With (more than) half of the Major League Baseball season in the books and the calendars saying that it is the middle of the month of July, it’s that time for the best players in the league to convene for a couple of days of fun and festivities at another All-Star break.
And, in this case, if you are Tim Lincecum who just threw almost 150 pitches to notch down a no-hitter, put your sore body part(s) in ice for the next two to three days and leave them there.
This also means that in addition to the All-Star Game itself, there are other All-Star related events, including FanFest, the Futures Game, the Celebrity Softball Game, and the Home Run Derby.
I will personally admit that at one point in time, around 2005, it seemed as if the Derby was becoming as artificial to me as the regular season home run totals were a few years ago before that. It is somewhat ironic that many fans, including myself, are now taking liberties in calling Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, and Sammy Sosa’s homer totals artificial now via the use of steroids when we wanted to believe nothing of the sort in the heat of the moment.
I remember the individual home run totals shoot all the way up to 24 for Bobby Abreu and 17 for David Ortiz during that 2005 Derby in Detroit’s Comerica Park when they featured eight players from eight different countries in a promotional tool for the World Baseball Classic. The following Home Run Derby was in Pittsburgh. With the trajectory that the Derby numbers were on, I figured that if this went on for one more year that I’d tune out the Derby for good.
Luckily, for me in 2006, the numbers looked real again. I had previously become less fascinated by these “shows” that the Derby participants had put on because it had become more and more common.
On to this year’s Derby—it’s being held at a ballpark that is not exactly the bandbox that Citizens Bank Park is—CitiField. It has only been around for a few years as the heir apparent to Shea Stadium and has already received a reputation as one of the most pitcher-friendly ballparks in all of baseball.
Truth be told, it’s a stadium Taylor-made for this era of baseball that is more pitcher, strategy, and speed based as opposed to favoring the long ball. Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson even made modifications to the outfield before last season to make Citi a little bit more susceptible to home runs. This was basically the reverse “Humedor” effect that became famous at Colorado’s Coors Field. At last check, 408 feet to straight away centerfield is still 408 to straightaway centerfield.
The two captains for the American and National League “teams” this year are the New York Yankees’ Robinson Cano and the New York Mets’ David Wright. Of course, MLB would choose for the two captains to both represent the two teams of this year’s All-Star 2013 Host City—Gotham.
Expect the Mets’ Wright to obtain the lion share of the cheers from the crowd at CitiField (unless, of course, the Yankee fans take the joint over).
For David Wright, this is his first Derby since losing in the Finals of the 2006 home run hitting contest to the Philadelphia Phillies’ Ryan Howard in Pittsburgh. Wright is essentially the “Grand Marshal” for this year’s All-Star festivities in Flushing Meadows, so there’ll likely be a lot of focus on him to wow the crowd in his home stadium even with his relatively low home run count (13).
The other participants for the National League team are:
Bryce Harper—also with 13 home runs and already in his first home run Derby after being the toast of Major League Baseball last year when he made the National League All-Star team as a 19 year old (what were you doing or have you yet to do at that age?). There’s this story about him hitting a ball in a home run contest as a high school freshman that went almost 600 feet. Don’t count on that happening in the Derby, but it is possible that his ability to hit the ball out of the park may provide for a good showing.
Michael Cuddyer—this one was a pick that took many people by surprise considering the fact that he has not been the most looked at player when it comes to hitting longballs. Part of that has to do with the hitters’ paradise he plays in (Denver’s Coors Field) and the fact that he plays for the Rockies which receive little to no mainstream media coverage. Cuddyer actually has 16 home runs, the 2nd most of the National Leaguers. There’s talk that Cuddyer’s friendship with Wright may have been the reason for his selection. It has been said that unknown players can normally come out of nowhere to put on shows. It may have happen with Cuddyer.
Pedro Alvarez—Pirates fans, you got your wish. “El Toro” made it to Flushing for the Derby. This was the spot that was originally given to another Colorado Rockie in Carlos Gonzalez, before an injury sidelined him. When the participants were originally announced, Western Pennsylvania was stunned that their hometown “Toro” wasn’t picked, and they even let David Wright know how they felt when the Mets traveled to Pittsburgh for their last road series prior to the Break. Alvarez’ 24 home runs are a huge reason as to why the Pirates are right up there with the St. Louis Cardinals in competition for the Senior Circuit’s best record.
Of course, Philadelphia fans may be somewhat disappointed that none of these participants are “Downtown” Dom Brown. When everyone inside and outside Philly was talking about nothing but what could Brown do for the Fightin’ Phils, he told a Delaware newspaper that he had no intentions on participating in the Derby. That tune changed when he told Todd Zolecki, the Phillies beat writer for MLB.com, that he didn’t think the Derby would’ve hurt his swing (ala Abreu 2005) and was looking forward to taking part.
Onto the four competitors from the Junior Circuit…
Robinson Cano—this is his 3rd Derby for him and he has 21 longballs at the Break. He won the 2011 Home Run Derby when it was in Phoenix’s Chase Field, but laid a huge goose-egg last year when it was in Kansas City. This was in large part to him being public enemy #1 during the festivities in the City of Fountains in 2012. He was the AL’s Derby captain that year as well and promised the Royals fans that he’d select a hometown player to participate, which would’ve likely been Billy “Country Breakfast” Butler. Butler wasn’t selected. A Kansas City sports radio station, 810 WHB, organized a public campaign to boo Cano when he stepped to the plate and it worked. Luckily, no New York City radio station has similar intentions this year. Cano will likely do better this time.
Prince Fielder—the defending champion with 16 HRs at the All Star Break for the first place Detroit Tigers. It is well known that he hits the ball for power nine times out of ten which is why the long dimensions that are part of CitiField may have no effect on Fielder. After winning last year’s Derby in Kansas City, he’s looked at as one of the favorites to be victorious again. A victory would notch him his third Derby victory after also winning in 2009 in St. Louis’ Busch Stadium. It’d be the first time someone has won 3 Derbies.
Yoenis Cespedes—15 home runs at the All Star Break for the Oakland Athletics who currently boast the American League’s 2nd best record at 56-39. Only the Red Sox are better at 58-39, but the A’s are tied in the loss column. This also was a surprise pick from Cano because when the Home Run Derby participants were announced a week ago, he only announced three of the four for the American League. It was well speculated that either Miguel Cabrera or Jose Bautista would get the final spot, but Cabrera was also unable to participate, landing the final selection to Cespedes for his first Derby appearance.
Chris Davis—37 (yeah, he said 37) home runs for the Baltimore Orioles. They don’t call him “Crush” in the state of Maryland for nothing. This, of course, is also his first Derby appearance. He’s on pace to challenge, what most still consider to be, the true home run record of 61 home runs set by Roger Maris and is even the subject of (possibly unfair) steroids controversies. He’s also looked at as one of the favorites even though hitting many home runs in the regular season sometimes doesn’t translate to the Derby (see Sammy Sosa in 1999).
The Field is set and it should be a lot of fun to watch (Chris Berman, or no Chris Berman). A popular pick out of the NL seems to be Alvarez, but I’ll go with David Wright to put on a big time performance in front of his hometown fans. Prince Fielder has already won this thing twice, so I can’t go against him in the AL.
Finals prediction—Fielder over Wright.
So, as Berman would say… “Are you ready for some longball?!”
See you back here on Section 215 (somewhere) after the Derby for a recap and a preview of the All-Star Game itself!
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