O'FALLON, Mo. -- One member of the Southern Illinois Miners unexpectedly played a major role in Tuesday night's highly-entertaining Frontier League Home Run Derby at CarShield Field.
Chance Shepard participated in the event, but it was Miners hitting coach Steve Marino who surprisingly found himself thrust into the spotlight.
Marino threw the pitches to Shepard but also to Gateway's Trae Santos -- who put on a spectacular display of majestic home runs in each round and eventually won the title -- and eventually also to the St. Louis Cardinals legends who took part in the unique showcase as they drafted Marino to throw to them as well during the competition.
"When I came here, I thought I was throwing to my guy Chance and that was it," Marino said. "But a couple more guys tagged along. It's a compliment. I'm glad I throw well."
Santos crushed 11 homers in the opening round, when Shepard came in second with five and advanced to the second round.
Then the Cardinals legends put on a show. Jim Edmonds couldn't take swings due to a recent surgery but instead used a microphone to supply his spin while Rick Ankiel, Mark Whiten, Ray Lankford and his replacement, Kerry Robinson, all tried to wow the crowd.
Ankiel hit three out and the rest had just one until Robinson got into a groove during a tiebreaker to advance.
Along the way, Marino found himself throwing to more and more of the Cardinals sluggers.
"We were getting ready in the cage and Trae didn't have anyone to throw to him so he asked me and I said sure," Marino said. "Then the Cardinals guys weren't too pleased with the pitches they were getting and I guess they liked what I was doing so they asked me to throw to them. It was pretty cool."
Santos sent out 10 more majestic blasts during the next round, then seven in the next and eventually faced Ankiel in the finals and needed just four to win the title and stopped.
It was obvious that the hitters who used Marino's pitches had the most success.
"I was just throwing the ball down the middle," Marino said. "That's what I try to do with our guys on the Miners in batting practice, just find the barrel and have a good feel to get ready for the game. In a home run derby, it's no different. I'm trying to throw it down the middle and let them do the work by getting the barrel to it."