Pudge joins Home Run Derby field
Catcher says he'll do best to represent Detroit, Puerto Rico
CLEVELAND -- Ivan Rodriguez admits he isn't the prototypical hitter for Major League Baseball's Home Run Derby. But then, Comerica Park isn't the prototypical home-run park, either.
It's almost fitting that the guy who has had more would-be homers fall at the warning track than any other Tigers hitter this year will get a chance at redemption next Monday.
"I'm not a power hitter," Rodriguez said, "but I'm Puerto Rican. So I'll go out there and do my best."
More than any other year, that lack of power hitting is true. Whether it's from a slimmed-down Pudge's recent emphasis on speed and agility or from a cold spring in the Midwest, Rodriguez's five home runs would mark his lowest total at the break since 1993 unless he homers this week. Of the Home Run Derby participants who have confirmed they're participating, he's the only one who hasn't reached double digits in home runs this season.
"Andruw Jones has 26," Rodriguez said. "Miguel Tejada is Dominican. He won last year. Those are home-run hitters. But you know what? I've got a bat. I can hit some."
He's also the only one with an in-depth knowledge of spacious Comerica Park, both where long balls go out and where they go to die. Towards that end, he joked that he might have his 13-year-old son Dereck stand in center field and point out for sluggers where to hit the ball.
"It's a big park," he said, "but if you hit the ball to left field, the ball will carry."
Rodriguez participated in one other Home Run Derby five years ago at Atlanta's Turner Field. His struggles began before he even stepped to the plate.
"First of all, my bat never came," Rodriguez said, "so I hit with somebody else's bat, heavy. And it was humid, hot."
He was eliminated in the first round with one home run, although his 423-foot blast was longer than either of the home runs that hometown favorite Chipper Jones hit that night. He had 26 home runs at the All-Star break that year. He added one more that season before missing the rest of the year with a fractured right thumb.
With so many more fans in the stands than during a regular-season batting practice and no batting cage, Rodriguez said he was nervous his first time.
Besides, he said, he doesn't try to hit home runs during batting practice, except for one final round in which he lets it go.
Though Rodriguez will represent Puerto Rico in this year's international format, which pits one player apiece from eight different countries, the fact that he also represents Detroit likely played just as much of a role. The host city has had a player in the derby in every year but one since 1997. It'll have no effect on attendance, since it's already sold out, but it'll undoubtedly provide a rooting interest.
Other participants besides Pudge and Andruw Jones include Boston's David Ortiz -- instead of Tejada -- representing the Dominican Republic, Pittsburgh's Jason Bay from Canada, Philadelphia's Bobby Abreu representing Venezuela and Milwaukee's Carlos Lee from Panama. The United States and Japan will also be represented.
"I'm not a home-run hitter," Rodriguez said. "I'll just try to do the best that I can. I'll love to represent the people of Puerto Rico, but the people just need to know I'm not a power hitter."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.