– Mike Tolsma
No disrespect to the Lance Berkmans or the Bobby Abreus of the world. Those Home Run Derbies of the mid 2000s were great to watch. Seeing Abreu crush 41 homeruns in Comerica Park in Detroit back in 2005 was something special. Some of the best fields of the early 2000s were great, maybe a bit tainted now though (Steroids are a great thing, aren’t they?). Tonight, Major League Baseball took a huge step in the right direction for the Derby, implementing a time clock (4 minutes for each competitor). Without question this was the most impact, mainly because it took away the long rounds of batters taking their time and waiting for the perfect pitch. In hindsight, with the old format, why wouldn’t you? There is no reason to not use all of the 10 outs you were granted to your advantage. But the main goal for the Dinger Derby is simple: entertain the fans. These same fans in Cincinnati needed this entertainment since their hometown Reds are in the midst of 39-47 season and 15.5 games back in the competitive National League Central. These same fans are watching their team most likely have to deal away their ace Johnny Cueto, lefty power hitter Jay Bruce, and possibly their flame-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman. Tonight, the fans at the Great American Ballpark packed the house and the sellout crowd witnessed Joc Pederson crush the baseball in the final round against hometown hero Todd Frazier.
This brings me back to why this Derby was the greatest one of all the derbies I have seen in my years watching baseball. The time clock was a much welcomed feature for fans like myself. It provided drama, which as a sports fan, who really doesn’t love drama? The new rules of the Derby meant that each player would have four minutes to belt out as many home runs as they could. Each slugger had one timeout they could use at any point in the round. Another welcomed rule because as previously mentioned, in the old format when the hitters would get tired, it was simple: stop swinging for a few pitches. The timeouts gave the viewers a quick break as well as the hitters a second to gather themselves. Well done, MLB. The beautiful part of the time clock was the fact that the hitters now found themselves feeling the pressure if they needed to beat their opponent by a certain number of homers. The Derby was in a bracket format this year, with competitors ranked 1-8 based on how many home runs they had up to this point in the season.
Todd Frazier, the third baseman for the hometown Reds, paved his way into
the finals, first knocking off Prince Fielder in extra time. In the second round, Frazier needed a walk off homer to beat Josh Donaldson hitting a blast as time expired. In the final round, Frazier was rivaled against Dodgers’ young stud Joc Pederson. Pederson is most likely to bring home the National League Rookie of the Year. Tonight, his power was on full display (beat Manny Machado in round 1 with 13 homers and still had 1:11 left in his round) and in the championship round, he knocked out fourteen blasts, most of which were absolute moonshots. Pederson to me was the most impressive, but the night belonged to Frazier. With 1:10 to go in the round, Frazier needed two bombs to tie Pederson’s fourteen He was clearly tired, but the home crowd was behind the slugger. He managed to knock out two blasts to tie Pederson as the round expired. Another great rule change: if a player blasts a home run over 475 feet in their round, they are awarded 30 seconds of “extra time” at the end of their round. Frazier was granted extra time, and took a minute to compose himself as his four minute round ended. He stepped into the box, and the first pitch he sees in extra time is an absolute missile to left center, and the champion was crowned.
This Derby really knocked it out of the park. A great job to recapture the minds of baseball fans. Out with the old, and in with the new. Good job, Major League Baseball. Keep the positive changes coming.