2009 State Farm Home Run Derby thoughts
Most people call it the “most exciting play in baseball.” I am talking about the one play that can make even a visiting crowd stand up and rise to their feet and cheer and celebrate the true nature of the play. No, it is not a around-the-horn ( 5-6-3 ) double play but the always exciting home run. It doesn’t matter if it is a solo shot or a Grand Slam, people love seeing that ball take its extreme flight path from home plate to its final resting place hopefully in someones hands in the stands. It is a play that in one swing of the bat can take a game and transform it in so many different directions for the two teams involved in the contest.
It packs the essence of power, of skill and of will power all compacted in that one solid swing against that little white ball. But it can also hold the hopes and dreams of winning with it’s majestic path towards the outfield walls. There is no other play in baseball that is held in such a high level of respect and admiration when it comes to hitting.
So we have come to that point just beyond the halfway mark where we celebrate everything that is great about the long ball for one long night. The stage and the players have been set, and their game faces will be different tonight because they will get to also celebrate with fellow teammates and All Stars from both leagues sitting right there within eye sight of the participants.
At today’s media day, there will be a million questions thrown at the participants in this seasons State Farm Home Run Derby. Some asking about totals, distance, or if they can hit the Mastercard banner and win someone some extra spending money for the week. But hopefully someone will remember to ask this one question, this one simple thing that could bring a bold smile to each of their faces. ” What is your motivation for tonight’s event?”
Some of those questions will merit unique answers that might take a player back several years into their past. Others might speak of recent injuries or events that have shaken their core and made them a better player. And other might just see it as an opportunity to introduce themselves to the world’s audience as both a player and as a person.
The event had grown into a huge precursor to the All Star Game itself. To say the Home Run Derby event has taken on a life of its own would not be too far fetched at all. E Bay will be full of 2009 Home Run Derby balls on Tuesday morning, including the gold-colored balls used to escalate the fortunes of charities tonight. For some to be at the event is enough, to celebrate the act of the Home Run and see the cheers of the crowd will be like drinking 5 Amp energy drinks in a row. Sparks will fly, minds will wander and kids will fall all over the outfield trying to catch these hit balls.
Heck, I even took a gander over there today and saw a ball from the 2008 Home Run Derby signed by Hamilton up for bid right now at $ 169.99. But then again that is a “Buy now” option that might not be met. But there is a smattering of about nine past HR Derby balls from 2001 to 2005 all running under $ 40 right now. It is great that this event has elevated itself to its current stature in the 3-days events surrounding the All Star Game.
It is hard to even remember that this event might have been made possible by a simple television program stated in the 1960’s. The black and white “Home Run Derby” show was so popular in the 1960’s that it had to have spawned the current event. Even though these shows only pitted two of the best home run hitter of that season, it did have a huge impact on the future of the art of hitting the long ball. I remember seeing a few dozen of these shows as a kid and trying to copy the swings in Little League. But you did try and copy them because they were your heroes and you wanted to see them blast the ball into the stands with every pitch.
And the Home Run Derby did not hurt its image last season when the world got to see the re-emergence of Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton. From the great personal story of Craig Counsel, his former AAU coach and personal Home Run Derby pitcher, to the struggles and demons Hamilton had to wash away to get back to this stage, it set up a heroes return to the game that impassions him from top to bottom. And his shattering of the events record books only goes to show that anyone can take the stage. But how many people remember that he did not win the event?
And America ate it up like a hot, creamy plate of mac & cheese. But it was also the kind of message that needs to be delivered to the youth of this country. That even if you hit rock bottom and the depths of despair, with a little faith and the courage to change, the world is at your feet.
But what will be the story this year? Will it be another coming out party for another one of baseball’s stars. You know one of the great “feel good” stories will be the coming back from injury of Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer, which also rhymes with power, this season. The young catcher has been known for his scattering of hits and his placement of the ball in achieving his current AL leading .373 average. It will be exciting to see him bend his back and thrust that bat to produce some power tonight in the Home Run Derby.
It might also be one of the “coming out” parties I eluded to in the beginning of the blog. Most people associate him with hitting in general. With a good showing in the H R Derby, he will also put his name on you mind when you think of Home Run potential. It is another aspect of his hitting game that might not get the attention it deserves, before tonight’s event.
Then you have someone like the Tampa Bay Rays Carlos Pena, who had been tossed around the league for a few years from teams from the Rangers,Oakland A’s, Detroit Tigers, Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees before he got a non-roster invitee invitation to Spring Training in 2007 from the Rays. Pena has always had the great glove, awesome power and the ability to pull a team together, but they had not all combined together at the same time before his stint with the Rays.
That spring in St. Petersburg, Florida his game came together and his power numbers have been impressive over the past 2 1/2 seasons. Pena has hit 101 homers with 282 RBI since his Opening Day start for the Rays in 2007. To even hear the story of him dreaming he was going to be on the plane to New York for the opening series after Rays Manager Joe Maddon informed him he was going to Triple-A to begin the season is amazing.
An unfortunate injury to Greg Norton opened the door for Pena to fly with the team to New York, and he has been with them ever since. Pena has a very natural home run swing, and the rightfield fence in Busch Stadium, which is 335 feet down the line, could play a major role in how he does tonight. But when you see him lean back and swing through the ball you have the thought in your mind each hit could go over the wall. He has the ability to take any pitch and drive it, so tonight might make people remember his name.
Brandon Inge, here is a guy I have been pulling for all year long for the Detroit Tigers. He has more homers and RBI than Miguel Cabrera, but most people outside of the American League do not even know his name. Because of his pairing with Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino in the All Star Game Sprint Final Vote, he has been dubbed the front part of the “Bran Torino” pairing.
This former catcher, turned third baseman has been doing the same thing for years without the acknowledgments, but tonight he can also get his name out there for future shots at the All Star team. Hidden beneath the names of Magglio Ordonez and Cabrera, Inge has been the consistent power monger on the Tigers this season. With 21 homers and 58 RBI, he is showing his numbers fit right into the program for the Home Run Derby. He even hit two on Saturday night to maybe get some extra momentum going into tonight’s event.
The reason you have seen only AL names listed here is because of the recent video by Harold Reynolds that put all the focus on the NL first baseman getting ready to participate in the event tonight. I am not taking Adrian Gonzalez, Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder or Ryan Howard for granted at all, but to single out the four first baseman and not even chat about the AL competitors is just wrong.
It is for that reason I want to see Mauer,Inge,Pena and Ranger Nelson Cruz slam the door shut on the National League guys. That is right, I want to see a barn burner where the AL comes out on top…again. I am sorry if it is Albert’s house, but it is our event to win tonight. By Reynolds putting that video out with so much emphasis on the NL and not a word about the AL is good old fashioned bulletin board fodder that will be eaten up by the AL participants.
Let the balls fly where they may, but I am going to throw out my final round prediction here: Mauer versus Inge for all the marbles. And if you want a great story, either one of these guys could win it all tonight. But the best part is all of us get to witness some awesome power tonight, and maybe another player will step from the shadows tonight and become another favorite of the world and of your kids.