Hamilton set for first Derby in Majors

Hamilton set for first Derby in Majors

ARLINGTON -- Josh Hamilton has done this once before as a professional. The South Atlantic League had a Home Run Derby as part of its 2000 All-Star Game, and Hamilton entered.

"I lost by one," Hamilton said. "I hit two and the other guy hit three. The wind was blowing straight in. Actually, it was blowing straight in from right field. I was hitting left-handed and he was hitting right-handed."

Hamilton remembers one other thing from that night seven years ago in Charleston, S.C.

"I remember stepping up to the plate, everybody watching me and my hand shaking like a leaf," Hamilton said.

That was in Class A. His next Home Run Derby will be played at a much higher level and on a bigger stage. Hamilton is one of eight entrants for the State Farm Home Run Derby to be held on Monday night at 7 CT at Yankee Stadium. The other entrants include Lance Berkman, Chase Utley, Dan Uggla and Ryan Braun of the National League, and Grady Sizemore, Evan Longoria and Justin Morneau of the American League.

The Derby can be seen live on MLB.com by MLB.TV and All-Star package subscribers, and on ESPN.

"Lance Berkman should be the favorite because of his experience," Hamilton said.

Hamilton is not without experience. This will be his fourth Home Run Derby. His first two were in Little League.

"I won," Hamilton said. "Well, I won one of them. I can't remember if I won the other."

Win or lose, he should remember this one played out in Yankee Stadium, site of many historic home runs, from Babe Ruth's 60th in 1927, to Roger Maris' 61st in 1961, to the three that Reggie Jackson hit out in the sixth and deciding game of the 1977 World Series.

Now comes the Home Run Derby that will put Hamilton squarely in the spotlight. He was at Yankee Stadium earlier this month and didn't hit a home run in a three-game series against the Yankees. But he did hit one spectacular blast in batting practice that reached the covered grandstand in straightaway center field. The ball rolled all the way up to the top of the section and bounced off the famous back wall of the 85-year-old ballpark.

"You really don't know how you're going to feel until your name is announced," Hamilton said. "It's going to be exciting and nerve-racking until you get that first one -- if you get that first one. But it always looked like fun watching it on television."

Hamilton will have his family and friends there watching him and he will bring along a special guest. Clay Council, a 71-year-old volunteer high school coach from Raleigh, N.C., will be at Yankee Stadium to pitch to Hamilton. Council has been throwing batting practice to Raleigh-area kids for more than 30 years and Hamilton is among them. Hamilton promised Council many years ago that if he was ever invited to the Home Run Derby, he would ask Council to pitch to him.

Council may be 71, but Hamilton was sure to make good on his promise.

"I hit with him in the offseason and he threw me 200 balls a day," Hamilton said. "He's good to go."

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.