that stands out about that home run is how fast it got out. It got out in what felt like a matter of seconds,” Madrigal said. “It was still going by the time it got over the bull. That was one of the hardest hit home runs I’ve ever seen.”
Everyone in the ballpark watched in awe as the ball rocketed into infinity, everyone except Robert, of all people.
“When I hit that ball, I didn’t follow it. I didn’t know how far the ball went,” Robert explained through team interpreter Billy Russo. “Then my teammates told me how far it went and then I saw the video and I was impressed with myself. I saw in the news that they didn’t know if the ball has landed yet.”
Maybe it still hasn’t.
“The pitcher knew it immediately,” said Danny Mendick, who was playing shortstop that night. “And everyone (on the Bulls) just put their head down and was like, ‘Let’s just pretend this didn’t happen.’”
Robert began to realize the sheer enormity of his home run as soon as he trotted to first base.
“I remember I was running the bases and the first baseman said, ‘Damn bro,’” Robert said. “And the Latinos from the other team were saying, ‘You are an abusador.’”
That’s Spanish for the word “beast.”
“What I remember about that game was that homer. He hit the ball really high and it was over the bull,” said Yoan Moncada, who happened to be on a rehab assignment and batted in front of Robert that night. “It was impressive. When I played in Triple-A, I didn’t see anybody hit a homer like that.”
Which begs the question: has anyone ever hit a ball that far at that ballpark?
Scott Strickland is the assistant general manager of operations for the Durham Bulls. He’s worked there for 16 years. Is Robert’s home run the farthest ball he’s ever seen hit there?
“Yes. I would agree with that. I would absolutely agree with that,” Strickland said. “The way it disappeared, everyone was in shock. It was very quiet in the ballpark because it was so shockingly well struck.”
How far did it actually travel? No one will ever know, but what about an estimate?
“That ball more than likely landed on the street that’s behind the office building,” Strickland said.
So for the record, that would mean Robert hit the baseball over the fence, over the concession stand, over the 25-foot bull and now over an office building.
“I would estimate that he hit it north of 450, but probably between 450 and 475," Strickland said. "The hard part there is, that ball was still going up. It’s not like it was coming down as it was going over the bull’s head. It was still going up.”
That sounds more like over 500 to me.
And here’s the crazy part. Robert doesn’t think this was the longest home run he hit last season.
“The farthest I think was the one I hit in Birmingham. It was over the scoreboard,” Robert said.
If you’re wondering whatever happened to the bat Robert used to launch this majestic home run, it didn’t have much of a shelf life.
He says it eventually broke.
Robert played 47 games for Charlotte last season, slashing .297/.341/.634. The rest of the International League likely rejoiced when he signed that big extension with the White Sox this offseason, basically punching his ticket for the major leagues on Opening Day.
“He had played so well against us. The question was already going around, ‘What in the world is he doing down here?’ And then he hit that one,” Strickland said of Robert’s home run. “If there was a debate at all of whether or not this kid is a future star or a future big leaguer, then that question was 100 percent answered in that one swing.”
Somewhere somebody probably has the baseball from that one swing.
That is, unless it’s still going.
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