Perhaps it was because I was still basically a kid, perhaps it was because we had no idea what was really fueling those moonshots, but the Home Run Derby once was a time where the baseball gods came down to earth and took human form, sending balls deep into the night. Over the Green Monster! Into the highest decks of Turner Field! Through the windows of roofed stadiums! Coors Field!
And then, over the years, it has seemed to have been changed into baseball’s version of the Super Bowl: lots of hype, and a good streak of installments here and there, but usually just overhyped. For every year where Josh Hamilton or Bobby Abreu make the night their personal playground, there’s a few years like the one where McCovey Cove shuts out the best hitters who showed up.
Now, however, we might have a lineup and a location to bring the Home Run Derby back to it’s glory.
You see, this year might not have Josh Hamilton (who probably knows that no matter what he’d do, it’d be a disappointment in comparison to Yankee Stadium), but it has (in no particular order)…
Jose Bautista, owner of a league leading 27 dingers, longest this year: 455 feet
Carlos Beltran, owner of 20 homers, longest: 464 feet
Giancarlo Stanton, 19 home runs, longest: 462 feet (that’s my favorite homer of the year)
Matt Kemp (healthy enough to hit but not to play the game), 12 home runs, longest: 454 feet
Defending champion Robinson Cano, 20 home runs, longest: 440 feet
Carlos Gonzalez, 17 home runs, longest: 445 feet
Prince Fielder, “only” 12 home runs, longest: 456 feet
Mark Trumbo, 20 home runs, longest: 459 feet
Of course, success crushing the ball in game environments is no indication for Derby success, and some guys who don’t hit that many home runs in games are apparently legends of batting practice. Ichiro, for example, is said to be one of the best BP shows in baseball. Matt Wieters’ batting practices at Georgia Tech led his teammates to nickname him “God”, as in “Oh my god”. Some pitchers are great hitters in batting practice, where they don’t have to worry about curve balls and 90+ MPH heaters. We won’t be seeing any of them in the Derby, but it’s hard to complain with this lineup: it has the MLB leader, the defending Derby champion, another former Derby Champion (Fielder) and five of the other best long ball hitters in baseball, ranging from youths like Trumbo and Stanton to a veteran like Carlos Beltran.
Adding to the fun will be the stadium: Kauffman Stadium and it’s famous fountains. It provides a landmark, something everyone knows about and wants to see conquered. Not every stadium has that, and some of the best derbies have had things like that- the 1999 Derby in Fenway, for example, had the Green Monster. Camden Yards still has a marker on the warehouse indicating where Ken Griffey had hit it during batting practice for the Home Run Derby there. San Francisco was a disappointment because nobody hit one into the cove. Hopefully we will have fountain shots in this derby, or, better yet, home runs over the fountains. Bonus to Kansas City if they turn the fountains on during the derby to increase the difficulty of doing so.
To predict the Home Run Derby, especially a week away from it, is folly. This is especially true because the “winner” is rarely the man who actually wins the trophy in the end. Remember, Justin Morneau technically won the Yankee Stadium derby, despite the fact that Josh Hamilton owned the night. I think that if somebody has a chance to own the night in Kansas City, it’ll be Giancarlo Stanton. His legend is already growing, with a article about his great power in a recent Sports Illustrated. He’s already smashed a scoreboard and peppered the big whirligigesque statue in Miami. If he gets in a groove, he could have a Hamiltonian night.
So there you have it. It’s now a matter of waiting a week for the Home Run Derby on ESPN. The number of “back, back, back” calls from Chris Berman will be very large. Expect him to tell you that balls have landed in Kansas City (as in Kansas City, Kansas), St. Joseph, Liberty, Warrensburg, Blue Springs and, if deep enough to right, St. Louis.
Be prepared, because the Home Run Derby may once again live up to the hype.