07/14/2003 10:58 PM ET
HR Derby provides fun for all ages
CHICAGO -- At first glance, the scene at U.S. Cellular Field looked like any other regular season game -- except, of course, every inch of the place was sold out, there was no actual baseball game being played and people wearing Cubs T-shirts were in no real danger.
A kinder, gentler version of rivaling North and South Siders took a breather from their normal allegiances to watch the Century 21 Home Run Derby, a yearly tradition that pits four of the top sluggers from each league against each other in what may be the best male bonding event of the baseball calendar year.
The TV cameras, obviously, were pointed toward home plate. But there was plenty of action taking place in the stands, on the concourse and near the beer vendors. Here's some random musings from beyond the fence at U.S. Cellular Field:
By Alyson Footer / MLB.com
It's a kid's game:
Many of the 47,619 fans in attendance were parked on the concourse beyond the outfield with hopes of catching a rare home-run ball. And plenty brought their gloves. In terms of kids under the age of, say, 14, that was a heartwarming sight. In terms of men over the age of, say, 35, well, let's just say it wasn't so cute.
Unless you're Frank. He wore a glove, but so did his son, 10-year-old Kevin, and if a ball came their way, Frank planned to defer to his kid.
"I'm not going to push a little kid out of the way," he said. "It's his birthday."
Well, as long as it's a special occassion...
Odds not so good:
Ten-year-old Zach was fully equipped from head to toe with a Cardinals hat, baseball T-shirt and of course his glove, the same one that he uses when he plays shortstop for the Highland Park Giants.
Zach was here for the home runs. His dad, Mark, was here for the social aspect. Both appeared to be having a great time, even though Zach is currently on the disabled list with a broken finger. Hence, the lefty glove.
"I broke my finger, so I'm using my mom's glove," he explained. Is Mom a baseball player? "No, she just has one just in case."
Aren't moms the greatest?
A few minutes later, Zach's friend and teammate, 10-year-old Michael, wandered over. He looked a Major Leaguer in the making, complete with the sunglasses perched atop his baseball cap. Both boys said they have been practicing for the Home Run Derby, just in case one of the big leaguers hit a 500-foot homer onto the concourse behind what would normally be some of the worst seats in the house.
What were their odds?
"One out of a million," Zach said.
"Zero percent," surmised Michael.
Every man for himself:
For the trio of 12-year-olds named Aiden, Sean and Brian, the art of shagging fly balls was serious business. Each held a cup of french fries in one hand, a glove in the other. So what would happen if a ball came near them?
"The french fries go," Aiden said without hesitation.
And if the ball is within reach of all three boys?
"I'll beat them all up and catch it," Sean said emphatically.
While the kids were watching out for their french fries, select adults had higher stakes on the line. For old buddies Bill and Vince, there was actual money riding on the outcome of the Derby.
"Want to see our bet sheet?" Bill said.
We thought he'd never ask.
"We have all the players in the event and we chose which we thought would be the best player and the worst player and the who would hit the least number of home runs," he explained. "We have four or five different bets working. Shouldn't be too expensive. The most we can lose is 100 bucks."
Hey, beer man!
Surprisingly, the beer vendors who work at U.S. Cellular Field said that while the place was packed, beer sales were no more lucrative than they are during a regular season game that might draw half of the number of folks who flocked to the Derby.
"It's not a drinking crowd tonight," said one vendor, who for reasons unknown preferred to remain anonymous. "They just came out to see the home runs."
Another vendor, Douglass, agreed, and offered a more in-depth explanation.
"Everybody pays so much to get in here," he said. "They're really conscientious about what they spend and how they spend it. But, this is my second All-Star Game and Chicago has definitely had better beer sales than in 2000 in Atlanta."
Let's hear it for the Windy City.
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.