Austin Patti, 12, twirled his aluminum bat over his right shoulder, while standing in the batter’s box of baseball Diamond No. 1 at Wolfe Park Thursday afternoon. Standing behind netting on the pitcher’s mound, his father and coach, Kevin, tossed a right-handed overhand pitch. Patti shifted his weight forward to his right foot, following through on his swing and driving the ball to right field.
The Monroe Little Leaguer displayed the powerful swing that propelled his run to a record-setting win at the local home run derby at Beardsley Field, and to victory at the East Region Little League Home Run Derby at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City on July 30.
On Thursday, Patti took batting practice in preparation for the 2023 T-Mobile Little League Home Run Derby Championship, to be held during the Little League Baseball World Series at Volunteer Stadium in Williamsport, Penn., on Thursday, Aug. 24.
Patti, of Monroe, is among four sluggers representing the East Region and the derby also features four hitters from the West Region.
“I definitely want to win,” Patti said, “but I’m going to have fun. I’m really excited. I hope I get to see a few games too.”
In addition to his father, Patti enjoys the strong support of his sister Maddie, 15, and his mother, Janet, who helped him practice Thursday. The entire family, including Patti’s grandparents, will make the trip to the national derby to cheer him on.
Baseball Coach Ron Bianco and his son, Ron Jr., 11, played in the outfield Thursday, shagging fly balls and chasing down Patti’s hits.
Patti started out playing tee-ball as a boy, then played competitive baseball for five or six years. After hitting three home runs last year, he had a growth spurt that came with increased strength. Patti, who is five-foot-four, uses all of his 140 pounds to generate his power at the plate.
This year, in 16 Little League games, nine All Star and over 30 travel games Patti hit a total of 23 home runs.
“I had a pretty good season,” said Patti, who plays shortstop and is an ace on the pitching mound.
“One of his really good attributes is he’s pretty calm,” Kevin said of his son. “He’s 72-degrees all day long and that helps him when he’s pitching and hitting.”
Patti, who will be a Jockey Hollow Middle School seventh grader this fall, broke the Monroe Little League Home Run Derby record of 29 dingers, set by Connor Fulchino in 2020.
In the local derby at Beardsley Field, each batter hits as many home runs as he can until he gets 10 “outs”, which is any contact that doesn’t send the ball over the fence. By the time he had his tenth out, Patti had smashed 49 homers.
“I’m just getting bigger and stronger and this is our last year on the small fields,” Patti said.
Bianco said the outfield wall at Beardsley Field is 200 feet from home plate. Next year, when Patti moves up a level, the distance will increase from 275 to 300 feet on the bigger fields.
“The home runs he hit, a good portion would be out of those fields anyway,” Bianco said.
Patti, who also plays youth football as a running back, quarterback and middle linebacker for the Monroe Lions, plans to play football and baseball at Masuk High School when he’s older. In fact, Masuk Baseball Coach Brian Hourigan has already been coaching him in Little League ball.
A ‘buzzer beater’
On Sunday, July 30, Patti won the East Region Little League Home Run Derby, bringing home the $5,000 prize for the Monroe Little League, while advancing to the championship.
“It was really exciting,” he said. “I had never hit on a Major League field before.”
The Kansas City Royals play at Kauffman Stadium and those competing in the Little League Baseball and Softball home run derbies got to see the home team beat the Minnesota Twins 2-1 before their own competitions.
Then a fence for home runs was set up 170 feet from home plate.
“I was definitely the most nervous,” Janet said of watching her son from the stands. “I had more nerves for everybody.”
“He started a little slow,” Kevin said of Patti, “but he got into a groove. The competition was tough. There were a lot of good hitters.”
Ten batters competed in the First Round and the top six performers made it to the Second Round, four made it to the Third Round and the top two went head-to-head for the title in Round Four.
Each batter had 90 seconds to hit as many balls over the outfield fence as he could.
“You have to wait until the ball lands before the next pitch,” Patti recalled. “Line drives were better because the ball hit the ground faster.”
He hit a total of 53 home runs, but his derby win wasn’t without drama.
In the Third Round Patti needed to out slug a player who belted 10 home runs. The winner would advance to the fourth and final round to compete for the championship.
“I felt confident early on,” he said, “but after a slow start, I had to step on the gas.”
Then Patti started to make solid contact and the home runs came in bunches. He hit nine dingers, still one home run short, in the waning seconds.
With five seconds left, he hit a homer to tie his opponent at 10. Then with one second left he belted his 11th home run for the win.
“It was like a buzzer beater,” Patti said with a smile.
“We were on the edge of our seats for sure,” Kevin recalled.
In the championship round, Patti batted first. He said he liked the opportunity to put the pressure on his opponent this time. Patti had his best round, racking up 16 home runs. His opponent, who hit 17 in an earlier round, fell short with 12.
Janet said the East Region Little League Home Run Derby was live streamed.
“Everyone in Monroe was watching,” she said. “We really felt the support and love of everybody in this town. We could share it. It was amazing.”
Monroe fans will be able to watch Patti again. The 2023 T-Mobile Little League Home Run Derby Championship will air on ESPN the following day, on Aug. 25 at 7 p.m.
“We’re extremely proud of Austin,” said Ryan Driscoll, president of the Monroe Little League. “It’s obvious he’s a natural talent. But more importantly he’s a great role model for all the kids in our league because he doesn’t just rely on that talent.”
“If you go to Beardsley Field or Wolfe Park you’ll see him and Kevin putting in the work to get better when there’s no one else around,” Driscoll said. “We know his hard work will pay off in Williamsport.”
“We’re both really excited and we’re really proud,” Kevin said of he and his wife Janet.
Janet expressed pride in how well rounded their son is.
“I’m proud of Austin all the time,” she said. “Off the field he’s a very kind person and a great teammate and friend — and a wonderful son.”