HOUSTON -- Dodgers first baseman Hee-Seop Choi has never taken part in a home run hitting contest before. But he is looking forward to participating in the first international CENTURY 21 Home Run Derby on Monday at 8 p.m. ET at Comerica Park in Detroit, televised by ESPN. "This is my dream," said Choi, who will be representing Korea. "Everybody wants to play in the Home Run Derby.
"It's pretty exciting for me and my country. I think a lot of people (in Korea) will watch the Home Run Derby. They like baseball. Everybody knows me. They watch every game in Korea." Choi will be joined in the contest by players from seven other counties, Philadelphia's Bobby Abreu (Venezuela), Pittsburgh's Jason Bay (Canada), Atlanta's Andruw Jones (the Netherlands), Milwaukee's Carlos Lee (Panama), Boston's David Ortiz (Dominican Republic), Detroit's Ivan Rodriguez (Puerto Rico) and Texas' Mark Teixeira (U.S.). Choi knows it won't be easy hitting the ball out of Comerica Park. "I know it's a big stadium," he said. "I played there one time last year. No home runs." Choi went 1-for-5 in Detroit with one RBI. The concept of swinging for the fences sounded good to Choi. "Home Run Derby is not like a game," he said. "It's like batting practice. Just swing hard. That's it." How does he expect to do in the contest? "I don't know," he said. "I'll just have fun. Swing hard and try to hit home runs." His best home run season was in 2002 when he hit 26 homers in 135 games for Triple-A Iowa in the Chicago Cubs organization. After playing parts of the 2002 and 2003 seasons with the Cubs, he split last season between Florida and Los Angeles and was traded to the Dodgers in the Brad Penny deal in July. "(Los Angeles) is best for me," he said. "A lot of Korean people live there. I'm more comfortable." He is hitting .237 through Saturday's games for the Dodgers with 13 homers and 32 RBIs. Choi first played in the U.S. for Class A Lansing (Mich.) in 1999. "It's different," he said. "When I came here I can't speak English. Now my English is better. I like America. In the Major Leagues there's a lot of great American players and great Latin players. I worked hard in the minors because I wanted to play in the Major Leagues." There will be three rounds to the Home Run Derby with each player getting 10 swings in each round. For the last swing for each player a "Golden Home Run Ball" will be used. For each golden ball that leaves the park, Major League Baseball and CENTURY 21 will combine to donate $21,000 to charity. Eight sweepstakes finalists will also be heading to Detroit for the chance to win $250,000 toward the purchase of a home, compliments of CENTURY 21 Real Estate LLC. Each sweepstakes finalist will be matched with a home run hitter for a shot to win the grand prize.
Gene Duffey is a contributor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.