At homer-friendly park, Derby should be bash
Advent of captains, league competition adds to thrill of event
PHOENIX -- Under the retractable roof of Chase Field, the top sluggers in the baseball universe will gather tonight to flex their muscles in what should be one of the most compelling State Farm Home Run Derbies in recent memory.
Highlighting a revamped format, there will be captains in each league for the first time -- David Ortiz from the Red Sox and the Brewers' Prince Fielder. With their captain responsibilities, Ortiz and Fielder both had the honor of selecting three hitters to aim for the fences with them for Monday night's festivities, which start at 8 p.m. ET.
All eight Derby participants gathered on Monday afternoon for a news conference that took place a few hours before the event. The anticipation was already building.
"Yeah, you know, the Home Run Derby is awesome," Fielder said. "I did it in '09 and the kids were there. So for me, that was special to have my kids there, jumping up and down giving me high fives. Winning tonight would be cool, as well."
Boston's Big Papi won his first Derby last year in Anaheim and later learned the international magnitude of the event.
"When I went back to my country after last year's season, man, it was unbelievable how many people came to me and told me how excited the whole country was about the Home Run Derby," said Ortiz, who is from the Dominican Republic. "It seemed like everything just stopped for the Home Run Derby last year. And around here, I don't even have to tell you how much everybody really enjoys the Home Run Derby."
Ortiz picked teammate Adrian Gonzalez, Major League home run leader Jose Bautista of the Blue Jays and the Yankees' Robinson Cano as his three teammates in the Derby.
Bautista was a controversial snub at last year's Derby, en route to a season in which he belted 54 homers.
"I wouldn't say greatly [disappointed], but I definitely would have enjoyed participating," Bautista said. "But more importantly, I'm part of the event now, and it's going to be a lot of fun."
Fielder, much like Ortiz, has the physique of a man born to hit in Home Run Derbies. The Brewers' big bopper selected teammate Rickie Weeks, along with the Cardinals' Matt Holliday and the Dodgers' Matt Kemp.
"I wish I could invite everybody I knew," Fielder said. "That was the only part that was tough."
The logistical aspects of the event are over, and the fun is about to begin, as the sluggers get set to participate in what should be a true bash-fest, in a venue that the ball is known to fly out with relative ease.
"It's definitely a hitters' park -- the ball flies," said Kemp. "There's going to be some balls hit pretty far today. Some hit in the pool. They've got a pool in right-center. They've got a restaurant out there that I've seen some balls hit out there. The ball flies pretty much, and it's definitely going to be exciting."
While the eight Derby hitters rip away, the rest of Major League Baseball's All-Stars will gather on the lawn with their children and Flip cameras in hand, capturing some indelible memories.
It can be a unique bonding experience, too. Take, for example, Cano, who will have his father Jose, a former Major Leaguer, throw to him during the Derby.
The rule for the individual winner of the Derby remains unchanged.
All participants get 10 outs per round, with the four players with the most homers advancing to a second round. The two players with the highest cumulative number of long balls after the second round advance to the Championship Round, where first- and second-round homers do not carry over.
However, along with the advent of captains, there will be some league competition in this year's event.
Ortiz and Fielder had the honor of selecting a charity that their leagues will support. Ortiz's charity of choice is the David Ortiz's Children's Fund, which focuses on children who need money for open-heart surgery. Fielder picked the Ronald McDonald House. State Farm and Major League Baseball collaborate to donate money to both teams, win or lose.
For the winning captain's charity, there will be a $150,000 donation in the captain's name, along with a $100,000 contribution to Boys & Girls Club of America (BCGA). The losing team will have a $25,000 check made to the charity of its captain's choice and in his name.
The total number of home runs hit by all players in all rounds will be tabulated to determine the winning league, captain and charity.
"So hopefully we can get to hit a million home runs today and raise a lot of money for these guys," Bautista said.
For those who can't be at Chase Field, ESPN will have all the action. The event will also be live on ESPN HD, ESPN 3D, ESPN Deportes, ESPN3.com, ESPN Mobile TV, and ESPN Radio in the U.S., as well as ESPN International. For more information, visit allstargame.com or dbacks.com/asg.
Chris "Back, back, back" Berman will do the play by play, joined by analysts and former Major League All-Stars Nomar Garciaparra and John Kruk.
And this year's Derby will be more interactive than ever, as MLB, MLB Advanced Media and the Major League Baseball Players Association announced recently that players on the field will interact with fans via social media during the Derby (@StateFarm #HRDerby).
Bautista (@JoeyBats19), Kemp (@TheRealMattKemp) and Ortiz (@davidortiz) are among the sluggers who could have some instant tweets after hitting a rocket.
State Farm and MLB will combine to donate $18,000 for every home run hit with a Gold Ball, a dollar figure chosen because it coincides with the number of State Farm agents throughout the U.S. and Canada. State Farm will also give $3,000 to BGCA for every non-Gold Ball hit out. Home runs hit in all rounds count toward the total money donated.
With the caliber of sluggers on hand this year, the charitable contributions figure to be sizable.
Much like when Josh Hamilton put on an epic show in 2008 at Yankee Stadium in his first Derby, expect all eyes to be on Toronto's Bautista on Monday night. This is Bautista's maiden Derby voyage. He has 31 home runs already this season.
"It's always hard to predict," said Bautista. "If I get in a groove, I'm excited to find out what I can do, as well. Like Matt said, this is a good stadium to hit home runs in; the ball flies. I brought my bullpen pitcher from batting practice today, and we get in sync sometimes and I get to hit a couple of balls pretty hard."
Bobby Abreu has the record for most homers hit in a Derby, with 41 at Detroit in 2005. Sammy Sosa's 528-foot rocket at Milwaukee in '02 was the longest estimated shot in Derby history.