07/13/08 1:30 PM EST
Uggla honored to take part in HR Derby
Second baseman participating in first contest since Minors
By Joe Frisaro / MLB.com
Distance-wise, we're talking about the span of the country or from New York to California. Yet, the two places on Monday night will share a common bond in the heart of Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla.
The 28-year-old All-Star is one of the four selected to represent the National League in the State Farm Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium at 8 p.m. ET.
The Derby can be seen live on MLB.com by MLB.TV and All-Star package subscribers, and on ESPN.
Increasing in popularity, the Home Run Derby is a marquee event during the All-Star festivities. The only other time Uggla has ever participated in a long-ball challenge was in Rancho Cucamonga. The year was 2003, when he was playing in advanced Class A Lancaster in the California League.
Then with the Diamondbacks system, Uggla was picked to participate in a season where he ended up with 23 home runs.
How did he do?
"I didn't advance," he said. "I think I only hit one or two homers."
More than the outcome, Uggla was just happy to participate.
"It was a blast," he said. "It was a lot of fun."
The stakes will be higher at historic Yankee Stadium.
In all, eight will compete to take over the Home Run Derby reigns from Vladimir Guerrero, the 2007 champion.
Joining Uggla for the National League will be Lance Berkman of the Astros, Chase Utley of the Phillies and Ryan Braun of the Brewers.
The American League squad features Texas' Josh Hamilton, Tampa Bay's Evan Longoria, Cleveland's Grady Sizemore and Minnesota's Justin Morneau.
Of those involved heading into Sunday's action, Berkman has the most career homers, 281.
The way Uggla handicaps the Derby, the competition is wide open.
"It's such a significant event, I think anybody has got a chance to win it," said Uggla, who has 23 on the season and 81 in his 2 1/2-year Major League career.
Uggla is the first Major League second baseman in nearly 70 years to belt at least 20 home runs in each of his first three seasons. Joe Gordon with the Yankees had a string of four straight from 1938-41.
An aggressive hitter who takes big cuts, Uggla has a lot of power compacted on his 5-foot-11, 200-pound frame.
Admittedly he is a fan of the Derby.
"I grew up watching the Home Run Derby; I think a lot more people watch the Home Run Derby than they do the game," Uggla said. "It's just a special thing. It's a time to relax, have fun with each other. You can see a guy hit the ball a long way. This is one thing I never dreamed I'd ever be in."
Adding to the appeal is that the event will be at Yankee Stadium.
"Obviously, it's going to be a special time," said the Columbia, Tenn., resident. "Everybody knows the significance of Yankee Stadium. This is the last year that I'll get to play there. So obviously, yeah, I wanted to get healthy and have a chance to play in that stadium one last time."
As of a few days ago, there was a little concern if Uggla would be ready for the All-Star festivities. He sprained his left ankle on June 28, and he missed 11 games before returning to the lineup on Thursday against the Dodgers.
At the time he rolled his ankle, Uggla was leading the Major Leagues in home runs.
Laid back, Uggla is an old-school performer. He doesn't overthink or overanalyze the art of hitting. He looks for a pitch to drive, and pretty much takes a big cut.
To him, it doesn't matter who throws to him in the Derby. Normally in Marlins batting practices, Uggla will face either bullpen coordinator Pierre Arsenault or manager Fredi Gonzalez.
Uggla plans on just finding someone in New York to do the honors.
The reason Uggla isn't asking anyone on the staff is because he wants them to take the break off.
"I think the All-Star break, for most of these guys, they'll have a chance to be with their families," Uggla said. "That's what I want these guys to do. I'll get somebody to throw to me up there. It doesn't matter who it is. I think a lot of guys bring their BP throwers. But these guys have families they never get to see.
"To have somebody go up there to throw BP [or Derby rounds] to somebody, I don't really think it is worth it when you have a family to see. It's all just fun. I'll just find somebody up there to throw strikes."
The only weapons Uggla is bringing to New York to help with his Derby quest are some bats that belonged to teammate Jorge Cantu.
Cantu has given Uggla a few of his 34 1/2-inch, 31 1/2-ounce bats. Normally, the Marlins second baseman uses a 33 1/2-inch, 31-ounce bat.
The way Uggla is approaching the Derby is like it's just a higher-profile round of batting practice.
"I feel, with my good swing, if you catch it right and put it on the barrel, it's going to go out," he said. "It's not something I would change my swing for. It will be just like in BP without the batting cage."
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.