The home run is a spectacle to behold. There’s something special about the ball meeting the bat and disappearing over the wall in a matter of seconds. Virginia Tech baseball has added an extra element to each long ball that makes the occurrence the most anticipated part of each game.
It is the homerun celebration sledgehammer.
When the ball is deposited beyond the outfield fence, Lecrae’s Hammer Time starts blaring through the speakers at English Field at Atlantic Union Bank Park as the homerun hitter rounds the bases, touches home plate, and heads back to the dugout. Awaiting him outside the dugout, though, is the entire team ready to go into a frenzy. The hammer is tossed in the air and the homerun hitter receives it and slams it to the ground in one motion. It’s pure adrenaline, pure exhilaration, and it’s become arguably the top celebration in college baseball.
Don't know what's better, the home run or the celebration 🔥 pic.twitter.com/thuTBDdDTa
— MLB (@MLB) March 6, 2021
The home run hammer is the best prop in college sports. Turnover chain can’t even compete. pic.twitter.com/Jecv9b3vNq
— Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) March 7, 2021
“In baseball, a lot of times you have pitchers and you have hitters and they’re a little bit separate,” said assistant coach Tyler Hanson. “It’s the same in football, you have offense and defense. I thought the hammer has made us a team. The amount of energy it just brings in a game has been tremendous.”
While the hammer has taken off this season, many don’t realize that it actually originated back to the shortened 2020 season. Virginia Tech opened that season down in Conway, South Carolina and returned to Blacksburg with an 0-2 record.
The Hokies needed to be jump started after that disappointing first weekend. Hanson felt like the team was lacking an identity at the plate, and he was about to give them one.
“I wanted to create something for the team,” Hanson said. “We’re hitting in the cages and I just kept saying, ‘Hammer baseballs, hammer baseballs.’ The next guy would get into the cage and it’d be, ‘OK, hammer time.’ It didn’t really catch on at first. I kept with it the next day and the day after that. I kept saying, ‘Hammer baseballs, hammer time.’ It eventually caught on.”
This consistent mindset at the plate began to form the offensive philosophy for the Hokies. They weren’t going to let teams throw fastballs by them. Virginia Tech was going to be aggressive and hammer fastballs early in the count.
The renewed identity for the Hokies needed to be symbolized in some way. Hanson borrowed a page from a certain legend in the area.
“It just all goes back to Coach Bud Foster’s Lunch Pail and getting our guys to rally around something or something to go back to when times are tough,” Hanson said.
All it took was one trip to Lowe’s for Hanson to buy the hammer and bring the baseball team’s own version of the lunch pail into the fold. The power of social media in 2021 has brought the hammer into a whole new stratosphere.
“Our first game against VCU when we hit the home run and the hammer came out, I looked into the stands and everybody had their camera out trying to get video of this celebration,” Hanson said. “That’s such a cool thing to see because it gets our fans engaged.”
Even the official MLB and Barstool Sports Twitter accounts, among others, have lauded the celebration. In the process, it’s helped put Virginia Tech baseball on the map.
“It’s been great for our program,” Hanson said. “With these baseball outlets picking it up, there’s a lot of kids out there that maybe don’t know a whole lot about Virginia Tech baseball and what we bring. It just shows we’re about energy, we’re about togetherness, and hopefully it gets recruits and kids around the country interested in Virginia Tech baseball. That’s not what it was geared towards, but if that’s what it’s turning into then awesome.”
Sup, @espn 🤟
You won’t find another baseball team with more 🔋🔥⚡️ than us right now.
— Virginia Tech Baseball (@HokiesBaseball) March 11, 2021
“It’s kind of just caught life on social media,” said right fielder Gavin Cross, who leads the Hokies with four home runs. “It’s something for us that whether we’re down big, up big, whatever the situation is it sparks the dugout and gets everyone back in the game. It gets us back on track. It’s an energy thing for the offense more than anything.”
The energy around English Field has been palpable as a result. In Virginia Tech’s six conference wins so far this season, four of them have been come-from-behind victories. Oftentimes, it’s a tying or go-ahead dinger where the hammer is unleashed to fuel the team moving forward.
“I just know it’s something our team rallies around,” said center fielder Jack Hurley, who’s tied for second on the team with three home runs. “We have a good time with it. We have fun. It’s something we want people to see and embrace as our team.”
So who is the keeper of the hammer? That responsibility often falls on the shoulders of first baseman Nick Holesa. None of it can be executed correctly without the slight loft of hammer into the awaiting hands ready to slam it. More often than not, it’s Holesa carrying out that toss.
“I’m sure when we hit our first home run and we slammed that hammer for the first time he was probably the one tossing it and he’s kind of just taken it on,” Hanson said. “Nick’s an awesome kid. I’m glad that he’s become a major part of this.”
Last year when Hanson introduced the hammer, he established a tradition that went along with it. The player with the most extra base hits at the end of the year would be given the hammer. The goal is to take a picture each year of the winner with the hammer and start a wall display in the James C. Weaver Baseball Center.
In 2020, Los Angeles Dodgers fourth round selection Carson Taylor was awarded the hammer with 10 extra base hits in 16 games. This year, Cross has the early lead with 10 extra base hits, three more than TJ Rumfield and Tanner Schobel, who are in second.
It’s now the Hammerin’ Hokies who are bringing their hammer to work every day to build a buzz and excitement in Blacksburg that has been missing for too long.
“Some people may look at it as showing other teams up, but it has nothing to do with other teams,” Hanson said. “It is strictly to do with our players and our fans and bringing excitement and energy to our games.
“It’s been so cool to see. I definitely didn’t envision it to be like it is now. That’s for sure.”