07/10/06 12:01 AM ET
Derby sluggers set to make a splash
All-Star hitters prepare to take their cuts at annual event
By Jim Molony / MLB.com
With Major League home runs leader David Ortiz of Boston joining prodigious power hitters like Ryan Howard of Philadelphia and Lance Berkman of Houston, the 21st Derby could see a number of balls launched into the Allegheny River flowing behind PNC Park's right-field wall.
Ortiz (31 home runs), Howard (28), Berkman (24), Jermaine Dye of the Chicago White Sox (25) and Toronto's Troy Glaus (23) give the event five of the top 16 home run hitters on the current MLB leader board. Florida's Miguel Cabrera (15), Baltimore's Miguel Tejada (17) and David Wright of the New York Mets (20) will also compete.
Tejada, who won the event at Houston in 2004, will bat first. The Orioles shortstop will be followed by Berkman, Cabrera, Glaus, Dye, Wright, Ortiz and Howard, respectively.
PNC Park is slightly shorter down the right-field line (320 feet) than it is down the left-field line (325) but right-center-field is 375 feet, where the distance from home plate to left-center-field ranges from 389 to 410 feet. It's a significant difference that could come into play.
"[PNC Park] is more beneficial to left-handed hitters than to right-handed hitters," Berkman said, "because it's really big in left field there."
Berkman, a switch-hitter, had considered hitting right-handed so as not to tinker with his left-handed swing. But now he's leaning towards hitting lefty.
"One thing you have to realize about the Home Run Derby is that it looks easy, like the guy's just lobbing it in there," Berkman said. "But you still have to get a good pitch to hit."
Howard has incredible power to all fields. As a left-handed hitter, he also has well above average power to the opposite field. Eighteen of his home runs have been to center or left field.
"My approach to the Derby is to hit home runs," said Howard, who is on pace to break Mike Schmidt's franchise single-season record of 48 home runs. "It's not the line-drive Derby. I look at it as fun, and everybody there is looking at it as fun, so I'm not going to try to make anything out of it or put on extra pressure."
Berkman is among those who wouldn't be surprised to see Howard win the Derby.
"I think he has a great chance," Berkman said. "I think it's going to be a left-handed hitter -- depending on how the ball's carrying -- but I think it's going to be tough for a right-handed hitter to win it, because the porch is a lot closer in right field than left."
That doesn't mean a right-handed hitter can't win it, and one of the righties in this field, Tejada, won it two years ago with 27 overall home runs while beating Berkman, 5-4, in the championship round.
"It's good to have him back [in the Derby]," Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo said. "I think he enjoys that kind of thing, too. He kind of gets into it. I know it's a situation where you want to win out there, but it's good to see the kids have some fun."
Ortiz, in the Derby for the third consecutive year, will be taking the same approach he takes during game at-bats.
"I just swing hard in case I hit it -- that's it," said Ortiz.
Big Papi is the first player in Red Sox history to enter an All-Star break with at least 30 home runs. He went on a tear on the last road trip before the break, belting eight homers in a nine-game span.
Ortiz has enlisted a member of the Phillies to aid his quest to win the Derby. He asked Phillies bullpen coach Ramon Henderson, who served up last summer's record-setting Derby performance by Bobby Abreu, to be his pitcher. Henderson will also pitch to Howard.
"I feel good at the plate right now," said Ortiz. "Like I said before, you have to just work on it and keep working on it. [It's a] good park to hit in. It's short."
The 23-year-old Cabrera will be competing in his first Derby and has hit 33 home runs in each of the last two seasons, becoming the youngest player in baseball history to post successive 30-home run seasons.
"I guarantee one [homer]," Cabrera said jokingly.
With power to all fields, Cabrera remains a disciplined hitter, who sprays the ball to right and center fields during batting practice. While he has the power to go deep to all fields, he has immense power pulling the ball on pitches thrown inside.
A year ago, Cabrera was a vocal supporter for a fellow Venezuelan native, Abreu of the Phillies.
On the field during the Derby, Cabrera wrapped himself in the Venezuelan flag and constantly talked up Abreu, who won the contest in record-setting fashion.
"I'm just there to have fun," Cabrera said. "It's about hitting home runs for the fans. People are happy when they see the ball go more than 400 feet. I'm not going to be serious. I'm going to have fun and that's it. It's not going to mess up my swing."
Wright is bringing Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca to serve up his Derby pitches.
"He wants to do it," Wright said. "He promises he can throw good BP. So we'll see. I'm not going to change anything. I'm just going to take my normal swing. But I did tell him to try to elevate his pitches. We'll see how it works out."
Dye will also be participating in the Derby for the first time. He enters the contest on a hot streak, averaging .386 with five home runs in the 10 games leading up to the All-Star break.
For right-handed hitters like Glaus, hitting it over the wall in Pittsburgh is slightly more challenging than for lefties because of the deeper dimensions in left field.
"It's bigger," Glaus said. "It's not ridiculously big, but yeah, it's bigger.
"You've got to just relax and not try to kill the ball -- not try to overswing. Just take a nice, loose swing. Everybody wants to see the ball go 480 feet, but at the end of the day, that's not what you're trying to do. All you have to do is get it over the wall."
There is one change in the Derby rules this year: The home run totals from the first round will carry over to the second round. An out is registered when a player swings at a pitch and does not hit a home run. Each player gets 10 outs to hit as many home runs as possible and the four players with the most home runs hit in the opening round advance to the semifinal round.
The two players with the most home runs in the semifinal round advance to the Championship Round. The player who hits the most home runs in the Championship Round is declared the CENTURY 21 Home Run Derby champion.
Once again, the Golden Home Run Ball presented by CENTURY 21 will add extra meaning 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.
Rawlings has produced a limited edition of 2,006 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.
For the eighth consecutive year, CENTURY 21 Real Estate, LLC -- the "Official Real Estate Organization of Major League Baseball" -- has hosted the CENTURY 21 Home Run Derby All-Star Sweepstakes in conjunction with the CENTURY 21 Home Run Derby competition.
Randomly selected from entries received through www.century21.com, www.century21espanol.com, in-office displays and mail-in entry forms, the finalists will be matched with a 2006 Major League Baseball player competing in the Home Run Derby competition at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. The finalist paired with the Major League Baseball player who captures the 2006 Home Run Derby title will win the grand prize.
In addition to the opportunity to win $250,000 toward the purchase of a home, the sweepstakes finalists have been awarded a trip for two to 2006 Major League Baseball All-Star Week, July 7-11, courtesy of Century 21 Real Estate, LLC. Last year, Edwin Molina of Long Pond, Pa., won the $250,000 sweepstakes grand prize when Abreu launched a Derby-record 41 home runs to win the Derby.
For the first time, MLB.com, the official website of Major League Baseball, in collaboration with ESPN, will offer fans a free, live, video webcast of the CENTURY 21 Home Run Derby at 8 p.m. ET.
"We are pleased to join with ESPN to provide offline/online integration of this exciting event," said Dinn Mann, executive vice president, content for MLB Advanced Media, the interactive media and Internet company of Major League Baseball.
In addition to the live stream on MLB.com and ESPN.com, the 2006 CENTURY 21 Home Run Derby, part of the Gatorade All-Star Workout Day, will be televised live on ESPN and ESPN Deportes at 8 p.m. on Monday.
Jim Molony is a writer for MLB.com. MLB.com site reporters contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.