When Aaron Judge said Thursday that he likely is “one and done” for the Home Run Derby — Major League Baseball’s marquee All-Star event — the Yankees’ must-see slugger wasn’t being entirely accurate.
Maybe Judge won’t try to defend his title this July at Nationals Park in D.C. But now that Giancarlo Stanton shares the same clubhouse with Judge, Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird, the Yankees realize they can stage their own Derby practically every night in batting practice during the regular season, so expect the fans to get more access to these longest-drive contests this year.
Because home teams take BP before the gates have opened to fans, the best way to see Judge crush tape-measure blasts before games has been on the road. On those Bronx occasions when Judge smashed a flat-screen TV in the outfield terrace bar or obliterated some other piece of Yankee Stadium, the only way to watch them was after the video went viral.
This season, however, the public’s chance to see Judge or Stanton try to rocket a BP pitch completely out of Yankee Stadium — or break things 500 feet away just for fun — has gone up considerably. The Yankees plan to open the gates early for batting practice for as many as 20 games this year, a quarter of the home dates, to allow fans to see the early pyrotechnics, including the explosive handiwork of Sanchez and Bird.
This modern upgrade of Murderers’ Row can put on a show that is unique in the sport, based on the pure power potential. And the Yankees are smart enough to understand that the wow factor on their roster shouldn’t be limited to nine innings each night.
Last year, they tried a half-dozen of these early-game openings — called “Block Parties” — and after Stanton’s acquisition, the idea to perhaps triple them could make this pregame availability for the BP fireworks a can’t-miss opportunity.
Judge already has noted that the Yankees’ mashers tend to compete for distance in their BP rounds.
“We’ll usually have one round where we’re all kind of seeing how far we can all hit it,” Judge said last month. “There will be some back-and-forth.”
MLB knows the entertainment value of batting practice and has talked with the Players Association about having the home team hit second, giving its own fans the opportunity to get in the building to watch. There doesn’t seem to be any traction to those discussions, however. Players prefer the current routine, rather than forcing the visitors to show up earlier for batting practice and spend more time at the ballpark.
As for having the Yankees open the gates early for all 81 home games, that doesn’t seem feasible because of the prohibitive cost of staffing for those extra hours. It wouldn’t make financial sense, at least not without affecting ticket prices.
The appeal of watching the Yankees take batting practice was obvious last September when what was supposed to be a three-game series against the Rays at Tropicana Field was moved to Citi Field because of Hurricane Irma. The rare Yankees road game in New York (minus the usual Mets crowd at Citi) gave Yankees fans the bonus of camping out on the short leftfield patio — or, in Judge’s case, the second deck — to chase down the BP missiles.
While it may be heresy to suggest that watching Judge and Stanton tee off during warm-ups can be more memorable than the game itself, there’s no denying the draw of watching balls ricochet around the farthest reaches of a stadium, the loftiest peaks that only a select few can conquer. It’s why the Home Run Derby in Miami was such a success last July, with Judge and Stanton scraping the dome’s rafters at Marlins Park. During All-Star week, the buzz was about the Derby, not the Midsummer Classic itself.
As for the regular season, when the games count, the focus remains on what happens after the first pitch. But even if Judge stays true to his word and skips the Derby this year, it won’t mean the end of the event — just that the Yankees’ own show-stealers may have rendered it obsolete.