If the Home Run Derby looks like mere fun and games, that’s OK, because, well, it is fun and games. All of the All-Stars, children by their sides, fill foul territory. Tens of thousands of fans fill the stands. Homer landing spots turn into mosh pits. Everyone gawks at the massive dingers. Compared to the sometimes-stuffy environment of a major-league game, the Home Run Derby appears to be a relaxed twilight zone.
But don’t let that fool you. The Derby is an intense, wildly competitive setting that at least some sluggers treat with all of the seriousness of an actual game — and this year even more so, with the winner getting $1 million.
Take it from Robinson Cano, who won in 2011, and Todd Frazier, the 2015 champ. They have participated in the homer-hitting competition a combined seven times, thus enabling them to impart wisdom to Mets rookie Pete Alonso and his cousin/thrower, Derek Morgan.
Alonso, reigning NL MVP Christian Yelich and 20-year-old Vladimir Guerrero Jr. highlight this year’s edition Monday night at Progressive Field in Cleveland. He will face the Indians’ Carlos Santana in the first round.
“All you’re trying to do is have fun,” Cano said. “But it is intense. It is. Oh, it is. You got TV, you got fans, you got the clock, you got guys in front of you [taking their turn hitting].”
Alonso recently approached Frazier for advice, a request he was happy to accommodate. Frazier’s keys to Derby success: swing at everything, conserve energy and don’t forget to breathe.
Oh, and drink an entire bottle of Pedialyte between each round. “Drink as much fluids as possible,” Frazier said. “And afterward, well, you can drink whatever you want after that.”
Repeatedly hitting baseballs very far is exhausting, Frazier warned.
“Focus on your breathing, because you’re going to get tired,” he said. “I don’t care what anybody says. After the first round, you’ll be like, holy [expletive]. You’re going to catch a second wind after the second round [before the finals], because you’re going to be amped up. Third round, it’s going to be a battle of who wants it more.
“When you’re in the cage warming up, don’t try to crush the ball. Just touch the ball. When I was in the cage, I was playing pepper. I just wanted to stay loose.”
As important as Alonso’s brute strength is Morgan’s preparedness. With Morgan in town this week — he and Alonso practiced at Citi Field before the Yankees games — Cano offered advice: Find Alonso’s sweet spot.
“Go where his strength is, and that makes it easier for him,” he said. “You gotta throw where he has power — low, high, away, inside — that’s where you need to put the ball. Just focus on that.”
Added Frazier: “I told [Alonso], swing at everything. I don’t care if he misses one, because guess what, you just might hit one out. And be ready. I told him, your guy who’s pitching, make sure he has three balls in his hands ready to go. After every pitch, don’t watch any ball, be ready to pitch. You can watch the highlights after.”
And then there are park-specific considerations. Generally, Frazier said it’s a good idea to try to go down the lines. For Cleveland, Frazier told Alonso to take aim at right-center, an approach Cano agreed with, given that the leftfield wall is 19 feet tall.
Then again, even the deepest parts of the biggest fields haven’t contained Alonso. “Pete can hit it out anywhere,” Cano said. “Strong [expletive] guy.”
Home Run Derby
Monday at Cleveland’s Progressive Field
(Numbers in parenthesis are home run totals through Tuesday)
Christian Yelich, Brewers (31 HR) vs. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (8 HR), Blue Jays
Alex Bregman, Astros (23 HR) vs. Joc Pederson, Dodgers (20 HR)
Pete Alonso, Mets (28 HR) vs. Carlos Santana, Indians (19 HR)
Josh Bell, Pirates (26 HR) vs. Ronald Acuna Jr., Braves (20 HR)