Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Revival Of The Longball

A year ago, on a rainy night in downtown Minneapolis, some of the biggest sluggers took center stage for the 2014 Home Run Derby. While the Minnesota twins and Target Field were no doubt excited to play host to All Star week, there's no doubt that the playing conditions were going to be adverse on this night. When the dust settled, Yoenis Cespedes reigned supreme, and massive shots were hit, but the event still felt stale.

Forget the fact that inclement weather pushed the action back, or that hometown selection Brian Dozier was lost amongst his slugging peers. As many other years before it, the Home Run Derby once again seemed to have worn out its welcome.

Fast forward on the calendar and Major League Baseball was reinventing the rules once again. After creating the bracket a season ago, the event now resembled something like the NBA's Three Point contest. As a timed event, players were no longer given the luxury of standing around to wait for that meatball pitch. In theory it sounded like a wonderful idea, and what was even better, that's exactly how it played out.

With a stacked field, there was already plenty of intrigue. Having youth rounded out by the old guard in the form of Albert Pujols made sure there was a competitor for everyone to get behind. My money (quite literally) wagon punishing phenom Joc Pederson. The combination of a lefty and long home runs seemed too good to pass up.

Quickly in the competition however, it was plain to see there were going to be more strategical tactics to consider. While the blasts over 420 feet (original set for 475) would give hitters bonus time, they also would take precious seconds off of a winding clock. Going second was going to provide obvious advantages in knowing your target mark, and even stamina would come into play for the sluggers.

Thanks to the way in which baseball had set this new contest up, intrigue was there from the get go. Hometown hero Todd Frazier knocked favorite, Prince Fielder out at the buzzer in the first round. Peterson blew by Manny Machado, and Pujols bested the kid in Kris Bryant. Just one round in, this was shaping up to be a lot of fun.

As both Frazier and Pederson continued on, the finals were set with the most interesting matchup of the night. Pederson was punishing baseballs with the heaviest bat (34/34) in the field, while Frazier was launching rockets out of the park. Thanks to his bonus time, it would be the Reds own Frazier that would hoist the trophy when all was said and done.

Thanks to the timed round, we all witnessed one of the greatest Home Run Derby performances ever, and likely didn't even notice. In 2008, Josh Hamilton hit 28 first round homers in Yankees Stadium. He went on to total 35 and lose to the Twins Justin Morneau. Being able to take breaks and take pitches, Hamilton still wore down over the course of a contest that was simply too long.

Last night, the Reds Frazier went 14-10-14 to a total of 38 home runs. In history, it is Fielder who owns the most derby homers with 81. Frazier nearly halved that amount in a night. With the pressure to keep swinging staying constant, the derby itself became evolving dram right before our eyes.

I expected this season's rendition of the event to be more fun, I didn't think I'd be counting down the days to next year's contest immediately following the end however. Major League Baseball got this one absolutely right, and we are all better for it. Now for ESPN to just take away "Back, back, back, back, back" and Chris Berman. One change at a time I suppose.

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