07/08/05 11:53 AM ET
New-look Home Run Derby field is set
Players to represent eight different nations in contest
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
That is probably the best way to describe what fans in Detroit and around the world are about to see with a new-look CENTURY 21 Home Run Derby, which starts at 8 p.m. ET Monday during All-Star Game festivities at Comerica Park.
The 20th anniversary of this event will be celebrated with a couple of dramatic changes, including a largely new, eight-man field representing eight different nations and the introduction of a "Golden Home Run Ball" during each player's at-bat.
In fact, the only thing that really remains the same in 2005 is that eight guys will bash baseballs until one man is left standing after three rounds.
Those eight players will include Hee-Seop Choi of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who was added Friday to complete the field, representing Korea. He joins Philadelphia's Bobby Abreu (Venezuela), Pittsburgh's Jason Bay (Canada), Atlanta's Andruw Jones (the Netherlands), Milwaukee's Carlos Lee (Panama), Boston's David Ortiz (Dominican Republic), Detroit's Ivan Rodriguez (Puerto Rico) and Texas' Mark Teixeira (United States).
Ortiz and Rodriguez are the only participants who have been there before -- the former last year at Minute Maid Park in Houston and the latter in 2000 at Turner Field in Atlanta. Both finished last in those events, so someone will be the new Liege Lord of Longball.
The Golden Home Run Ball presented by CENTURY 21 will add extra meaning -- and even more fun -- to this year's event. As usual, there are three rounds and each batter gets 10 outs in an attempt to hit as many home runs as possible, with anything other than a homer recorded as an out. But this time, a Golden Home Run Ball will be substituted once each batter has recorded his ninth out. The balls are two-toned, with one of the stitched leather sheaths colored gold and the other one traditional white.
Those special baseballs will be used in that situation for as many pitches it takes before that batter makes his 10th out. So if a batter has nine outs and then hits five home runs in a row, each of those would be hit using a Golden Home Run Ball.
For every home run hit by a CENTURY 21 Home Run Derby participant after his ninth out, Major League Baseball and CENTURY 21 will combine to donate $21,000 to charity. The charity recipients will be Boys & Girls Clubs of America, the official charity of Major League Baseball, and Easter Seals, the official charity of Century 21 Real Estate LLC. Since 2000, a total of 37 home runs have been hit in the CENTURY 21 Home Run Derby after a batter had nine outs.
"Major League Baseball has a social responsibility to give back to the community and we are constantly assessing new and meaningful ways to do that," said Commissoner Bud Selig. "Adding such a significant charitable component to the CENTURY 21 Home Run Derby that benefits two outstanding organizations like Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Easter Seals is another example of ways in which baseball can use high-profile events to raise awareness and funding for institutions that provide invaluable help to communities."
Rawlings has produced a limited edition of 2,005 commemorative CENTURY 21 Home Run Derby gold baseballs. The baseballs are now available for sale exclusively at the MLB.com Shop. A portion of proceeds from sales of CENTURY 21 Home Run Derby gold baseballs will benefit Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Easter Seals.
Fans will also be able to get into the act by entering the Golden Home Run Ball sweepstakes Monday at MLB.com. Also, any time between now and when the Derby starts, fans can also enter the Home Run Derby challenge, a free contest to correctly predict the order of each round.
The field of eight players from eight different nations represents Major League Baseball's ever-increasing strides to promote the sport around the world, and it was introduced to coincide with the announcement of the inaugural World Baseball Classic that will involve 16 nations next March. Here is a closer look at Monday's participants (statistics are through Thursday's games):
|2004||Miguel Tejada||27||56K | 350K|
|2003||Garret Anderson||22||56K | 300K|
|2002||Jason Giambi||24||56K | 300K|
|2001||Luis Gonzalez||16||56K | 300K|
Bay: The Pirates' outfielder is from Trail, British Columbia, and he happens to lead Canada's native MLB contingent with 16 homers to go along with a .308 average. "Obviously, doing anything for your country, it's a little different because you have a whole country to represent rather than a team or organization," Bay said. "Win or lose, I think it's just the recognition and I'm honored to do it."
Choi: He has 13 homers, adding pop to a Dodgers club that has been riddled by injuries in the first half. It doesn't require a long memory to know how he can bunch homers, too. Over a four-game stretch from June 10-14 during Interleague Play, Choi went deep seven times -- including a three-homer and a two-homer game against Minnesota.
