Fans pulling for Hamilton after display
Outfielder puts on memorable exhibition at Yankee Stadium
NEW YORK -- Danny Fey, in his No. 32 Josh Hamilton jersey, was positioned perfectly in back of the right-field fence. He hoped it was the right viewing point to convert his son -- the little boy to his left wearing a No. 2 Derek Jeter uniform -- back into a proper Southerner.
Don't ask Fey how it happened. They're from Texas, and he's a Rangers fan, but his son packed pinstripes for their visit to Yankee Stadium. But 28 home runs from Hamilton in the first round on the State Farm Home Run Derby might have brought the outfielder another admirer, and Fey couldn't be more pleased.
"I've been trying to convert him, but I can't do it," Fey said. "He says he's a big Hamilton fan after that exhibition. He wants to go to a Ranger game to get his autograph."
Hamilton won many supporters at the Derby. As he wore down in the final round, the "Rocky" theme blared over the public-address system and Philadelphia native Michael Ferguson, also situated in right field, followed with a chant for the area's favorite fictional sports hero.
"Rocky, Rocky, Rocky" turned into "Hamilton, Hamilton, Hamilton" throughout the stadium. A sign in right-center field read "Hamilton is a Hero."
Ferguson, who picked the "big Canadian moose" Justin Morneau to win before the contest started, eventually got his wish, but it wasn't with complete exuberance that he accepted Hamilton's defeat.
As he watched Hamilton consistently drop balls into a sea of leather in the stands to his right, Ferguson became interested. Even though he's from Philly, Ferguson is a Yankees fan. Part of the way through Hamilton's first round, he and surrounding members of the Bronx Bomber brethren agreed Hamilton was welcome to play center field for New York any day.
When Ferguson walked out of the stadium to meet up with his brother-in-law and his son, one fan passed by and said "Hamilton choked."
"He didn't choke," Ferguson responded in Hamilton's defense. "He just ran out of gas."
Nobody wanted to see Hamilton lose in the final moments. With every out, fans with hats ranging from the Royals to the Reds were all punching air. They wanted to see the incredible, the background music suggesting that a movie-like ending could be in the making.
James Drodersen, a Yankees fan in a No. 62 Joba Chamberlain jersey, bought a Hamilton jersey immediately preceding the Rangers' ridiculous performance. And he wanted to make the uniform switch mid-Derby, until he fully thought through the potential consequences.
"I should keep it in the bag, right?" Drodersen asked, not wanting to jinx Hamilton's hot streak with the Chamberlain jersey still on.
Ferguson's nephew, 13-year-old Dylan Touey, and Ferguson's brother-in-law, Trevor, were trying to position for home run balls all night. Originally, they were supposed to be seated in the third tier in left field, where they could "screw in the light bulbs" for the stadium crew if need be.
But they snuck down to the lower levels in right field, first in anticipation of catching some line drives pulled over the short porch in right by the left-handed Chase Utley. Trevor, 40, initially guaranteed victory for Philadelphia's own, but after Utley's early exit, Ferguson joked that it's easy to hit home runs over the 200-foot-deep walls at Citizens Bank Park.
Dylan is a Phillies fan turned Red Sox fan, but Ferguson said he was with the rest of the Yankee Stadium crowd chanting "1918" when the Red Sox visited New York prior to 2003. Now, he was asking his father to head back up to the upper tiers to catch some of Hamilton's bombs.
"You really think you are going to get anything up there?" Trevor Touey said, pointing out the amount of ravenous fans scrapping for Hamilton balls in the upper levels. A couple of fans up there didn't even have gloves, instead sporting large fishing nets to capture balls.
Hamilton's 19th home run ball was basically a tug of war between a handful of fans. A balding man with glasses prevailed with ball in hand.
The Toueys would eventually leave without a home run ball. They had a ball -- a stray that they found laying around before the Derby -- as well as an autograph from Ichiro Suzuki on their ticket.
Regardless, they at least left with a memory. For Ferguson, it was just another affirmation that Yankee Stadium is always worth the 1 1/2-hour drive from Philadelphia to New York.
"It's an historic event, it's awesome because it's the last one for Yankee Stadium," Ferguson said of the Derby. "Everything is always going to be bigger and better at Yankee Stadium. This is the stadium, where everything happens, where DiMaggio and Mantle and Jeter and all of the greats always play, so it always makes it a little bit better."
Jon Blau is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.