State Farm Memories and Morsels

 

I know that everyone and their brothers are gioing to write some kind of blog or opinion on the State Farm Home Run Derby.

I am just going to give my views opinions, and maybe a few qoutes from people in the Derby. Hopefully you will be entertained for a short moment in time and not hit the delete or exit the blog.

With that in mind, here we go……….

The Rays Evan Longoria is one of 4 first-time Rookies to the All-Star festivities this year. Add the pressure of the State Farm Home Run Derby on top of all the other stuff, and you got a pressure cooker the size of Yankee Stadium. Not only does Longoria get to visit the site of the beginning of his teams’ 6-game road losing streak, but he gets to be a part of the media circus that is the All-Star Game. 

Longoria became the sixth rookie to compete in a Home Run Derby, and the first since Nomar Garciaparra — who hit zero home runs — in 1997. He earned an invitation only after drawing more than nine million votes in the Monster 2008 All-Star Game Final Vote competition, securing the last opening on the American League roster.

He didn’t know any of this, of course, until two days before the All-Star break, when he received a phone invitation to the Derby.  Naturally, he accepted. And naturally, he would accept it again.

And that, for Longoria, was the whole point. He didn’t expect to win, but he was still quite anxious to hit … nervous, even.

That makes sense, because Longoria is only 22 years old. He wasn’t even on the Rays’ Opening Day roster, and he has only 16 career homers to his credit. Longoria just purchased his first house, and he’s spent the better part of this All-star break trolling for items to put in the memorabilia room.

Though a Home Run Derby trophy would have been a nice centerpiece, it will have to wait.

Uggla, who led off the competition, did just that — and he managed to avoid going homerless. What he didn’t do was advance to the second round after hitting six.

It felt good,” Uggla said. “It was a lot of fun, a lot of fun. I definitely would have liked to have hit again, but those guys are pretty good.”

 

Grady Sizemore arrived in New York City downplaying his participation in the State Farm Home Run Derby from the get-go. He’d leave doing the same. Sizemore was the first of four American League representatives to take a swing at clearing the Yankee Stadium fences. He followed Florida’s Dan Uggla, who set the starting standard at six home runs.

Halfway through the eight-player first round, Sizemore looked to be in good position to be one of the four players to advance to the second round of the three-round event. 

 The Rays Evan Longoria led off the second group and his problems in this Derby came early, when, after hitting an opposite-field home run on the second pitch he saw, he sent a series of pops, liners and grounders toward the left side of the field. The outs piled up in a hurry, before Longoria took a few pitches to slow the pace.

It worked. With three outs remaining, Longoria launched back-to-back home runs to the upper deck in left field, the longest of which landed 446 feet away. His 3 home runs averaged 419 feet, but placed him third among the competition’s first three hitters.

 Chase Utley’s left-handed swing appeared to be a perfect fit for the State Farm Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium. Unfortunately for the Phillies’ MVP candidate, his line-drive stroke betrayed him.

Utley jacked five home runs, including an upper deck shot and another that clanged off the facade of the second deck in right field at “The Stadium,” but he left too many balls just short, on or near the right-field warning track. Unlike mashers such as Lance Berkmanand Josh Hamilton, his homers and his outs tended to be low liners rather than majestic moonshots.

Chase Utley of the Philles concluded the second pairing by hitting 5 homers, 2 of which were Gold Balls to eliminate Longoria from the Second Round of the contest.

Then the Astros’Lance Berkman and the Twins’ Justin Morneau hitting 8 homers each. Berkman hit the Yankees Stadium upper decks with 5 homers, while Morneau spread out 3 in the upper seating area. Next came up the Brewers’ Ryan Braun, who posted 7 homers, and was in contention for the Second Round with only Josh Hamilton left to hit.

Seriously, what did you expect from someone called The Natural who swings a black bat inscribed The Dream? Josh Hamilton did not disappoint in the 2008 State Farm Home Run Derby.

As Hamilton quickly and dramatically aired out all the suspense from the early competition in Yankee Stadium on Monday night, only one question lingered: When does he launch a baseball off a light tower and scatter a section of fans with glass?

That didn’t happen, but virtually everything else imaginable, or even not, did.

Hamilton’s 28 opening-round homers shattered the record of 24 by Bobby Abreu. But after electing for an abridged Round 2, he couldn’t regain the feeling and opened the door for Morneau’s triumph.

Despite stopping at four outs in Round 2, Hamilton racked up a total of 32 homers (on 14 outs) in the first two rounds; Morneau’s 17 (on the full complement of 20 outs) was runner-up.

“I said after the first round, ‘If I don’t hit another, I’m satisfied,'” Hamilton said. “Just for being able to generate the crowd like that, and looking up in the stands and seeing my family there.”

But with the slate wiped clean for the finals, Morneau led off with five homers and Hamilton and his 71-year-old pitcher dead-ended at 3.

Yet, the impression of Hamilton’s majestic Round 1 display won’t soon fade. Even Morneau admitted, “We were all in awe. You want to see that story end in a good way.”

With a new Yankee Stadium rising across the street, this one will be razed after the season. Hamilton just gave the demolition a start by blasting home runs off a pitcher for whom he made room in his fantasy.

Clay Counsil, the gentleman batting-practice pitcher from North Carolina, left the field beaming as brightly as had Hamilton. “It was a thrill, sure,” said Counsil. “Nothing like this ever happened to me in North Carolina.”

Confirming that his only prior visit to Yankee Stadium had been on Oct. 8, 1956, for Don Larsen’s World Series perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers, Counsil said, “Whenever I come here, something special happens.”

“I’m really proud of Josh,” added Counsil, who made plenty of new friends among the AL All-Stars

“I was in here [before the Finals] and David Ortiz came by saying, ‘Don’t sit. Got to go out there and keep the blood moving.’ You just don’t realize how tired you are,” Hamilton said. “You feel like you can still muscle out the ball, but it just doesn’t go.”

He looked over his left shoulder, where Counsil was preparing to get out of his long johns and back into his civvies.

“It was Clay’s fault,” Hamilton said loudly, making sure he was heard a few lockers down. “He stopped throwing the ball in the same spot.”

 

Last year, Twins first baseman Justin Morneau participated in the State Farm Home Run Derby in San Francisco and was eliminated in the first round after hitting just four home runs.

This time, Morneau had a better showing in this year’s event at Yankee Stadium on Monday night and won the trophy in a stunning upset. He became the first member of the Twins, and first Canadian, to win the Home Run Derby.

Morneau may have won the trophy, but he realizes the story was Hamilton, who won the 56,716 fans over with his Mickey Mantle-type power. In the first round alone, Hamilton hit a record-setting 28 home runs and hit three homers measured at more than 500 feet apiece.

“[Hamilton is] the story of this year,” Morneau said. “I mean, the year he’s having, for him to come in and put on a show like that, I mean, it was something impressive. We were over there in awe of what he was doing.

I was kind of cheering for him because, you know, the whole crowd’s behind him, everybody’s cheering him on. You want to see that story end in a good way, but, you know, at the same time, it’s something I always dreamed of. I played home run derby in my backyard all the time. … It was something that I always wanted to do. To be able to do it here, be a part of that performance Josh put on, it was something special.”

You know, he hit so many in a row,” Morneau said. “I mean, that’s hard to do in itself. Then to have to get back out there and swing a couple more times, you know, I mean, he was the one that put on the show tonight. I think everyone will remember Josh Hamilton’s 28 home runs more than they’ll remember I won the thing. I’m just glad I was a part of the whole thing.”

 

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