Each year thousands of fans are dazzled by the one event that focuses on the most exciting aspect of baseball: Home Runs! And I thought it would be a fun idea to build my own Home Run Derby Dream Team, and take you, the readers, through an entire event.
It’s very easy, the setting is Wrigley Field (I’m a Cubs fan) and the rules are simple: 10 outs to each batter, the Top 4 batter move onto the second round, with the Top two batters advancing to the Finals. In the event of a tie the two batters will have a swing-off,or bat-off if you’re a Chris Berman fan.
The reasoning behind for whom I picked is quite simple, these guys are some of the most frightening hitter in the game today, and some of these players are just beginning their rise to greatness, but as with any sort of piece like this, the subject matter is…well, subjective. So please be sure to chime in with whom your dream team would be at the bottom with who would take it all!
Our first batter representing the Milwaukee Brewers is outfielder Ryan Braun. From a passing glance, Braun doesn’t look like a guy who has hit 30+ home runs in his first three years in the bigs, but believe you me this guy can send a ball to the moon. Unfortunately, today there is no “Brawn” in Braun as the 26 year old come out flatter than a poorly cooked pancake. Braun finishes his plate appearance with just five rocket shots; a number that offers little hope of advancing to the next round.
Shortly after a curious interview with Erin Andrews, and an even more curious breakdown by Chris Berman in which he uncomfortably likens Eva Longoria to our lanky Rays’ hitter, we find ourselves being introduced to our second batter, Tampa Bay Ray third baseman Evan Longoria.
The towering six-foot-four Longoria is entering his third year as a Ray and there is nothing but high hopes for the hard swinging 24-year old; the same can be said for this competition. Longoria climactic begins his turn with five straight rainbows shots to center field before sending a liner foul. But after three more homers, the climactic beginning abruptly comes to a halt and Longoria finishes the first round with eight home runs.
The Brewers came up short with Braun, but he isn’t the only trick up their sleeve as we are introduced to first baseman Prince Fielder. In five short years as a Brewer, the bear-like, mountain man resembling Fielder has hit an amazing 160 home runs—daddy must be so proud…or jealous who knows—so the expectations are pretty high on the 2009 Home Run Derby Champion.
And the champ comes out swinging…literally!
Fielder gives the crowd exactly what they expected as he makes contact with his first 8 pitches; two of them going for over 420 feet and taking a couple of ivy leaves with its flight! But the display of unadulterated raw power takes an early, an unexpected, toll on the big man as he fails to keep the torrid pace that captured the crowd’s attention. He ties Longoria with eight, giving us our first tie of the competition.
Our next batter is someone who is very familiar with Prince Fielder, the man who lost to him by a single homer in last year’s contest: Texas Ranger power man, Nelson Cruz. It’s almost surreal how Cruz’s bat just caught fire in 2009, so making this team was easy—then again I am the “manager”.
But following right behind the guy who edged you out is not an easy feat, and it shows in the early goings with Cruz as he hits 5 straight outs before coming alive, sending his first ball on a flight to sayonara-town!
Cruz continues to struggle though, trading outs for homers and finishing with a total of 9 in the first round. But hey, it’s enough to make him the current leader.
Our next batter, representing the Los Angeles Dodgers, is a household name and mainstay in MLB: Manny Ramirez. Massive Dreadlock Manny has become a patient hitter over the years, and it is that patience that affords him an interesting first round as he trades outs for homers nearly every step of the way before rounding out his last couple of swings with three straight rockets to left field. Manny finishes as the new leader with 10 home runs, shoving baby face Cruz out of the way and down to second.
As out contest rolls on, we are suddenly graced with a quick screen shot of two Home Run Derby greats attending the evening’s festivities: Tino Martinez and Luis Gonzalez. Chris Berman makes mention of both being members of the 40 and older club, and says how much he really likes their foam fingers and silly hats.
Shortly thereafter, we are introduced to our next Dodger representative: Matt Kemp.
Nicknamed The Bison, Kemp looks more like Hines Ward’s little brother. Kemp opens up his at-bat with 3 towering home runs before stumbling just a bit. After a quick break, a swipe of the cap, and a readjustment, Kemp goes on to hit 6 more homers scattering 2 to left, three to right, and one to center; something almost unheard of in a Derby. Kemp ends the first round in a tie with Nelson Cruz, and with only two batters left, it appears we could have a swing off with Kemp and Cruz.
Meanwhile, as fans race to re-fill their beers and nachos plates, the 2006 Home Run Derby Champion Ryan Howard is introduced, and Phillies’ fans everywhere show their support in a standing ovation, while Chris Berman has a few curious things to say about Howard’s new rugged look.
