In sports, nothing is quite like the sight of a home run. The precision, power and timing of a batter’s swing have to be just right on a ball moving around 90 mph and even that, sometimes, isn’t enough. Fans in the Tri-Cities have often been deprived of this exciting and sought after sports moment at Gesa Stadium in past seasons. With consistent winds often blowing in from the outfield and killing fly balls well before they get near the fence, the ballpark has earned a reputation for being a pitcher’s park where home run hitters suffer.
This season seems to be a little bit different. Although we are less than a month into the season, the Dust Devils are among the leaders in team home runs, with a good portion of those coming at home. Thus far Tri-City has his 14 home runs, seven of which coming at Gesa Stadium, and trail only the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes (15) for the league lead. Those 14 round-trippers give them as many as division rivals Boise (6) and Spokane (8) combined. As a team last season the Dust Devils hit 42 total home runs over their 76 game season and, this season, are on pace to destroy that number and hit an impressive 56.
Leading the power surge for Tri-City is 2011 MLB First-Year Player Draft pick Jordan Ribera. The first baseman from Fresno State was taken in the 21st round by the Colorado Rockies and is proving his power-hitting history is no joke. Ribera led the NCAA in home runs in his junior season, hitting 27 bombs while batting .343 and driving in 69 runs over 63 games. However, his senior season with the Bulldogs saw a statistical drop, as he hit just eight home runs and batted .240 in 56 games.
The drop in hitting corresponded with the NCAA changing its bat rules, where the “ping” sounding aluminum bats were no longer allowed. The new composite bats have been tested, at nearby Washington State University, and are said to be 5-6 percent less effective than their preceding counterparts.
This likely attributed to Ribera’s drop to the 21st round of the draft, but has seemed to work in the Rockies’, and Dust Devils’, favor. He currently leads the Northwest League (NWL) in home runs with four while driving in 16 runs, third most in the NWL. The solid numbers don’t stop there, as he’s also third in the NWL in slugging-percentage (.567), tied for first in total bases (38) and is hitting a very respectable .313.
Playing in 17 of the 19 Dust Devil games in 2011, it is safe to say Ribera has secured his spot as the clean-up hitter in the Tri-City lineup. Were he to play as many games as current Dust Devils single-season home run record holders Darin Holcomb (74, 2007) and Joe Koshansky (66, 2004), who each hit 12 home runs, Ribera is on pace to break the team record with ease, hitting 17 or 15 home runs respectively.
You can catch Ribera and the rest of the Dust Devils out at Gesa Stadium next week as they return for an eight game home stand in Pasco. They will first take on the Eugene Emeralds in a five game series. The short-season A affiliate of the Padres, the Emeralds are having an outstanding 2011 campaign and leading the Northwest League West Division with a 17-2 record and have won their last 14 consecutive games, a NWL record. Following Eugene the Yakima Bears will make their first trip to Pasco this season for a three game series against the Dust Devils. Tri-City took two of three in Yakima earlier this season against the Bears, who are last in the East Division with a 6-13 record.