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Derby to have a powerful flavor
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07/08/2004  7:30 PM ET
Derby to have a powerful flavor
Bonds, Blalock round out HR Derby rosters
tickets for any Major League Baseball game
Barry Bonds has not appeared in the Home Run Derby since 2002 at Miller Park. (Dino Vournas/AP)
HOUSTON -- Baseball's ultimate power summit is shaping up to take place next week at Minute Maid Park.

Not only is every living member of baseball's exclusive 500 Home Run Club invited to Monday night's Century 21 All-Star Home Run Derby, several of them will be swinging for the fences.

All four active players who have hit at least 500 career home runs -- Cincinnati's Ken Griffey Jr., Baltimore's Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs and the Giants' Barry Bonds -- have accepted invitations to participate in the Derby, which will be televised live on ESPN. Palmeiro will be the first non-member of the All-Star Game rosters to participate in the Derby.

"Well, I was planning to get a breather, but this is something I can't pass up," Palmeiro said. "I will just go there and enjoy the atmosphere. This has a chance to be something special."

Also confirmed for this year's event are Philadelphia's Jim Thome -- who leads the Majors with 27 home runs -- and 2002 Home Run Derby champion Jason Giambi of the New York Yankees. The final two AL slots will feature first-time participants David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox and Hank Blalock of the Texas Rangers.

"Yeah, it's going to be unbelievably exciting," Giambi said. "Having all those 500-homer guys there ... it'll be a lot of fun."

Thome, who hit his 400th career homer earlier this season, is also looking forward to the event.

"I just think that any time you're mentioned with those names and to be a part of that is an honor," Thome said. "You're talking about tremendous players, tremendous hitters who have accomplished a lot in the game. To be mentioned with those guys is very humbling, but you have to enjoy every minute of it."

This will be Thome's third Home Run Derby. The former Cleveland Indian competed in 1997 at Cleveland and again in 1998 at Colorado. He didn't hit any homers in 1997, but he made it to the finals the next season, when he was edged by Griffey.

"I remember the game in 1999 when Ted Williams came out," Thome said. "My dad was in the stands and to watch my dad and what players like Williams meant to him, and to be in the same game as the 500-homer guys, that's kind of a neat situation.

"You think you're going to wake up and it's all going to be a dream. But it's something you really cherish and I think it's something you really look forward to. I just want to have fun. Just grip it and rip it. That's what it's all about."

Sosa will making his fifth Home Run Derby appearance in the last six years. He did not participate last year, but he won the event in 2000 at Turner Field in Atlanta when he defeated Griffey, 9-2, in the final round.

"I'm happy to have the chance to enjoy the moment," Sosa said. "If you have a chance to put on a show for the fans, to pay them back, I want to do it."

Griffey will be participating for the first time 2000.

"I won the contest in 1998, but nobody remembers that," Griffey said. "They remember those four home runs Mark McGwire put off the building across the street from Fenway Park. It's how long you hit the home runs, not how many that gets the fans going -- and that's fine. Everybody goes to have fun."

Blalock was the final AL addition Thursday.

"I'm very excited about it," Blalock said. "I think it's going to be a lot of fun."

Blalock, who is tied for second in the American League with 22 home runs, doesn't particularly care who will be pitching for him Monday when he starts the home run competition at Minute Maid Park in Houston.

"Whoever is there," Blalock said. "It doesn't really make any difference to me. I'll just go up there and try to hit home runs."

The Yankees' Alex Rodriguez was given the option to participate, but he withdrew from consideration after straining a muscle Sunday against the New York Mets. Anaheim's Vladimir Guerrero declined an invitation to compete.

"I was probably going to do it," Rodriguez said. "With this injury, I can't take any chances."

Major League Baseball also has invited the 10 former players still living who hit at least 500 home runs during their careers, including all-time home run leader Hank Aaron (755), Willie Mays (660), Frank Robinson (586), Mark McGwire (583), Harmon Killebrew (573), Reggie Jackson (563), Mike Schmidt (548), Willie McCovey (521), Ernie Banks (512) and Eddie Murray (504), to attend the Derby.

Giambi is looking forward to visiting with McGwire, his former teammate in Oakland.

"He's the guy who took me under his wing when I first started out," Giambi said. "I usually see him a couple of times in the offseason, and we have a good time. But this will be a little different."

The format for this year's event remains the same, with four American Leaguers and four National Leaguers taking their swings on an alternating basis. The four winners of the first round advance to the semifinals, and the two semifinal winners meet to decide the winner.

Garret Anderson of Anaheim won last year after edging Albert Pujols of St. Louis, 9-8, in the finals at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago. The next day, Anderson went on to win the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award in the All-Star Game.

Sosa was the 2000 winner. Griffey has won it three times, including back-to-back triumphs in 1998-99. Bonds won it in 1996.

The Century 21 Home Run Derby is scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. ET.

Jim Molony is a writer for MLB.com based in Houston. MLB.com's Tom Singer, Gary Washburn, Robert Falkoff and Mark Feinsand, as well as correspondents Joe Santoliquito and J.R. Radcliffe, contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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