Abreu, normally of the Philadelphia Phillies, hit 24 home runs in the first round of the 2005 Home Run Derby. Placed in context, the previous record was 15 set by Miguel Tejada of the Baltimore Orioles. But with all due respect to Tejada, a hitter of obvious power, that record was set last year in Houston's Minute Maid Park, where the left-field porch is a handshake away. Abreu was doing his work in the much more spacious dimensions of Comerica Park. There is not a cheap home run to be found in the place.
Abreu drove ball after ball out to right field and beyond. There was one 432 feet and later 463 and 482 and eventually 517, a blast that cleared the crowd standing on the second deck above the bleachers. It was a truly majestic shot, but then again, it was one of 24. Bobby Abreu might have been in a zone, but it was a zone that no one had ever witnessed before.
Under the new Derby format, if Bobby Abreu won, so did Venezuela. The sluggers represented nations for the first time this year. If you thought this was a gimmick or it wasn't important, the Venezuelan All-Stars in attendance gave you a different notion.
Long before the capacity crowd of 41,004 at Comerica Park gave Abreu a sustained standing ovation, Abreu's fellow Venezuelan All-Stars had been so sufficiently moved that they interrupted the proceedings with a spontaneous, joyful display of patriotism. Johan Santana, Melvin Mora, Cesar Izturis, and Miguel Cabrera charged up to home plate carrying Venezuelan flags to offer Abreu congratulations and hugs and general fellowship.
You were reminded in this moment of the fact that there are places where this contest might mean something more than it would to the American audience. We have seen home runs and we have seen this event become fully commercialized, but here was a moment when the Home Run Derby might easily represent something more. Life hasn't exactly been serene in Venezuela, particularly since the attempted coup against the government of Hugo Chavez. For a baseball reference point, one Venezuelan Winter League season was canceled because of the political strife. In this setting you imagined that Bobby Abreu hitting a lot of home runs, moving emotions just by swinging his bat, was something that Venezuelans of all political persuasions could get behind.
No other hitter approached Abreu's performance in a single round, but then there was absolutely no reason to suspect that one person could hit home runs like this, much less several. David Ortiz was terrific with 17 in the first round and a long blast of 483 feet. In other years this would have been monumental, but here it was just above average.
The Detroit fans got a nice evening from their Tiger in the contest, Ivan Rodriguez. He eventually finished second and his presence in the finals kept the home crowd interested until the end. This was fine. But if anybody other than Bobby Abreu had won this event, it wouldn't have been quite right. His feats will not rank with those of Aaron and Ruth, but as far as the Home Run Derby goes, Bobby Abreu is now The Man, by a landslide.
Along with moving the hearts of millions, Abreu also wiped out some preconceptions about Comerica Park. Yes, it is has larger dimensions than the average new-generation big league parks. But the well-struck ball will carry for substantial distances here. In fact, in the 2004 season, Comerica ranked sixth among American League parks in home runs and 13th in the Major Leagues. The Major League average for home runs was 2.245 per game last season. The Comerica average was 2.247. Dimensions aside, this was an average home run park, until Bobby Abreu came along and turned it into a personal home-run-hitting paradise.