By Steve Williams
The No. 44 in baseball has been associated with home runs since Hammerin’ Hank Aaron of the Atlanta Braves moved past Babe Ruth for the major league career lead in 1974.
That number is doing well these days too for Powell High product Hagen Owenby at East Tennessee State University. The Buccaneers’ No. 44 recently won the TD Ameritrade College Baseball Home Run Derby.
Just call him Homerin’ Hagen.
Owenby, a 6-1, 211-pound sophomore catcher, belted 46 home runs in the three rounds of competition and outhit Joe Davis of Houston 13-12 in the final round at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, the home of the College Baseball World Series since 2011. The former Powell Panther had to hit three homers in the final 30 seconds to pull out the win.
His victory on July 3 gave ETSU its second winner in the seven-year history of the derby – Paul Hoilman won in 2010 – and with that distinction the Buccaneers’ program has officially been labeled “Home Run University.”
Hoilman also wore No. 44.
“The number 44 has been worn by some great players over the last few years at ETSU, and I am fortunate to have it rub off on me,” said Owenby, who blasted a record-setting 23 homers in the first round.
“Big Paul Hoilman wore this number and Clinton Freeman took over the jersey after him. Those are two tremendous Buccaneers to wear the Blue and Gold. It’s a pleasure for me to come out here tonight and continue that legacy. Tonight was awesome and a great experience.”
ETSU Coach Tony Skole pitched to both Hoilman and Owenby in their HR Derby victories,
Willie McCovey and Reggie Jackson are two other retired major league sluggers who wore No. 44.
Owenby was honored as a second-team Louisville Slugger All-American this past season and selected first-team All-Southern Conference. He was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 14th round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft last month.
After the HR Derby, the Knoxville native returned to the Cape Cod Baseball League, a high-profile summer league in Massachusetts for college players, as a member of the Chatham Anglers.
“I actually do not remember my first-ever home run, but I wish I could,” Owenby said when asked about his first homer in youth baseball growing up in Knoxville.
“My most memorable home run in high school was the first-ever home run I hit in the first game my freshman year.”
A two-sport standout in football and baseball at Powell High, Hagen also hit a homer in his first collegiate game against Eastern Kentucky in 2015 and went on to be named a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American.
His 47 starts were the most for a true freshman, with 39 coming as catcher and the other eight as DH.
In 171 at-bats as a college rookie, Owenby hit .310 with a slugging percentage of .497.
Owenby’s power numbers improved as a sophomore as he led ETSU with 17 home runs (ranking 18th in the nation) and a .660 slugging percentage. He ranked second on the team with 60 RBI. In 235 at-bats, his average also climbed to a team-high .374 with 16 doubles and 46 runs scored.
The durable Owenby started all 57 games this past spring, had a .987 fielding percentage and threw out 13 of 60 base stealers as the Buccaneers finished 27-30 overall and 13-11 in Southern Conference play.
Owenby told The Knoxville Focus Saturday, “I have chosen to play one more year in college.”
Having No. 44 back for another year has to be good news for “Home Run University.”