Thoughts from the Home Run Derby

PHOENIX - This year’s MLB Home Run Derby is in the books, with the Yankees’ Robinson Cano setting a new record with 12 homers in the final round to defeat Boston’s Adrian Gonzalez by one.

If you didn’t watch it on ESPN, you can get most of the results elsewhere. And if you haven’t sought out either of those avenues, you probably don’t care too much about the nitty-gritty of the whole thing, so I won’t provide much of that here. Instead, I’ll weigh in with a couple observations after watching the event in person for the first time:

* If the whole thing seems made-for-TV while you’re watching it from your couch, it seems even more so in person. In a word, the event is loud - hip-hop mashups playing while sluggers are at the plate, a PA announcer trying to rival Chris Berman for sheer decibels, etc. While the broadcast is on commercial breaks, there were players competing in a video game home run derby in the ballpark, taking a few swings with a PS3 EyeToy motion controller. It’s all very prepackaged, but I suppose that’s to be expected. And one of the commercial entertainment pieces - dogs running across the outfield to catch Frisbees - was actually a big hit. In fact, I think it might have been louder then than it was at times during the derby.

* There weren’t as many memorable moments this year as we’ve seen in the past, but from a sheer awe factor, two things stuck out to me. The first was Prince Fielder, riding a torrent of boos from Diamondbacks fans for picking teammate Rickie Weeks over hometown choice Justin Upton, swatting five homers in as many swings to win a tiebreaker after the first round. Three of his five homers there were at least 440 feet, and his final shot was the third-longest of the night, at 456 feet. This year’s derby had very few sluggers who hit towering homers; Fielder is one of those.

The second moment that made me feel like a kid watching the thing was Cano’s performance in the final round - needing 11 homers to win, he hit 12, and I’d bet most of them fell within a two-section radius in right field. With his father, Jose, pitching to him, he was locked in for one of those runs that make the event fun; he effortlessly pulled one line drive after another to right to get past Gonzalez. He’s the best second baseman in the game, and represents the offensive standard Danny Espinosa should be shooting for.

* In case you missed it on TV, that was Manny Acta throwing to Gonzalez; he never threw much batting practice as Nationals manager, but Paul Hoynes, the Indians beat writer for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, said Acta has been throwing more this season after having rotator cuff surgery at the end of last year. Gonzalez said he was asking around for a pitcher 20 minutes before the derby, and Acta volunteered. He did a nice job, too; he had Gonzalez in a groove from the first round. “He quickly found where I liked it, and did a great job of grooving it in there,” Gonzalez said. “I was asking around, and he stepped up and said, ‘I’ll do it,’ so I was like, ‘Alright, let’s do it.’

* If there was one thing I thought the event could have used, it was an appearance from more of the game’s hulking sluggers. Now, some of those players aren’t here (Ryan Howard was left off the team, while Adam Dunn never gave himself a chance), but maybe baseball needs to make like the NBA and invite players who aren’t necessarily in the All-Star Game. It didn’t help that Jose Bautista went out early, but this derby felt a little short on majestic homers. One day, I’d love to see Bryce Harper in this thing - and I’d guess we will.

What did you think of the derby? Anything it could have used? Do you still like it, or do you feel like it’s become a tired tradition? Let me know.