Balls Deep: A Home Run Derby Diary

Baseball's best bombers took over Minneapolis, and we were in the stands (with a poncho)

Yoenis Cespedes of the Oakland A's bats during the Gillette Home Run Derby in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Elsa/Getty Images
July 15, 2014 9:50 AM ET

The public's lust for home runs is insatiable. Unhealthy even.

We talk about enjoying the nuanced and subtle bits of the game – defense, pitching, smart baserunning, other boring stuff – but deep down we all know this is a lie. What we really, truly want from baseball, on a very primal level, is to see large men hit balls very fucking far. We demand dingers.

High and Tight: Rock & Roll Baseball Experts Pick the Best Big League Stadiums

And no other evening in Major League Baseball provides such a pure, mainlined dinger rush as the annual Home Run Derby. The consistently strong television ratings – secured in spite of the ongoing maniacal broadcast presence of one Chris Berman – confirm America's long ball addiction.

This year's event was held at Target Field in my hometown of Minneapolis. So, ahead of tonight's MLB All-Star Game – 8 p.m. ET on Fox – I put on my press cap and monocle (reporters wear monocles, right?) and headed into the breach to document the night's magic. Here are a few scenes from the evening.

Act I: The Rain Delay

I am from Minneapolis myself so I can say this without fear of retribution: we are a homely, poorly dressed lot and generally do not deserve your attention. We are content to toil away in cold obscurity, away from the national spotlight. Aside from the Replacements, Prince and lyrics to Hold Steady songs, we don't have much to offer you coastal, craft-cocktail types. It is cold and unglamorous and we are content.

We understand and accept that what most people instantly think of when they visualize Minneapolis is cold, snow, ice, igloos, whatever. We get it and are used to it, but the All-Star Game represents one of the few moments we've had to leave the rest of the world with an impression that we live in a place worth visiting.

So naturally, Monday's Home Run Derby was delayed almost an hour by driving, frigid rain. According to ESPN, it was 56 degrees when the first pitch was thrown, making this the coldest Derby ever. Not exactly dispelling the stereotype.

Drinking alcohol is something we do about as well as enduring the cold, and the former is often a means to the latter. As a result, the assembled crowd responded to the delayed start by standing tightly packed in the rain-soaked interior corridors near the beer stands, imbibing itself to peak lubrication. To distract us from the ongoing wait, the good folks of Target Field piped in classic rock jams with lyrics relevant to the evening's events – including "Centerfield" by John Fogerty, "Sledgehammer" by Peter Gabriel and the rare Lenny Kravitz B-side "Baseball Baseball Sports Ball Bunt."

The mood was growing increasingly uneasy as the crowd reflexively thumbed for new updates to the weather forecast on their phones, worried the storm wouldn't pass. The assembled national media waited, bored and cold, as evidenced by this compelling video I took of John Smoltz:

Finally, mercifully, at 7:54 PM CT, the tarp was removed from the field and the festivities began. A roar lifted from the crowd. Let the crushing commence.

As I'm sure you saw on TV, a massive rainbow emerged, framing the city perfectly. Late evening sun reflected off the glass monoliths of our modest downtown as the retreating storm clouds faded into obscurity, Wisconsin's problem now. It looked like this:

You really oughta come visit us sometime.

Act II: Giancarlo Stanton is Not a Nice Man

No, Stanton didn't win the contest, but he did win the unofficial award for most vicious home run of the evening. This shot carried a projected 510 feet into the third deck in left field:

Were the stadium 20 feet smaller, the ball would have ended its journey by smashing the window of a light-rail train on 6th Street.

Act III: Yoenis Cespedes is Also Not a Nice Man

Plenty of players put on an entertaining show for the assembled crowd of 40,000 on Monday night, but no participant provided the same visceral and violent display of power that Yoenis Cespedes did. The ball continually sprang from his bat with ill intent, lasering into the upper left-field deck. The crowd responded with a startled joy that escalated upwards with each shot.

Watch for yourself:

Cespedes defected from his home country of Cuba in 2011 to pursue his lifelong dream of playing professional baseball. The journey was fraught with danger and almost ended in tragedy. Flash forward to 2014 and he's the starting left fielder for the historically-dominant Oakland A's, and the Home Run Derby champion for the second consecutive year, a feat previously only accomplished by Ken Griffey Jr. Not a bad turn of events for Cespedes.

Next: Our Future Robot Overlords.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

Culture Main Next

blog comments powered by Disqus
Around the Web
Powered By ZergNet
Daily Newsletter

Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
marketing partners.


We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.