Home Run Derby is going global
Popular All-Star event will have a new format this year
Baseball is becoming more global every year, and so is one of its most eye-opening showcases.Major League Baseball announced on Friday that the annual CENTURY 21 Home Run Derby, one of the main spectacles of All-Star Weekend, will feature an international wrinkle this year. On Monday, July 11, players from eight nations around the globe will represent their native homelands in the Derby. The players -- and countries -- will be announced next week. The new format was designed to celebrate the inaugural World Baseball Classic, which is scheduled for March 2006 and will consist of 16 national teams highlighting the best players in the world competing for their home countries. The four-round tournament will be staged at various sites in Asia, Latin America and the United States. Countries expected to participate are Australia, Canada, China, Chinese Taipei, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Italy, Netherlands, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Panama, Puerto Rico, South Africa, United States, and Venezuela. Opening Day rosters for the 30 Major League Baseball clubs, which consisted of 25-man rosters and disabled lists, included 242 players born outside the 50 United States. In total, 29.2 percent of the 829 players (750 active and 79 disabled) on rosters as of April 4 were born outside the United States. The Dominican Republic led all countries with 91 players, while Venezuela ranked second with 46 and Puerto Rico was third with 34. Last year's Home Run Derby champion was Orioles shortstop Miguel Tejada, who launched a record-total of 27 big flies -- including 15 in the second round alone -- at Houston's Minute Maid Park. But it looks like the superstar from the Dominican Republic won't be defending his title this year at Comerica Park. He suggested Saturday that fellow countryman David Ortiz take his place. "That's enough," Tejada said when asked whether he wanted to compete again. "I vote for (Ortiz). I want David to be the guy. David Ortiz is our home run king in the Dominican. I am going to suggest that he represent us in the derby. He leads the league in home runs, and he is the best power hitter from the Dominican." In addition to Ortiz, other Dominican-born sluggers for consideration include teammate Manny Ramirez, Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols and last year's All-Star Game MVP, Alfonso Soriano of the Texas Rangers. Like the Dominican, the United States has no shortage of power choices, including Alex Rodriguez, Derrek Lee, Adam Dunn, Cliff Floyd and Mark Teixeira, who have combined to hit more than 100 home runs so far this season. Canada appears to have its man already in Pirates standout Jason Bay. Though no official announcement has been made, the 27-year-old from British Columbia said Saturday that he will be participating in the Derby. "They asked me if I would represent Canada, so I'm going regardless," said Bay, who leads the Pirates in batting average, runs, hits, doubles, home runs, on-base percentage and slugging. "They asked me about a week ago, but they still have some finalization to do." Tigers catcher Ivan Rodriguez will represent Puerto Rico.
"I'm not a home-run hitter," Rodriguez said. "I'll just try to do the best that I can. I'll love to represent the people of Puerto Rico, but the people just need to know I'm not a power hitter."
Rodriguez has an advantage, however. He's also the only one with an in-depth knowledge of spacious Comerica Park, both where long balls go out and where they go to die. Towards that end, he joked that he might have his 13-year-old son Dereck stand in center field and point out for sluggers where to hit the ball.
"It's a big park," he said, "but if you hit the ball to left field, the ball will carry."
Rodriguez participated in one other Home Run Derby five years ago at Atlanta's Turner Field. His struggles began before he even stepped to the plate.
"First of all, my bat never came," Rodriguez said, "so I hit with somebody else's bat, heavy. And it was humid, hot."
If Japan gets a shot, Yankee slugger Hideki Matsui comes to mind, but it would be interesting to see how the multi-talented Ichiro Suzuki would fare if asked to only hit long balls.Other possibilities with international ties include the the Marlins' Miguel Cabrera and the Phillies' Bobby Abreu (Venezuela); the Brewers' Carlos Lee (Panama); and the Major Leagues' current home run leader, Andruw Jones of the Braves (Curacao, a protectorate of the Netherlands). Whatever the lineup might be, expect plenty of fireworks in Motown come July 11. "If you get the opportunity, you want to hit as many home runs as you can," Pujols said after his 2003 Derby display at Chicago's U.S. Cellular Field, where he fell just short of Derby winner and All-Star Game MVP Garret Anderson. "You never know. That's the idea. In the Home Run Derby, you never know." The Derby, part of Gatorade All-Star Workout Day, will be covered extensively at MLB.com and televised live on ESPN beginning at 8 p.m. ET. Last season, the Derby drew 7.7 million viewers.
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.