Derby contestants out to clear Stadium

Derby contestants out to clear Stadium

NEW YORK -- The State Farm Home Run Derby comes to Yankee Stadium for the first time on Monday night and it couldn't have happened at a better time.

"How appropriate that it [and the All-Star Game] should be here in the stadium's 85th and final year?" said Hal Steinbrenner, the chairman of Yankee Global Enterprises and the younger son of George, the team's longtime owner and patriarch. "The Home Run Derby is going to be exciting and I know that people will be trying to hit it out of here, be the first to hit it out of here -- and good luck with that.

"I don't know if that's a reality or not, but I'm sure one or two of the participants will be trying. Obviously it will be a huge endeavor."

The Derby field appeared at a media conference on Monday afternoon in the Grand Hyatt Hotel and seemed quite ready for the evening's competition.

The Rays' Evan Longoria, Twins' Justin Morneau, Rangers' Josh Hamilton and Indians' Grady Sizemore are the American League representatives. The Astros' Lance Berkman, Brewers' Ryan Braun, Marlins' Dan Uggla and Phillies' Chase Utley will compete for the National League.

Morneau is the only repeater from last year's event in San Francisco's AT&T Park, which was won by the Angels' Vladimir Guerrero over Alex Rios of the Blue Jays. Morneau lost a five-pitch playoff against the Cards' Albert Pujols and didn't make it past the first round.

For Berkman, this will be his fourth Home Run Derby. Although he's never won, his results have run the gamut from uneventful in 2002 to spectacular in 2004, when he was defeated in his own home park by Miguel Tejada, then with the Orioles, who finished with a flurry. Berkman also called himself "a complete non-factor" in 2006 when he hit three and was out after the first round.

Berkman has the most career homers of any of this year's contestants -- 281. The remaining six are all first-timers in the Derby.

It would seem that the left-handed hitters -- Sizemore, Hamilton, Morneau and Utley -- would have a distinct advantage in the old stadium, where the famous right-field porch lingers within easy reach. Left field to left-center is the deepest part of the ballpark.

"I think that if these right-handed hitters catch a ball clean the size of the park doesn't matter," said Berkman, a switch-hitter who is considering attacking the event from the right side of the plate. "I don't think anyone has a distinct advantage because the Home Run Derby is all about getting into a groove. How many balls go right down the line in the Derby? Not many. I think that's an overrated element."

The Derby can be seen live on MLB.com by MLB.TV and All-Star package subscribers, and on ESPN, beginning at 8 p.m. ET.

The 79th Major League Baseball All-Star Game, the last to be played in the current Yankee Stadium -- which closes at the end of this season -- will be televised nationally by FOX, also with pregame ceremonies beginning at 8 p.m. ET.

It also will be shown live in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and Sportsnet HD and televised around the world by Major League Baseball International.

As has become a Derby custom, each batter will get 10 outs per at-bat. After the ninth out, a gold ball will be put into play. Each homer hit with a gold ball will garner a $17,000 donation from State Farm and MLB to the Boys & Girls Club of America, MLB's preferred charity.


"I don't think anyone has a distinct advantage because the Home Run Derby is all about getting into a groove. How many balls go right down the line in the Derby? Not many. I think that's an overrated element."
-- Lance Berkman

Two new wrinkles will be added to the competition:

First of all, a fan participant -- Bennett Hayes of Brimfield, Ill., -- will be asked to "call a shot" before the finals. Hayes will indicate which part of the stands -- left, center or right -- he thinks one of the participants can reach. Using a new red ball, the two finalists will attempt to smack it into that general area.

And finally, each of the eight Derby participants have been paired with a member of a local Boys & Girls Club. Compliments of State Farm, the winner of the event will net a $50,000 contribution for a teen center at that particular club.

As far as hitting any ball -- white, gold or red -- out of Yankee Stadium, Steinbrenner is quite right: it's never been accomplished fair under any configuration.

The original stadium, opened in 1923, didn't have upper decks that extended past the foul lines. Still, even the great Babe Ruth, the left-handed Sultan of Swat, couldn't put it over the back-bleacher wall in right field.

Forty years later, with the upper decks long extended to their current positions jutting out to left-and right-centers, and the roof still on the original structure, Mickey Mantle came the closest to hitting it out.

Mantle, the most powerful switch-hitting slugger in Major League history, twice hit the frieze just beneath the roof in right field.

Since the stadium was refurbished and reopened in 1976, no one has even come close.

But it doesn't mean guys won't be trying on Monday night.

Hamilton, who has competed in Home Runs Derbies in the Minor Leagues, said any one of the eight is capable of hitting it out, particularly the left-handed hitters.

There's a gap above the right-center-field bleachers between the white replica of the frieze and the multiple decks where it is a distinct possibility.

"I think there's a few of us who could," said Hamilton, who will face a 71-year-old batting practice pitcher on Monday night. "I've seen some guys hit balls in BP that could go out of this place. You know that little opening there where you can see the train tracks? Watch out."

Utley, who's third in the NL with 25 homers, has never played in the "House that Ruth Built," but he's anxious for the opportunity.

"It does look short down the right-field line," he said. "But if you hit it good it's going to go, no matter whether you're right-handed or left-handed."

Every ballpark has its quirks. Last year, left-handed Derby competitors aimed for "splash hits" into McCovey Cove just behind a 24-foot brick wall and small bleacher section in right field. But no one dropped it into the Cove fair.

Two years ago, when the Phils' Ryan Howard defeated the Mets' David Wright, contestants in Pittsburgh's PNC Park zeroed in on the Allegheny River just beyond the right-field bleachers. And a number of shots hit the drink.

But hitting it out of Yankee Stadium? Don't expect it.

"It's different for me because I rarely pull the ball," Hamilton said. "I'm going to approach this like batting practice and also hit it to center field and left-center. It won't matter once you get ramped up for the Derby."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.