Six participants for the 2010 Home Run Derby were announced yesterday: David Ortiz (DH, Boston), Corey Hart (OF, Milwaukee), Matt Holliday (OF, St. Louis), Miguel Cabrera (1B, Detroit), Robinson Cano (2B, New York Yankees), and Vernon Wells (OF, Toronto).
All told, it's not a terrible lineup. There will be two more participants announced before the Derby, but you've already got old-school power hitters in Cabrera and Ortiz and some new blood in Cano and Hart.
Some people dislike the Derby, but I've always found it to be quite enjoyable. I love watching the raw displays of power but I could also do without Chris Berman in the broadcast booth, attempting to break all world records of the use of the word "back."
Each individual stadium plays differently for home runs. Some are known as hitter havens while other suppress home runs. Over the past four years, the Home Run Derby has been hosted in stadiums that are capable of featuring prominent home runs.
In Pittsburgh (2006) and San Francisco (2007), each stadium featured a body of water within striking distance for left-handed power hitters—the Allegheny River in Pittsburgh and the McCovey Cove in San Francisco. In the Pirates home ballpark we witnessed Ryan Howard and David Ortiz hit long home runs into the river.
In San Francisco, where the water is closer and more easily attainable, we were denied any splash hits when all three left-handed participants exited the competition in the first round. Howard, Prince Fielder and Justin Morneau all failed to advance or hit any into the water in the process. A potential dream location suddenly became quite a boring contest, as the Giants home field does not play well for right-handed power. Vladimir Guerrero won despite posting only three home runs in the final round.
When the Derby moved to the House That Ruth Built in 2008 for the final season of Yankee Stadium, the short right field porch, distant black batter's eye and inviting upper decks called out to sluggers as targets for long home runs. A gap in the back wall even inspired predictions that some powerful left-handed bat could potentially hit one out of Yankee Stadium.
Then MLB announced the participants and they included four elite lefty sluggers. Chase Utley, Justin Morneau, Lance Berkman and Josh Hamilton all participated and a buzz preceded the 2008 HR Derby like none since Sammy Sosa, Ken Griffey Jr. and Mark McGuire knocked buildings over in the late 90s.
Josh Hamilton did not disappoint. He went on to hit 28 home runs in the first round alone, easily a Derby record. But more impressive than the amount of homers was the way in which Hamilton hit them. He demolished each offering from his batting-practice pitcher, not clearing the stadium, but putting balls deep into the upper deck, far back into the bleachers and off the back wall of the stadium.
It's the most fun I've had watching the Home Run Derby, and Hamilton's first round performance seems to make people forget that Justin Morneau ended up winning the Derby over Hamilton in the final round.
The Derby moved from one of the oldest and most historic Stadiums in 2008 to one of the newer venues in 2009 as it came to St. Louis' new Busch Stadium. A beautiful facility, Busch Stadium also offered some attractive points for batters to take aim.
Big Mac Land presented an alluring target for right-handed batters, situated way up in the fourth deck of left field. Attainability would be difficult, but certainly not impossible and Texas' Nelson Cruz reached it twice in an impressive first round. Hometown hero Albert Pujols also managed to hit a ball over the left-field bleachers and into the outfield concourses.
In the second round and the finals, Prince Fielder proved Busch Stadium was just as entertaining for left-handed sluggers as it was for right-handed ones. He launched home runs over the bullpen, deep into the bleachers and over the grassy knoll that serves as a batter's eye.
This year, the host stadium is Angels Stadium out in Anaheim. Or Los Angeles. Or California. Or wherever they're from. While I've never been to Angels Stadium I've seen it on TV plenty of times and from what I've seen, it doesn't strike me as a place that will play host to epic moonshots.
There's no upper deck in the outfield, so any home run that's hit is going to land in the bleachers or bullpen. Down both lines is a three foot wall that is a very inviting distance away, meaning we'll probably get a few cheap, pop-up home runs that carry. There is a batters eye in dead center, but, unlike the grass in St. Louis or the bleachers in New York, it's a flat surface so any homer hit there will just bounce right off.
There is the sliver of decorative rock formations in left center field, but homers there won't have the same allure as a homer into a river or bay.
Not every stadium is designed with exciting home run targets, that's just the way it is. We got lucky to have four consecutive home run derbies take place in ballparks that are conducive to epic home run shots. But with an intriguing field of players this year that features some impressive raw power, I'm sure one of the boys will come through with an impressive performance.
Sometimes it comes from the most predictable of sources, such as Mark McGuire and Ken Griffey Jr's displays at Fenway Park in 1999. But other times, the most impressive man of the night is the guy you least expect, like when Bobby Abreu went off for 41 home runs at Comerica Park in 2005.
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