A new home run king at K-State
By: D. Scott Fritchen
Things happen quickly. Things also stop instantly. That’s what happened at 4.12pm on Saturday when a powerful bang suddenly sounded in the Tointon Family Stadium. For a few seconds along the hall near home plate, the man with a hot dog stopped eating, a mother with her small child stopped walking, the girls in the second row stopped talking and the scouts of Major League Baseball with radar guns stopped tracking.
Dylan Phillips hit a shot that sailed over the PrimeLending sponsorship panel between the 390- and 375-foot markers into right-center field. The explosion went 402 feet. It was the 38and home run of his career. No player to wear a Kansas State uniform has ever hit more.
The explosion carried a speed of 99 miles per hour and came late in the first run. A second-year right-hander from Oklahoma State named Victor Mederos, who had previously thrown heat, moved on to a change.
Phillips, a 6-foot, 220-pound fourth-year junior and a preseason third-team All-America pick by college baseball, had six home runs in 25 games this season. He hit 10 home runs in 2019, five in 2020 and 16 last season, which tied for the most home runs at K-State in a single season.
Phillips homered No. 37 over the left-field wall against the Cowboys on Friday night.
He hit No. 38 on the second pitch he saw on Saturday.
And it was historic.
“It’s just the culmination of four years of work that went into this — staying consistent with what I’ve been doing, not being complacent or anything,” Phillips said. “It’s just a sign of how my performance has been for four straight years.”
When Phillips touched the ball, a 22-year-old junior from Omaha, Nebraska knew he was missing. K State Head Coach Pete Hughes knew it was gone. The sold-out crowd of 2,344 knew it was on. Even so, Phillips ran hard as he reached first base. Then he trotted to second base as the ball went over the wall, then he rounded third base, and Hughes, standing inside the coach’s box, came out and sent Phillips on his way with a gentle clap, then Hughes clapped. Phillips raised his right arm in the air, that famous sign of mid-game celebration, as he headed for home plate. By then, his K-State teammates had already cleared the dugout and jumped up and down before hitting Phillips after crossing home plate.
Phillips tilted his cap at the crowd, earning him a standing ovation.
“It was just a lot of happiness, to do it in front of all the great fans here and to know that they support us,” he said. “I just couldn’t be more grateful.”
Phillips broke the previous record of 37 home runs set by Scott Poepard between 1994 and 1997. Phillips entered the season as the active Big 12 Conference leader with 31 home runs.
“You know,” Hughes said before the season, “he’s going to be one of the best baseball players ever in Kansas State.”
Hughes echoed that sentiment on Saturday.
“He’s as good as he gets,” Hughes said.
Phillips had chased the record at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, and on a seven-game trip to the West Coast, Omaha and Fort Worth, Texas. (“When everything works, I mean, everything feels a little slower,” Phillips said before the season.) Yeah, Phillips had thrown six on the outside wall. He got closer and closer. (“I don’t know how to describe a home run. You’re in your zone and get the pitch you want,” Phillips said.) The only question was when would he make history.
He hit two homers in one game at CSU Bakersfield on Feb. 27, one at Loyola Marymount on March 4, one against Morehead State on March 20, one against Northern Colorado last Tuesday and one against Oklahoma State on Friday.
— K-State Baseball (@KStateBSB) April 2, 2022
None quite like that.
It was a beautiful sunny early evening at 64 degrees in Manhattan and a nearly shadeless field. It was one of the first days of spring when there were no clouds in the sky. It was National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day. K-State Athletics sold PB&J fried sandwiches. K-State wore its all-white uniforms with a purple “CATS” on the front, a purple Powercat on the right sleeve, and a purple Big 12 logo on the left. The Wildcats wore a purple helmet with a white “KS” printed above the bill.
Phillips wielded a 33-inch, 30-ounce black Easton bat with a lavender grip. The funny thing is that some teammates before the season tried to convince him that “other bats had more juice”, and he actually started the season swinging a different bat. It didn’t feel right. He returned to the Easton. Then he hit his first home run of the season.
“It kind of took off from there,” he said.
It was the kind of thing Phillips dreamed of. The son of Dave Phillips and Molly Luedtke-Phillips, he grew up smelling of popcorn at historic Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium, then site of the NCAA Men’s College World Series. He started playing tee-ball at the age of 5 and played sports all year round. Starting at age 9, he attended at least one CWS game every June. It was the “big deal”. When he was young, he sat with his family. He progressed to hanging out with high school friends behind the outfield wall. But all along, the dream was firmly embedded inside Phillips, who became Nebraska Gatorade’s 2018 Player of the Year.
Dave and Molly were there to see their son make history.
“We’re going to dinner later,” Phillips said.
No one outside of Phillips, his parents, and Hughes likely knows what Major League Baseball teams put on the table after the 2021 MLB Draft. But that clearly wasn’t a big enough number to convince Phillips to leave K-State last July.
And now? He’s a K-State record holder.
“He’s like family to me,” Hughes said.
Inside the fastball? He will hit him. Change ? To beat. Wrecking ball? Faded away. He spends hours studying the film of different pitchers. He sees every type of terrain in their arsenal. Sometimes he can tell before heading to home plate if he will get his shot. If he’s going to hit this guy, or that guy. He just knows. It’s a weird science, really, but that’s why, you know, he’s the king of the home run — and he’ll have historic baseball to prove it forever and ever.
Just when everyone thought Phillips was done with Saturday, he did it again. This time at 5:52 p.m. At the bottom of round six – punch – time stood still again. Phillips sent a ball over the 2013 Big 12 Championship banner into right field. It was his second multi-circuit game of the season and the seventh of his career. The crowd stood and cheered, danced and clapped in unison as the high energy music filled the clear blue sky.
It was the 39and Phillips’ incredible career home run.
And he rounds the bases again.