Hurdle recalls impromptu BP sessions during '99 Home Run Derby
By Rob Biertempfel
Published: Friday, July 6, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
Clint Hurdle went to the 1999 All-Star Game at Fenway Park expecting to enjoy some down time. But when Larry Walker asked Hurdle to pitch to him in the Home Run Derby, it turned into as busy a day as any during the year.
Back then, Hurdle was the Colorado Rockies' hitting coach. Walker was putting together a season in which he would hit .379 and win the NL batting title. Hurdle often threw batting practice to Walker, worked with him in the cage and studied his swing on video.
With Hurdle on the mound, Walker seemed a good bet to bash a lot of homers in the Derby.
“Turns out, I'm the only guy who gets Larry out in the first half of the season,” Hurdle said.
Walker only hit two taters and was eliminated in the first round.
In a way, Hurdle was glad Walker was out. Tossing BP in an empty stadium is one thing. Doing it on national TV in front of a packed house in Boston is another. Hurdle's first pitch to Walker bounced about three feet in front of the plate.
“It's a whole different environment. There's 38,000 people,” Hurdle said. “I was thinking, ‘Man, that was something. I'm glad that's over.'”
Except it wasn't. As Hurdle walked off the field, Jeff Bagwell asked if Hurdle could pitch to him. Bagwell hit five homers and qualified for the second round.
Before Hurdle could escape, Jeromy Burnitz cornered him. Hurdle coached Burnitz when they were in the New York Mets' farm system.
“Jeromy's (pitcher) was throwing up; he's having an anxiety attack,” Hurdle said. “He asks, ‘Will you throw to me?' Of course I will. I'd thrown to Burnie his entire adult life.”
Burnitz launched six balls over the wall. Ken Griffey Jr. took note and sent someone from his entourage to beg Hurdle to take the mound for Junior.
“We go to the second round, and I have three of the four guys in the round,” Hurdle said. “I threw to all them. The last two guys? Griffey and Burnitz.”
Griffey beat Burnitz, 3-2, in the final round. Overall, Hurdle served up 38 of the 62 home runs in the competition.
“I threw 180-some pitches,” Hurdle said. “I was there for 21⁄2 hours! I walked off the mound exhausted and dripping wet.”
Nice way to spend an off day, huh?
“It was silly,” Hurdle said. “It was kind of fun. Obviously, I threw really good BP that day.”
Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7811.
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