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Rice’s Aquino returns to Omaha to defend Home Run Derby title

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In the history of Major League Baseball’s Home Run Derby during All-Star Weekend, there has been only one occurrence where the same player has won back-to-back years.

One might say former Rice University baseball player Michael Aquino is trying to become the Ken Griffey Jr. of the college event.

Aquino is going back to Omaha to attempt to win a second straight College Home Run Derby title at TD Ameritrade Park. The event is at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. It will be broadcast live on ESPN.

Griffey beat out Jim Thome during the 1998 MLB version in Denver and then bested Jeromy Burnitz in the finals the following year. That was at Fenway Park, where Mark McGwire hit 13 homers in the first round, but only three in the semifinals.

Compared to Fenway or Coors Field, TD Ameritrade is far less homer friendly. During 77 regular season games played at the park, only 29 homers have been hit. Dingers are even rarer during the College World Series.

Aquino is aware of the park‘s size, but it didn’t seemed to matter too much last year. He knocked 20 balls over the fence during the three rounds of the tournament, including 6 in the finals, which was one more than Georgia Tech’s Matt Gonzalez.

Now, he’ll try to become the first college player to win two titles.

“I couldn’t believe they asked me. I didn’t even know if I was eligible to go back,” Aquino told his hometown newspaper, The Villager in The Woodlands. “My (college) eligibility is up, but it’s not an NCAA event.”

Aquino did some of his best hitting late in his senior season. He was named the Conference USA Tournament MVP after a monstrous hitting display. He batted .571 with nine RBI, seven runs scored and a slugging percentage of .857 in five games to help the Owls win the title.

Aquino finished third in Conference USA in RBI (46) and total bases (119), and tied for third in the league in doubles with 17. He hit seven home runs in 2014, giving him 16 in the past two seasons.

This year’s competition includes Tres Barrera of Texas, Sikes Orvis of Ole Miss and Eric Gutierrez of Texas Tech, all of which played in the College World Series in Omaha. Also competing are Bobby Dalbec of Arizona, Matt Dacey of Richmond, Zach Ratcliff of Ohio State and Hunter Haley of Oklahoma.

The format of the derby, which is largely similar to MLB’s version, can be found here.