History was made on January 5, 2008, in St. Petersburg, Florida when sixty of the top International high school baseball players converged on the Tampa Bay Ray’s Tropicana Field to participate in the International High School Power Showcase Home Run Derby.
Created in 2004 by Brian Domenico, the Power Showcase seeks to celebrate one of the finest moments in sports, the Home Run, while providing a platform for top high school players to showcase their baseball skills. Since 2004, the Home Run Derby has evolved from a regional competition in southern Florida to an international event with at least one representative from each of the fifty states as well as one from Canada and Germany.
Zack Helgeson, of Hidden Valley High School in Roanoke, VA, was crowned 2008 International Power Showcase Home Run Derby World Champion. Helgeson, who has committed to play for the University of Maryland next year, blasted eight home runs in the Final Round to beat the other finalists, Nathan Goodall of Ava High School in Ava, MO; Matt Marquis of Immaculata High School in Somerville, NJ; Steve Selsky of Loyola High School in Los Angeles, CA and Nick Carrillo of Sandra Day O’Conner High School in Glendale, AZ.
Helgeson, asserts the key to his performance was patience. “If you make a couple outs, you don’t want to press yourself because then you will continue to make the same mistakes. You want to take a couple pitches, relax, and refocus on making solid contact.” Helgeson’s approach to batting is supplemented by his approach to baseball in general. “I don’t really get nervous out there because it is so much fun, it’s my passion, so I try just to stay loose and confident and live in the moment.”
While Marquis and Carrillo came up just short in the Final Round, they did not go home empty handed. Marquis, who has committed to play at Vanderbilt University next year, won the awards for the Most Home Runs in a Single Round (13) as well as the Overall Home Run Total (17). Carrillo, who has committed to play at Gonzaga University, took home the award for Longest Distance (476 feet). Wesley Freeman, of All Saints Academy in Lakeland, FL, was the only non-Finalist to win an award when he captured the award for Most Consecutive Home Runs with (4).
According to Domenico, what stood out among so many impressive performances was the sheer power of some of the players. “They were hitting on a Major League field and six different players still hit the catwalk that hangs from the dome over 460 feet away and another reached the upper deck located in left centerfield. You really had to see it to believe it.”
Arizona’s Nick Carrillo, who won the award for longest distance of a Home Run with a majestic blast of 476ft. which, sailed up through the last catwalk (A) hitting above the Jumbo-Tron. California’s Steve Selsky, who has committed to the University of Arizona, not only hit the catwalk, but also provided another highlight during the Showcase when he blasted a home run off the roof of the Batter’s Eye Restaurant located in centerfield 460ft away. Additionally, Selsky captured the overall sentiment of the participants when he said, “I was happy to make it to the Final Round, but really I was excited just to meet and watch so many top power hitters.” Washington’s James Higgins, who stands 6’8″ 295 lbs found the upper deck in left centerfield – 474ft. and the catwalk at 468 ft.
Before the event, Brian Domenico contacted Greg Rybarczyk, who created a program for Major League Baseball called the Hit Tracker, a detailed trajectory analysis for home runs hit in every major league stadium. The Tampa Bay Rays staff worked the event and a home run blueprint was on hand. “They expressed to me that they had never seen balls reach these parts of the Trop,” Laughed Domenico.
The other three players who reached the catwalk were: Georgia’s Chase Davidson 462ft, Florida’s Wesley Freeman 472ft. and Arkansas’s Robert Hill 465ft.
Helgeson’s father Steve agrees. “Obviously, I am thrilled that Zack won, but truly it was an honor just to have him selected to participate. Even if he had not done so well, it would have been a wonderful Showcase because it recreated a Major League experience for Zack. He got to compete against some of the top power hitters in the world in a Major League Stadium. That is something he will never forget.”
Domenico believes the Showcase’s success was due to the “ideal mixture” of high profile players and players who have flown under the national radar because of where they are from or the fact that they are talented multi-sport athletes. After the Showcase it was clear to Domenico that “new players emerged into the national spotlight, while others continued to solidify why they are some of the best power hitters.”
So while only one participant went home with the title of World Champion, all sixty participants left with some new friends and the knowledge that they made history by participating in the 2008 International High School Power Showcase High School Home Run Derby.