07/14/09 12:34 AM ET
On Cruz control, Fielder goes long way
Brewers 1B hits one 503 feet in nipping Texas OF in Derby
By Anthony DiComo / MLB.com
He certainly wasn't going to use his own bat, with the others working so well.
"I can't even remember, really," Fielder said of the last time he has used his own lumber. "Probably in May?"
Now it's mid-July, and now Fielder is a Home Run Derby champ. He capped his victory Monday night with his sixth home run in the final round and his 23rd overall, besting Nelson Cruz of the Rangers and bringing the Derby crown to Milwaukee. And he provided the highlight of the night, ripping a 503-foot home run into the second deck of right-center field.
"I've never hit a ball 500 feet, so that's pretty cool," Fielder said. "I'm just happy to win it. It was pretty cool to actually win one. You never think as a kid you're going to win one."
If anyone thought as a kid he might win one, it would be Fielder, whose famous father, Cecil, in the 1991 Derby launched a ball off the glass wall in Toronto's Skydome. But the younger Fielder had only entered one other Derby, in 2007, mustering merely three home runs and finishing tied for sixth place.
He hardly had to worry about suffering a similar fate in this Derby, blasting 11 home runs in the first round to match Cruz's total, and to all but ensure that he would advance. Only one other contestant, Ryan Howard of the Phillies, hit even half as many home runs as Fielder and Cruz in the first round.
And no one hit one longer than the 497-foot shot Fielder launched to right-center.
It seemed unlikely at the time that anyone could top that shot, though Fielder himself did with his 503-foot blast in the second round. And though it was apparent at the time that no one would hit one longer -- Fielder actually managed the four longest home runs in the Derby, and eight of the top 10 -- it was still quite unclear whether someone might hit more.
Benefiting from a system in which first- and second-round totals are combined to determine the two finalists, Fielder needed only five home runs in the second round to ensure a date with Cruz in the final. Achieving that with room to spare, he then hammered his 503-footer on the next pitch.
Then came the final, which Fielder seemed in prime position to win after he matched Cruz's five home runs with only four outs. Three consecutive outs after that caused Fielder to sweat, before he sent the Derby winner flying onto the grassy area over Busch Stadium's center-field wall.
That ball allowed the fan paired with Fielder, 14-year-old Kylie Kochel, to earn $50,000 through State Farm's charitable program to give to her hometown Boys & Girls Club in Bethalto, Ill.
"A very cool night" was how Fielder put it shortly after the trophy presentation.
Fielder's home runs in the second round averaged a remarkable 466 feet; his 23 home runs overall averaged 439 feet, tops in the Derby. And those moon shots allowed him to win over a crowd that became noticeably pro-Prince once hometown favorite Albert Pujols of the Cardinals was eliminated.
Fielder entered the Derby tied for sixth in the Majors with 22 home runs. Last year, he hit 34, good for eighth in the National League.
Aside from Braun's lumber, Fielder attributed much of his success to his pitcher and former Minor League hitting coach, Sandy Guerrero. Now the hitting coach for Triple-A Nashville, Guerrero received what he thought was a joke call late Sunday night, requesting his presence in St. Louis.
Lacking the time to even check into his hotel, Guerrero went straight to Busch Stadium from the airport and began chucking pitches to Fielder not long afterward. For Guerrero, the victory came complete with bragging rights -- his brother Mike was the pitcher when Fielder managed just three home runs in 2007.
"He was taking the pitches that he should take," Guerrero said. "At times he took some pitches that he could hit. But the main thing was that he kept his cool, and he kept his strength until the end."
Guerrero also knew that Fielder had a chance once he saw Cruz rolling over balls in the final round. And he should know -- Guerrero also coached Cruz, then an outfield prospect with the Brewers, back in 2005.
Later that season, Cruz earned a promotion to Triple-A, where he spent half a season as a teammate of Fielder.
"I know him really well," Fielder said. "It was a lot of fun. It was kind of weird -- you never figured you would have a Home Run Derby against your former teammate -- especially me and him. But it was pretty cool."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.