Jones: The Home Run Derby, as with the coming World Baseball Classic, recognizes either a player's country of current citizenship or his original homeland. In the case of the Braves' center fielder, his native island of Curacao in the Caribbean is a province of The Netherlands. So he will represent that country in this event, and also will be eligible to play for that country at the World Baseball Classic. Jones is leading the Majors with 27 homers, coming off a stupendous 13-homer May that earned him National League Player of the Month honors.
Lee: He could be the prohibitive favorite, and this could be a huge opportunity for the Brewers' left fielder to grab a major spotlight and bring further attention to his Panama homeland that has given baseball such greats as Hall of Famer Rod Carew and likely future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera. Lee has put together a blockbuster first half. He was tied for fourth in the Majors with 22 homers, to go along with an NL-leading 73 RBIs. Lee -- the fourth Brewer to play in this event (along with Greg Vaughn in 1996, Jeromy Burnitz in '99 and Richie Sexson in 2002 and 2003) -- is a career .386 hitter with six homers and 26 RBIs in 41 games at Comerica. "It's official -- I'm in," he said eagerly when told the news Tuesday. His third-base coach, Rich Donnelly, a veteran of four Home Run Derby events and likely Lee's pitcher, predicted a victory and said, "He's got massive power. Stupid power. He doesn't come up in (batting practice) and hit every ball out; Carlos works the ball around. But when he wants to try it, he's the best I've ever seen."
Ortiz: "Big Papi" was the top vote-getter for the All-Star Game, and he returns for his second consecutive CENTURY 21 Home Run Derby. Last year in Houston, the lefty slugger hit three homers in the first round and did not advance, relegated largely to rooting for fellow Dominican countryman -- and Derby winner -- Miguel Tejada. Ortiz did, however, go deep off Carl Pavano during the All-Star Game the next night -- helping bring what proved to be an important World Series home-field advantage to Boston. Now Ortiz will represent his nation in the Home Run Derby, bringing with him some big first-half numbers that include 21 round-trippers.
Rodriguez: This will be the popular choice around Comerica Park on Monday night. Pudge helped energize a moribund Tigers club when he arrived for the start of the 2004 season, and although he has only five homers this season, he has 255 since entering the Majors in 1991. Rodriguez went deep only once in the first round of the 2000 Home Run Derby in Atlanta, but history has shown that this event can be won by any participant who just happens to find a zone.
Teixeira: The Rangers' first baseman is on pace for his first 40-homer season, tied with Manny Ramirez of Boston and Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees for the American League home run lead with 22. Fellow American Derrek Lee, who ranked second in the Majors with 25 dingers, declined an invitation because of lingering inflammation in his left shoulder. Teixeira is the only switch-hitter in the field at Comerica, which still favors lefty pull hitters for power despite shortened dimensions in left; all of his homers in 2005 have come from the left side of the plate.
"I'm very excited about it," Teixeira said. "Hopefully it will be a great time. I'm sure it will be. ... It's quite an honor to represent the country."
The CENTURY 21 Home Run Derby was introduced in 1985, with Dave Parker of Cincinnati winning the inaugural event with six homers in a one-round format at the Metrodome in Minneapolis. The event was canceled in 1988 due to rain at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati.
In addition to the eight participating players, eight sweepstakes finalists will be heading to the CENTURY 21 Home Run Derby for the chance to win $250,000 toward the purchase of a home, compliments of CENTURY 21 Real Estate LLC. Finalists will be matched with a player competing in the CENTURY 21 Home Run Derby; the finalist paired with the Major League player who wins this event will win the grand prize.
"The addition of the gold ball charitable element to this year's CENTURY 21 Home Run Derby adds a new level of excitement and anticipation for this annual exhibition of home run hitting skill," said Thomas Kunz, president and CEO of CENTURY 21 Real Estate LLC. "In addition to making the dream of homeownership a reality for one lucky consumer, the CENTURY 21 Home Run Derby also presents the opportunity to raise additional funding and public awareness in support of Easter Seals and Boys & Girls Clubs of America."
This is the seventh year that CENTURY 21 -- the "Official Real Estate Organization of Major League Baseball" -- has been host to the grand slam sweepstakes in conjunction with the CENTURY 21 Home Run Derby. Last year in Houston, Tejada launched 27 home runs to win the CENTURY 21 Home Run Derby title.
The Home Run Derby, part of Gatorade All-Star Workout Day, will be televised live on ESPN beginning at 8 p.m. ET on Monday. Last season, the event posted a 5.7 HH rating, drawing 7.7 millions viewers. The CENTURY 21 Home Run Derby annually ranks as one of ESPN's most-watched events.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.