It’s a different format than previous derbies, but it worked out well for last year’s champion — Yoenis Cespedes of Oakland. But the event almost didn’t happen. Rain and storms in the area swept through the Twin Cities, threatening to stall today’s activities at Target Field, the All-Star Work-out Day and the Home Run Derby. But fans that stuck it out were treated to quite a show, and in the end, $465,000 was raised for the Boys & Girls Club of America and RBIs across the country.
In the first round, Toronto’s Jose Bautista and Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton hit some rather impressive home runs to earn the top spots in their divisions and advance to the third round. Stanton, in particular, was something as his homers were just power-packed rockets flying into the upper decks and one going a projected 510 feet in what it considered a “pitcher-friendly” ballpark. The Reds’ Todd Frazier eked his way into the second round after an added 3 swing-off competition with Rockies’ (and former Twins’) Justin Morneau.
Cespedes also had his own swing-off competition against teammate Josh Donaldson, but Cespedes seemed to find his swing, while Donaldson struggled in the bonus round. Baltimore’s Adam Jones and Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki also made it into the second round, but were knocked out of competition by Cespedes and Frazier, respectively (and in doing so, blew my bracket). The Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig and the Twins’ Brian Dozier were eliminated in the first round having scored the least amount of home runs in their divisions.
For a brief time during the first round, there was a rainbow perfectly arched over the field, evidence of the lingering rain in the area. And after the bonus round and the second round, it was down to Cespedes vs. Bautista and Frazier vs. Stanton. Stanton seemed to falter, and though Frazier struggled, he won the NL division with a single home run to Stanton’s zero. In the AL, Cespedes was on a roll, and after notching 9 HRs in the second round against Jones’ 3, he eked out a mere 7 to Bautista’s 3. There was no doubt that it was Yoenis Cespedes’ night, and it was rather reminiscent of last year at Citi Field, where he won under last year’s format. He is the first player to win back-to-back HR Derbies since Ken Griffey Jr. in 1988-1989.
Also, today was press day where several important things happened. First, they unveiled the starting line-ups for each team, including who the starting pitchers will be. Usually, they allow for a new pitcher per inning, and they trade out the players for the guys on the bench, just so everyone gets a chance to play (unless they are injured).
Today was also the day that the All-Star players talked with the press about their experience and expectations, and I’m guessing you can figure out who seemed to be the most talked to and talked about player. Yes, Derek Jeter seemed to have a constant media presence, at least three people deep at all times for most of the press time. And Dellin Betances is excited for his first All-Star Game. Jeter and Betances are the only two Yankee representatives this year as Tanaka (though selected) opted to begin his rehab this week in lieu of participating in ASG activities, getting himself ready and back in the game as soon as possible.
I have two favorite parts of the HR Derby. First, I love that charities benefit from what is essentially a show-off game for this week’s festivities. Sure, players get to display their strength and precision by slamming 400-something foot home runs, but every one of those balls hit out of the park is another $5,000 (or $10,000 after 6 “outs”) for charity. And that’s pretty awesome.
And my other favorite part is watching the camaraderie of the players as they cheer, awe, marvel, tease, and generally have a whole lot of fun with each other. The guys putting on the show are focused on their game and focus on putting effort into their swinging for the fences. But their teammates, even if just for the week, or their opponents are full of encouragements and Gatorade and jokes and wonder as the show continues on before them. Like when Stanton hit his first round home runs, his NL teammates were practically googly-eyed and giddy over his home runs that it was almost impossible for them to contain. Fathers bring their children, donning their fathers’ specially designed jerseys, and it becomes a big fun, family event both on the field and in the stands.
So I think that’s why I liked tonight’s event. Sure, it was fun to see monster home runs, but money went to help charities all over America, and families enjoyed a wonderful (albeit awfully wet) Monday evening in the Twin Cities.
And really, isn’t that what it’s all about anyway — family? I like to think so.