Former player Stratton bests Triple-A sluggers
07/10/2007 12:05 AM ET
By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com
ALBUQUERQUE -- Not offered a job for 2007, Robert Stratton settled down in Albuquerque and began working as a real estate agent. Invited back to the stadium he played in back in 2003 for the Triple-A All-Star Game Home Run Derby, Stratton decided to show the 9,677 on hand at Isotopes Park where some of his property was.
He also showed that while he's out of the game, he's not out of juice in his bat, beating current Minor League home run leader Craig Brazell in a slugoff to win the derby crown.
"I was fortunate enough to come out and compete," said Stratton, who hit a total of 16 home runs against largely younger competition. "It's one of the best moments I've had in my career. I'm definitely going to savor this."
The Triple-A All-Star Game organizers do the derby a little differently, including high school hitters along with some former players. Last year in Toledo, Leon Durham competed. This year it was 29-year-old Stratton and former Dodger outfielder Mike Marshall, who last played in 1991 and is 49 years old. Marshall won the Pacific Coast League Triple Crown while playing for the Albuquerque Dukes in 1981.
Both "old-timers" handled themselves well in the opening round. Stratton advanced to the semifinals, and Marshall represented his generation well with two bombs to left field.
"To be honest, I didn't know I was going against the young, strong guys," Marshall joked. "I thought it was going to be in a seniors division.
"One of the reasons I came back was because of my time here. I don't do a lot of public appearances. That was then, I live in the now. But 1981 was such a special place, it catapulted me to the big leagues."
It was a special place for Scott Seabol in the first round. The Isotopes third baseman hit 13 out in the opening frame, but ran out of gas in the semis and had to watch Stratton and Brazell do battle in the final.
The wind definitely played a factor in the competition. After the first round, a stiff breeze began blowing from right to left field, creating a serious disadvantage to the left-handed hitters in the competition. First John-Ford Griffin, then Stratton, purposefully went the other way to left to use the wind to their advantage. Stratton dispatched Griffin in a semifinal slugoff, then tied Brazell in the final with two homers, forcing yet another extra round. Somehow, Stratton managed to find something left in the tank, hitting some absolute moon shots to win the title.
"I have to say it was just from the fans," Stratton said. "I was tired, they were cheering me on, so I got on my horse and finished it."
Stratton spent just one season playing in Isotopes Park, but it was the team's first season and he had a vintage Stratton season. Despite suffering injuries that held him to just 110 games, he managed to hit 32 home runs in 372 at-bats. Over the course of his career, which began as a first-round pick of the Mets in 1996, he hit just .243. But he also pounded out 197 home runs in Minor League ballparks across North America and slugged over .500. Despite the power numbers, he's never spent a day in the big leagues.
He played for Louisville and Columbus in 2006 before spending time in indy ball. This year, he was ready for another Minor League season, but you can't open the door if opportunity doesn't come knocking.
"Nobody offered me a job this year," Stratton said. "It's not me that's saying no. Hopefully they'll give me a chance next year. If someone is willing to sign me, I'm willing to give it a try. I've been out longer with some of my surgeries than I've been out now. I'll actually be quite fresh."
Stratton didn't agree to participate in this derby as an audition. He just thought it would be fun to get the competitive juices flowing and give something back to the great fans in Albuquerque.
"If nothing comes of this... that's not why I'm here," Stratton said. "I'm did it to cap off my career, to bottle it all up and put it up on the shelf. Then I can think only about the good times."
Hopefully he had a little room left at the top of that bottle, because this unexpected derby victory should almost make it flow over.