ESPN will televise the 2014 Gillette Home Run Derby on Monday, July 14, at 8 PM EST, live from Target Field in Minneapolis. It will be the 22nd straight year the event has been broadcast by ESPN. John Kruk will be part of the team hosting the event, while Ozzie Guillen will provide Spanish-language commentary for ESPN Deportes. The two former All-Stars took time to talk with the media this week about the upcoming festivities.
The Home Run Derby has always been a popular attraction during All-Star week, but it's grown in recent years due to the increase in marketing and promotions. The advent of social media sites like Twitter has had a lot to do with it, as it allows for a more interactive experience with the fans.
Of course a little star power doesn't hurt either. According to Kruk, the implementation of team captains to pick the squads that was introduced in 2011 has gone a long way in ensuring the game's best mashers step up to the plate for the Derby. " I think now with the captains, it's harder to say no to Jose Bautista or Troy Tulowitzki who call you and say: ‘Hey, do you want to be part of this Home Run Derby?’ It's hard to tell a fellow player no."
That doesn't mean the captain's job is easy. In recent years we've seen the wrath of fans that have turned on captains that failed to select one of the hometown players. "I think you remember a couple of years ago in Arizona when Prince Fielder didn't pick Justin Upton to be in it and Prince got booed. Every time he stepped up to the plate he got booed," recalls Kruk. Robinson Cano also felt the disdain of the fans for not picking Billy Butler when the event was held in Kansas City in 2012.
Maybe that's why this year's AL captain Jose Bautista made sure to pick Minnesota Twins second baseman Brian Dozier. He leads all players at his position with 16 home runs this season, but he's not the prototypical slugger. It would be quite a story if Dozier were to win the contest as an underdog and fan favorite in his home ballpark, but the odds are stacked against him, as Kruk explains. "He's smaller, and I think what's going to make it tough for him is it's a big ballpark and he doesn't have just the pure power that guys like Cespedes and Bautista and Stanton and Tulowitzki have. To me, it seems like he'll exert more energy to hit home runs." The concern is that this would cause him to wear down faster if he made it to the later rounds.
There are still some sluggers that would prefer to avoid participating over concerns of how showing off in a glorified batting practice session may have a negative impact on their swing. In recent memory there have been cases where players that put on a show at the Derby went on to suffer a power outage after the break. In 2005, Bobby Abreu mashed a then-record 41 homers to win the contest. He had entered the break with 18 HRs, but managed only 6 after the All-Star break and never topped 20 in a single season the rest of his career. David Wright suffered a similar fate the following year. So does that mean there is a "Home Run Derby Curse" that is messing with player's swings?
"I don't know why it would screw up your swing," says Guillen. While he recognizes that some players have those concerns, the former manager never tried to prevent one of his guys from participating. "If my players want to do it, just do it. I was concerned about my pitching, not the hitting."
Clearly there are still guys that want the chance to put on a show. For the AL, Bautista selected Dozier, Baltimore's Adam Jones, Oakland's Yoenis Cespedes and his teammate Josh Donaldson. For the NL, captain Troy Tulowitzki recruited Miami's Giancarlo Stanton, LA's Yasiel Puig, Cincinnati's Todd Frazier and Colorado's Justin Morneau.
Morneu was the last addition for the NL squad, as the league expanded the competition to 10 players this year. The long-time Twin makes for a great story as he makes his return back to Minnesota. "I think Minnesota fans, they are very grateful and very pleased with what Morneau did there," explains Guillen. "I'm surprised they didn’t take him [for the All-Star Game]. But that's a part of the game, every year somebody is out there not playing that should be playing, because it's hard to make the All-Star team." He's putting up great numbers this season that had him on the verge of making the team, but at least he's now involved in the Home Run Derby to give fans in Minnesota another chance to see their former MVP.
So who is going to win this thing this year? Kruk and Guillen were unanimous with their pick – Giancarlo Stanton. "I don’t want to know how many Giancarlo is going to hit, I want to know how far he's going to hit one. That's what I'm waiting for," says Guillen.
That's what we're all waiting for.
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