Howard doesn’t disappoint.
Howard hits 11 homers sending four of them at least 415 feet in the air, and ends the first round with a blast to center that tops 435 feet. He ends the first round as our current leader showing everyone why he was the 2006 champion, and threatens to make it two.
Last year was an unforgettable Home Run Derby for our final batter finishing the contest with a modest 11 home runs. But that is no reason to leave first baseman Albert Pujols off the Home Run Derby Dream Team.
Prince Albert starts the night easily cracking his first six homeruns in commanding fashion, he even shatters Ryan Howard’s rocket as Pujols drives his sixth homer to left some 445 feet in the air. He finishes the first round with a commanding 13 homeruns, and gives hope to Cardinals’ fans everywhere that this contest belongs to Pujols only.
After an exhilarating swing-off that awarded Matt Kemp the win, and Nelson Cruz a second straight defeat by a single homer, we open up round two with our fab four: Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard, Manny Ramirez, and of course, Matt Kemp.
But just before Manny takes the plate, Chris Berman goes on a confusing tangent about how The Curse of the Billygoat could be a factor in tonight's event.
Manny Ramirez leads things off and picks up right where he left off in the first round while applying some interest on his first 10. Manny continues to swing for the fences and finishes round two with an astonishing 12 home runs, putting the pressure on the remaining three musketeers.
Matt Kemp puts a game of Go Fish on hold with another Home Run Derby great: Bobby Abreu, as he takes his turn and continues to impress everyone, hitting 10 straight lasers leaving much to worry about in the minds of the remaining competitors. Kemp betters Manny by two and finishes the second round with 14 dingers, bringing his total to 23 on the night.
A swig of Gatorade, a quick interview with Erin Andrews—the girl is just all over the place tonight—and Philly’s own Ryan Howard steps up to the plate. But things take a turn for the worse for Howard as his hits come out a bit flat. He does finish the second round with 10, but it isn’t enough to better Kemp or Ramirez, and already, we know who isn’t advancing.
St. Louis fans hold their breath and await their home run king to take center stage. And with little pause Pujols comes out of the gate swinging hard and successfully, as if he never missed a step, bettering his first round output by two and finishing the second round with 15 dingers giving him a total of 28 on the night in route to what could be his first crown. The final stage is set with Pujols (28) and Kemp (23) advancing sending Ramirez and Howard to the showers.
By now, those in TV land are growing tired of Chris Berman’s alien vocabulary and repetitive anecdotes, but they are enjoying the gratuitous screen shots of reporter Erin Andrews, and why not, right? But the attention now shifts to the last two men standing: The heart of St Louis, Albert Pujols, and the young Dodger sensation Matt Kemp.
Kemp starts things and methodically hits a couple of low grade dingers, and a couple of blooper outs, but finishes the final round with 6 home runs setting the stage , and the bar, for Prince Albert—no pressure right?
Here it is; the moment of truth for both Albert Pujols and The Red Bird Nation. Fans quietly chew on their finger nails as they wait to see whether Pujols can pull off the victory, or falter along the way—the tension is so thick you can feel its suppressing grip.
Wrigley’s swirling winds above could be a factor, but Pujols takes one look to the sky in defiance, and steps to the plate.
He taps his left shoe. He takes his stance, and throws his attention towards the caged pitchers area. Seven home runs and he’s the champion. A baker’s half-dozen and The St. Louis Cardinals get their first team Home Run Derby crown.
The first pitch hits well, but no deep enough: out number one. The second pitch hits well, but bounces off the face of the wall in center field: out number two.
The pressure intensifies.
But on the third pitch and subsequently every one after, Pujols shows why he deserves to be a home run king. Each ball flies higher and farther than the next. The crowd’s climax can be felt around the world as chills run up and down everyone’s spine.
Each crack of the bat sends a moon shot into the bleachers; stamped with a message that says “Here I come Kemp!”.
Another home run, then another, and before the night is through Pujols has past Kemp totaling 9 in the final round, and 28 on the night. The Cardinals’ faithful go nuts, baseball fans everywhere cheer on the inevitable Hall of Famer, even Chris Berman sheds a tear or two of joy.
The climactic contest ends, and the Home Run Derby Dream Team Champion is Prince Albert Pujols. A climactic evening filled with some of the best ‘artists’ MLB has to offer and an incomparable finale steeped in intensity, climax, and liveliness that is absorbed by fans all over the world!