As the saying goes: The more things change, the more they stay the same. A timeless sport like baseball definitely falls under this mantra — especially when you take a look at the Home Run Derby.
Created in 1960 as a made-for-television contest for the fans of America’s Pastime, this display of slugger’s might may have rolled with the times, but it is still loaded with awe-inspiring classic baseball moments.
This week, MLB is on its mid-summer vacation — also known as the All-Star Break.
The game, which features some of the biggest names in professional baseball, is traditionally held on the second night (or Tuesday) of the three-day hiatus.
As an opening act to the All-Star game, eight big-time home run hitters — four from each league — step up to the plate. With their personal choice of batting practice pitcher serving up a steady diet of meatballs, these sluggers basically tee-off on baseballs to see how many they can send into the night sky.
This season’s Home Run Derby took place in Citi Field in Queens, N.Y., home of the New York Mets. The contestants featured a mix of players in their primes, like Robinson Cano of the New York Yankees and Cecil Fielder of the Detroit Tigers, to up-and-coming stars such as Yoenis Cespedes of the Oakland A’s and Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals.
The first round of the derby is typically not the most exciting of the night, and this year’s show was no different. Usually two or three hitters stand out with a much higher total of bombs than the rest of the field.
Sometimes there is one who distances himself from the field early. On this night, that would be Cespedes, who would club an amazing 17 first round shots.
This was part of what stood out in Monday night’s contest: the changing of the guard. Eliminated in the first round with unimpressive showings were last year’s champ, Fielder (who also won in 2009), and Cano, 2011’s Home Run Derby king.
Another veteran who failed to reach the second round was hometown favorite David Wright, who has been an All-Star third baseman for the Mets for more than a decade. The sentimental favorite received an appreciative ovation as he waved to the Citi Field crowd with his trademark smile after his first round total of five home runs.
Moving on to compete in the second round were veteran underdog Michael Cuddyer of the Colorado Rockies; the Baltimore Orioles’ Chris Davis, who is MLB’s current home run leader; and young superstars Cespedes and Harper.
Harper and Davis each smacked eight homers in the first round and Cuddyer hit seven. But the eye-popping total hit by Cespedes in the opening frame is what set up the neck-and-neck second round.
Round two’s totals are added to a player's first round number to see who advances to the final. With Cespedes' nine home runs ahead of the field, the 27-year old Cuban could have gone into cruise control. While that might have been a wise move to get some rest for the final, it wasn’t going to slow down the 20-year-old Harper, who was crushing the ball at distances as far as 441 feet.
Harper equaled his first round total of eight, which was enough to knock Cuddyer and pre-derby favorite Davis out of the contest and set up the final round against Cespedes.
One major component of the Home Run Derby is how important stamina is. Each hitter is awarded 10 outs. So tack that onto the number of home runs each player hits and that’s the number of cuts the hitter takes per at-bat.
Going into the final, Cespedes had to take 41 swings to get his 21 home run total while Harper was a little fresher with only 36 swings. So while that slight advantage might have given Harper the edge, it was pure power that determined the winner.
For all who dig the longball, the final round would not only feature two of professional baseball’s most polarizing young hitters, it would signal the emergence of a new breed of power hitter.
That would begin with Harper, whose father Ron was feeding him cutters on his way to a final round total of eight home runs. The second-year pro was patient and selective and chose pitches he could lace for distance. If his opponent could somehow fall out of his groove, the eight homers would be enough.
With the stadium crowd on the edges of their seats, Oakland's star outfielder stepped into the batter’s box. The free-swinging Cespedes held nothing back, just as he had done in the first round, and broke lose with nine home runs — several that traveled into the upper decks of the stadium’s outfield seats.
It was one better than Harper and all Cespedes would need to take home the hardware. It was an exciting final round with youth being served.
After the contest, Cespedes would state through a translator that winning the derby would motivate him to work harder and get better as a ball player. That is a scary thought for opposing MLB pitchers.
Kenny Bristow is the staff sports writer for the Wasatch Wave and contributes to the Deseret News high school coverage for the Wasatch region. Email: [email protected]. To contribute to DNews Preps for your area, enquire at 801.237.2143.