07/06/11 7:03 PM ET
Second base well represented in HR Derby
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
The State Farm Home Run Derby on Monday in Phoenix will feature one for each league: Rickie Weeks from the Brewers in the National League and Robinson Cano from the Yankees in the American League. The only time a second baseman ever won the event was Ryne Sandberg in 1990, and back then it was a two-inning event and he totaled a whopping three to win.
In the Home Run Derby as we know it, second basemen have been afterthoughts, rarely invited let alone given a chance to win against sluggers who usually man first, outfield or perhaps designated-hitter spots. But John Kruk and Nomar Garciaparra are newcomers as ESPN analysts in Monday's event, and they caution you not take those two participants lightly.
"I don't know if you've ever seen Rickie Weeks," Kruk said during a media conference call along with Garciaparra on Wednesday. "He's not tall, but I would venture to say there's not a linebacker alive who's built like him. He's a remarkable human being. Holy gosh, this game has absolutely changed. He's a beast. I wouldn't count him or Cano out."
"Those guys can swing," Garciaparra said of the second basemen. "If they've got a home run-type swing that night, they can win. I remember  in Houston, Miguel Tejada [then a middle infielder] won it. A second baseman can compete with these big guys."
Weeks is tied with Nationals rookie Danny Espinoza and Kelly Johnson of the D-backs for most homers by a second baseman at 15. Cano leads AL second basemen with 14.
Weeks is one of the three National Leaguers chosen by NL captain and Milwaukee teammate Prince Fielder to join him in their quartet, along with outfielders Matt Holliday of the Cardinals and Matt Kemp of the Dodgers.
Cano is one of the three American Leaguers selected by AL captain David Ortiz of the Red Sox to join him in the other quartet, along with Major League home run leader Jose Bautista of the Blue Jays and Boston's Adrian Gonzalez.
A second baseman winning it would be something new, but then again, it is the year of "new" in the Home Run Derby. It will be the 19th consecutive ESPN telecast (14th straight live) of the Home Run Derby, and here are some of the additions in 2011:
ESPN Ball Track displaying the trail of the ball once hit and allowing the ability for hit chart graphics to be created for a particular hitter;
An updated distance tracking system, providing accurate distance readings immediately after the ball lands;
A new virtual graphics package displaying distance and home run markers, lending more options for analysts when describing batter tendencies, hot zones, etc.;
The first-ever team captains and the crowning of a league champion as well as the usual individual winner.
The new analysts and former All-Stars, Kruk and Garciaparra, who join host Chris Berman.
"This is my first year doing this part of it, and I'm going in just like a fan watching the Home Run Derby," said Kruk, the former Phillies All-Star. "There are only so many ways you can break down a swing but I think you marvel as a former player at just how big these gentlemen are, how far they hit it. It would be a dream, a wish, to hit it that far. They do it on a regular basis. The excitement for me of being down on the field and just seeing that display is going to be pretty special."
Garciaparra was a six-time All-Star, and while representing the Dodgers in 2006, he was among the NL All-Stars who would sit in front of the dugout watching the Home Run Derby as winner and NL teammate Ryan Howard sent balls out of PNC Park and into the river.
"I'd have to agree with Krukkie, when you watch a Home Run Derby, you see all the players lined up watching it," Garciaparra said. "It's not mandatory for you to be out there watching a Home Run Derby. It's really about the workout, address the media, you're allowed to go out with your families. None of them do. They want to go out and see. You marvel at how far, how many they can actually hit. When you hit in batting practice, you know it is not easy. I'm excited just to be there, they'll have a mic on me just to tell you how crazy and amazing this really is, when they hit it that far."
Mike McQuade, vice president of production for ESPN, said the live tracking element will mirror the model ESPN used at the British Open, where they tracked the drives live. He said that and the immediate distance capability will be the best enhancements, but he added that "the best enhancement that is never talked about is just the audio. I know people don't only sit at home alone and watch sporting events, but when you take the time to listen to this event, to listen to the ball come off the bat, that is an enhancement that is not talked about enough."
The Derby -- also available via ESPN3.com, ESPN Mobile TV, ESPN Radio, ESPN 3D and ESPN Deportes -- is traditionally one of ESPN's highest-rated summer programs. Buster Olney and Pedro Gomez will provide on-field reports. ESPN Radio will exclusively broadcast the Derby with Jon Sciambi and analyst Chris Singleton in the booth, on-field reporters John Rooney and Peter Pascarelli and on-site host Marc Kestecher.
Kruk said few people can appreciate just how taxing it is on sluggers in this competition. When asked if he ever participated in an informal team Home Run Derby during batting practice as a player, he said, "Every once in a while you get a little happy, feeling good, think you can do it, then after about 10 swings, you realize, 'I'm not in the best shape to perform.' There's a strategy involved, these guys pacing themselves, taking pitches, to get rest. Everyone thinks: 'Why didn't he swing?' He may not have been able to at that point. He might have had to take a pitch or two to get the strength back in his arms. That's why I think the veteran guys have an advantage."
Neither he nor Garciaparra would tip their hand when asked who they liked in this field. But there is one guy Kruk obviously would pick, hands-down, if only someone had made an exception to call him up from Double-A just for Monday night: Bryce Harper.
"I would love to see Bryce Harper in this. He is the 'Next Big Thing' in baseball," Kruk said. "Everyone you talk to, they only marvel at him. We've heard about the 550-foot home runs. I think if you put him on this stage it would be an unbelievable ratings boom for ESPN. I'd like to see him."