Calling a Home Run Derby is no easy task for a television announcer. It is like describing a fireworks display, or the Rose Parade.
Gushing is the entire point of these events, but that can get old quickly, especially when one is observing an endlessly repeated act such as Aaron Judge hitting baseballs farther than any other living human.
So it was Monday night for ESPN analysts Mark Teixeira and (especially) Jessica Mendoza, who were appropriately wowed but struggled to find new ways to express that wow-ness as the night wore on.
Yelling “oooh!” is a natural reaction to Judge and his colleagues, but occasional awed silence works well, too.
Karl Ravech helpfully provided balance as lead announcer in his first turn in place of Chris Berman, who had called the event since Abner Dalrymple of the White Stockings beat out King Kelly in the 1885 Derby, with Bartolo Colon pitching to both men.
Berman’s shtick was made for the Derby, and there were times when it was difficult not to wonder what he might have said about the proceedings. “Judge, jury and executioner!!!” But Ravech’s level-headed approach worked.
Not that he wasn’t above hyperbole. He opened the show proclaiming it “the most anticipated Home Run Derby of all time.”
During the second round, Ravech offered a “back, back, back, back, back, back, back . . . gone!” call of a Miguel Sano home run in tribute to Berman, and added, “We’re thinking about you, Boom!”
Teixeira and Mendoza did what they could with awkward interviews of players distracted by watching the competition as it unfolded before them, and by the noise in Marlins Park.
Ravech’s understated approach — compared with Berman’s, anyway — allowed the real stars to shine, and they came through in a way that rendered Tuesday night’s actual All-Star Game something of an afterthought.
Sure, New York-area fans had added interest because of Judge and his Yankees teammate, Gary Sanchez. The 10.8 percent of homes in the area that tuned in were the most in New York for a Derby since at least 2001.
But Judge certainly has cross-country appeal, and it is impossible not to be fascinated by his exploits, beating some of the best sluggers in the world as if they were beer league softball wannabes.
ESPN — and the rest of us — narrowly averted the possibility of a Justin Bour vs. Sano final, which would have been unfortunate. Thanks again, Aaron!
The players, and a format change, have made the event watchable again. Not that I have much to compare it to.
The last time I sat through a Derby in its entirety, I was watching Yoenis Cespedes’ rockets come at me in real life in leftfield at Citi Field in 2013 rather than watching Judge’s come at me through my television set.
But that’s the point. Judge, Sanchez, Giancarlo Stanton and, yes, ESPN made the event worth the time investment, much more so than your average 3 ½-hour slog through a regular-season game.
Players staying in the batter’s box, ready to hit the next pitch without taking a stroll and adjusting equipment and body parts? Imagine that!
It was fun. Let’s do it again next July! If Judge shows up.