Welcome to the first in a series of posts ranking the greatest home runs in Harrisburg Senators modern history (otherwise known as when baseball returned to City Island in 1987).
Just like Casey Kasem, I’ll be counting them down from 40 to 1 as we make our way to the top of the list.
I have tried to be as comprehensive as possible, but the odds are good I’ll be kicking myself later for leaving off a dinger or two. That also goes for ones that you might remember more fondly; after all, sometimes it’s about the memories and what they mean to you.
I am also positive my rankings will upset some and infuriate others. Hopefully, though, this will be a fun little exercise that helps us all re-live the most significant home runs in Senators’ history.
So without further ado…
40. Chris Rahl – King of the Home Run Derby (July 10, 2012)
At no point should anyone think putting a cocktail party, a live concert, an elementary school carnival, a Cirque du Soleil performance, and a home run derby together would be a good idea. Yet, that’s what the Reading Phillies pulled off successfully when they hosted the 2012 Eastern League All-Star Game festivities.
Take everything you thought you knew about home run derbies and throw it out the window. Deadspin called it “drug-induced” and a “fever dream of a competition.” Off the Bench thought it resembled the crazy rules of Calvinball, that beautiful game played by a little boy and his stuffed tiger. After seeing it in action, I’m more prone to compare it to the old MTV Rock N’ Jock softball games where there were mud wrestling rings and palm trees in the field of play.
It was all of those things and more.
Even the winner, Harrisburg’s own Chris Rahl, didn’t have a plan before stepping in the batter’s box. “I have no idea,” the outfielder said. “I looked at the sheet, and I looked at some of the scoring breakdowns for some of the things. We pulled it up on YouTube and saw exactly what was going to be on the field.”
Rahl’s big hit during his two-minute round was a shot to dead center worth a whopping 100 points when it ricocheted off the crane sitting beyond the outfield wall. It was an advantage that no batter after Rahl could repeat, and it secured the victory for the Senators’ outfielder.
“Its one of those things I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” Rahl said. “It was a lot of fun, I had a great time.”
39. Jon Tucker – The Foreshadow Knows (May 30, 1999)
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
Vaunted Norwich closer and Eastern League saves leader Joe Lisio surrenders a walk-off grand slam on a two-out, full-count pitch to a Harrisburg batter. That may sound familiar because the same scenario will also happen four months later in a much more crucial situation. (But more on that further along in this countdown.)
Lisio entered the ninth inning for the Navigators protecting a 5-4 lead before two singles and two walks tied the game up, loaded the bases, and brought Senators’ first baseman Jon Tucker to the plate.
Tucker, who to that point in the season, was hitting a meager .184 average with runners in scoring position, fell behind 1-2 in the at-bat before drawing two balls to push the count to full. The next pitch, Lisio’s 33rd of the inning, rocketed off Tucker’s bat as he drove the offering the opposite way over the left-field wall to give the Senators the 9-5 victory.
“I just wanted to hit a line drive,” Tucker told The Patriot-News’ Andy Linker.
38. Brad Coon – On the Brink of the Playoffs (September 5, 2010)
Deadlocked with the Bowie Baysox with two games to play for the final playoff spot, Senators center fielder Brad Coon picked the perfect time to have a career day. The then 27-year-old finished 5-for-5, including a solo home run to kickstart the Harrisburg offense on its way to a 13-3 victory over Binghamton.
In the top of the third inning, Coon launched a solo home run, his sixth round-tripper of the season, to break the scoreless tie and open the floodgates. The Senators went on to send twelve batters to the plate, including Coon again for a two-run single as Harrisburg put up an 8-spot in the frame.
The win, coupled with Bowie’s 1-0 loss to Richmond, left the Senators with their destiny in their hands up one game with one to play for their first playoff berth since 2002.
37. Valentino Pascucci / Matt Cepicky / Scott Hodges – A Baseball Turkey (April 23, 2001)
Altoona reliever Geraldo Padua was summoned from the bullpen to start the eighth inning protecting a 2-1 Curve lead over Harrisburg. The right-hander retired the first two batters before running into trouble through the heart of the Senators’ batting order.
Padua got ahead on Valentino Pascucci 0-2 before the first baseman evened the count and fouled off a pitch to stay alive. The next offering, Padua’s fourth straight slider, came in faster than it went out as Pascucci rattled a long ball off the third tier of billboards in left field to tie the score at 2.
Before the applause could barely die down, Matt Cepicky drove the next pitch, a fastball, over the wall in right-center to give the Senators a 3-2 lead. Scott Hodges followed suit as he also deposited the first pitch of his at-bat over the fence.
Three straight pitches. Three straight home runs.
“When Val hit his home run, I thought their pitcher was going to want to get ahead in the count,” Cepicky told Linker. “Nine out of 10 times, he’s going to want to put one in there because he doesn’t want to get behind. … You’re looking for something to drive.”
36. Jeff McAvoy – The Reliever Walks it Off (May 24, 2002)
When pitcher Jeff McAvoy was called on to hit during the 2002 season with the Harrisburg Senators, it marked the first time he had batted in a game since high school. He had gone five seasons between college at Western Carolina and Ole Miss, and the minor leagues at Cape Fear and Jupiter without picking up a bat.
Harrisburg manager Dave Huppert sent McAvoy up to the plate three times that season. Still, I’m sure the now Miami Marlins Vice President of Player Personnel only remembers one of them 18 years later.
The Binghamton Mets plated two runs in the top of the ninth inning to tie the game up at four and force extra innings. McAvoy, the fourth Senators pitcher, came into the game to pitch the top of the 11th inning. He did his job on the mound, holding Binghamton scoreless on one hit over three frames.
But Harrisburg was unable to scratch across a winning run either. So as the game went deep into the night and with nobody left on the bench, McAvoy had to bat for himself.
With one out in the 13th, the Palmer, Massachusetts native sent the remaining fans home happy from RiverSide Stadium as he homered off Rene Vega to lift the Senators to a 5-4 win.
It was, and remains, McAvoy’s only hit of his career.