San Diego’s Petco Park measures 367 feet to left field, 383 feet to right field and more than 400 feet to the power alleys. It is one of the hardest places in the major leagues to hit a home run. But here was Denny Crine, a physical education and health teacher at Henderson’s Mannion Middle School, crushing softballs far beyond the left-field fence with nearly every swing, depositing some of them on the roof of the Western Metal Supply Co. building 80 feet above the field.
The 2009 exhibition resulted in Crine’s second straight season title on the Long Haul Bombers Stadium Power Tour, a summerlong competition in which the nation’s six leading softball-bat manufacturers each send two sluggers to big-league stadiums for home-run-hitting contests. Crine, whose hitting exploits can be viewed on YouTube—he regularly launches the ball 450 feet—also won the event in 2008, in his first year competing.
Now he’s on the trail of another Long Haul title. On May 22, he hit 12 homers at Miami’s Sun Life Stadium before a Florida Marlins game to win the day’s competition. Next up, a contest in Tampa on May 29, followed by trips to Seattle, Minnesota and San Francisco before the Sept. 18 finals at Dodger Stadium.
At 6 feet 7 inches and 300 pounds, Crine, 36, seems a natural-born slugger, but this wasn’t how the 1992 Basic High School graduate envisioned himself gaining notice on a big-league field. After two years as a pitcher at Saddleback Junior College in Southern California, the right-hander was selected by the Chicago White Sox in the seventh round of the 1994 amateur draft. He had a solid first year in the minors, posting a 2.33 earned-run average in 15 games, before offseason elbow surgery led to a 1995 season in which he posted an ERA of more than 6.00 in 15 Class-A games. Chicago released him the following spring.
Crine returned to Henderson, where a high-school friend recruited him to play in a local softball league. With the desire to compete still burning, Crine seized the opportunity and quickly established himself as one of the most feared sluggers in the Valley. “I don’t want to say I wasn’t crushing the ball [at first], but I wasn’t as consistent,” he says. “Every year I played I became more consistent.”
Crine progressed from team to team until gaining a tryout with Minnesota-based Long Haul Trucking, one of the nation’s top teams, in 2002. From there, he was recommended to Miken Sports, which signed him to a contract. Now Crine is the only player in Miken’s history to have his own model bat, which debuted last year.
“It’s pretty cool,” says Crine, who is also an assistant baseball coach at Foothill High School. “It gets weird, though, when people you first started playing with can go to the store and buy a bat with your name on it.”
One thing that makes Crine’s exploits so impressive is that he remains clean in a sport that, like baseball, has become polluted by the use of performance-enhancing drugs over the past 20 years.
“It’s disappointing to me that guys will do that to themselves,” he says. “And you can say it’s a recreational sport, but on our level you can call it a professional sport. The one thing I wish is that I could have competed against guys who didn’t do that.”