When you ask a baseball player about what they’ve done in the offseason, you tend to hear a narrow band of possible answers.
Spending time with family, working out, and playing winter ball are frequently mentioned, with some hunting and fishing potentially mixed in depending on geography. That’s not to say ballplayers are uniform in their interests, but there’s no doubting that there are some common threads – at least in terms of what they’re putting out there publicly.
A less familiar activity is cranking home runs into the ocean from a beautiful beach in the Bahamas – which is why the following clip of Toronto Blue Jays top prospect Bo Bichette doing that a few weeks ago was so noteworthy.
I'm not sure what's more fantastic. Bo Bichette's (@19boknows) hair-beard-bandana combo or his sweet swings. 🤔
This is once again some prospect HR derby magic from the Bahamas. 👌🌴☀️ (video via REV cablebahamas) pic.twitter.com/f3N0KN1iPP
— Lance Brozdowski (@LanceBroz) January 7, 2019
“I would say there were almost a thousand people on that beach. It was really cool,” Bichette says. “A lot these people don’t get to see this kind of stuff in the Bahamas. They were getting lit.”
It’s safe to say the clip, and that description, inspires some questions. Most of the questions, in fact. The Bahamas is rarely thought of as a baseball hotspot – the country has produced just six major leaguers, only one of whom has debuted in the last 35 years – and in the category of ‘beach sports’ baseball doesn’t exactly register.
The event you see in that video, the ‘Don’t Blink Home Run Derby in Paradise’, is the brainchild of two MLB prospects: Todd Isaacs of the Cleveland Indians and Lucius Fox of the Tampa Bay Rays. The pair wanted wanted to showcase their country’s crop of baseball talent, but the lack of local baseball facilities forced them to think outside the box.
“Everyone who talks about the Bahamas always refers to it as paradise, so we had the thought of hitting balls across the most beautiful water in the world,” Fox says. “It wasn’t long before we agreed on having the derby on the beach.”
The idea of “playing baseball on the beach” was initially confusing for people who Isaacs and Fox brought it to, but they were able to plan the event in two months – period Fox calls ” the most stressful two months of our lives.”
“At first people had no idea of how we would pull this event off. We had so many ideas in our head, but we didn’t know the amount of resources we would need to make this event happen,” he adds. “We are very thankful to our sponsors for believing in two young guys and allowing us to make our vision come alive.”
Making that vision come alive required a little bit of thought on how the derby would play. They couldn’t exactly erect walls so it was important to get the distance of the “home run barrier” – which was a long string of buoys – correct. Ultimately they opted for 330 feet in centre field and 300 at the corners.
“The balls don’t travel over water as well as they do over land because the high density of the atmosphere above the water causes more resistance,” Isaacs explains. “Think of hitting baseball at high altitudes with thinner, drier air. Balls fly.”
Despite the scientifically sound explanation, Bichette didn’t find the air density to be a problem.
“Honestly, no I didn’t [notice],” he says with the smile of a two-time champ. “They make the fences a little bit shorter than the normal field so you can put a show on, but I didn’t notice it too much.”
The other issue unique to a derby over water is getting back the balls, something Isaacs and Fox found an elegant and stylish solution for.
We had a collection team riding jet skis with nets in hand to retrieve the balls,” Isaacs says . “All baseballs were collected and we gave them to kids on the shoreline and gave the others to the baseball leagues in the Bahamas.”
Not only did the jet skis riders do their job they were a fine addition to the event’s selling point: the scenery.
“The crystal clear water looks like it never ends along with the number of boats parked and jet skis racing across the water,” says Fox. “That view is unmatched.”
— Andrew Luftglass (@A_Luftglass) January 5, 2019
Although that vista is quite the departure from a batter’s eye, Bichette didn’t feel like it had an impact on the hitting.
“It’s a little different,” he says. “It just gets a little tough to see sometimes.”
With all the logistics set up Isaacs and Fox pulled off the first edition of the derby in 2018 without a hitch, with Bichette claiming the title. This year it took the next step, earning coverage from major outlets and generating impressive ratings.
“We have added four more Bahamian baseball players in professional baseball this past calendar year and added eight more American players with three Major Leaguers attending,” Isaacs says. “The amount of people that came out to Montagu grew tremendously and the viewership of the event was north of 200,000 people.”
Part of what makes the Don’t Blink Home Run Derby in Paradise such a fun idea from an outsider’s perspective is the fact we don’t associate baseball with the Bahamas, but that’s not entirely fair. Not only does the success and popularity of an event like this indicate an appetite for baseball in the country there is a wave of young Bahamian talent on way and the spot has a series foothold on the islands.
“Baseball is growing here in the Bahamas. Track and Field is our biggest amateur sport,” Isaacs says. “But baseball has the highest number of professional athletes, which is not known to many back home.”
This year, seeing Bichette hit home runs into the ocean off a Bahamian beach popped due to the novelty factor. In the years to come that may not be the case as the Bahamas and high-level baseball become more synonymous in our minds. Guys like Isaacs, Fox, and Arizona Diamondbacks prospect Jazz Chisholm can make that happen if they are impactful big leaguers. An event like this derby could go from a fun change of pace to a same-old same-old in the best possible way.
Witnessing that growth was the most fun part of whole experience for Bichette, which is saying something considering his dominance from a competitive standpoint.
“Just being out there and seeing all the kids that get to hear about baseball now because they’ve got so many prospects [is amazing],” he says. “They get super excited.”
Unfortunately – or perhaps fortunately – for Isaacs and Fox, Bichette isn’t sure he’ll be back in the Bahamas next time around. At the age of 20 he already understands the value of hanging up his cleats at his apex.
“I don’t know. This was my second year doing it, and I’ve won both times. I might want to retire as a champion.”
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