All right, I'll admit it. In spite of my disdain for the Home Run Derby, I was on the edge of my seat last night when Albert had to win a hit-off to advance to the second round. I just kept thinking, "You have to hit more than Joe Mauer, Albert. You just have to!"
Nothing against Joe Mauer, of course; in fact, when my friends and I play that game, the one where you're starting a team from scratch and have to come up with what players you would choose, Mauer is always my second position player, right after Pujols himself. But my love for Joe Mauer isn't the point. The point is Joe Mauer has no business ever being in a home run hitting contest, and Albert Pujols most definitely does.
I will say this: familiarity with the ballpark in which the Derby is being conducted does make it quite a bit more impressive. I've been to plenty of other ballparks, and several of them multiple times, but none nearly as often as Busch. So when Prince Fielder hit that last bomb, the one that went down the tunnel in right center, I knew perfectly well just how far that actually was. You can tell the homers are pretty long in other parks, but when it's one you've been to dozens of times and know intimately, the scope is much more apparent.
In a weird way, it may have actually been the worst possible outcome the Home Run Derby could have had. Albert didn't win, but he did manage to force himself into taking extra swings in a playoff. What's worse, he actively altered the way he was swinging the bat in order to hit homers, a terrifying proposition any way you slice it. Ryan Howard, the other local favorite, couldn't overcome a weak first round, leaving us with Prince Fielder and some dude from the Rangers that even the most ardent of baseball geeks (read: me), were barely aware of. So neither of the guys you wanted to win were even in the final, but the fear of Albert doing something to hurt himself, either physically or performance wise, was still there. Oy.
So who does one root for in such a scenario? Do you root for the Vegetable King to win, yet mess up his swing so that he isn't helping the Brew Crew to stomp our heads in down the stretch? Or do you root for the unknown, hoping to see him stamp his name into the collective public consciousness, as well as ensure that a Brewer still doesn't win anything?
In the end, I suppose maybe the Derby isn't so bad. Yeah, it's still batting practice, and yeah, it's still kind of stupid, but I certainly can't blame anyone who does like it. You don't often see players so loose and unselfconscious. They seem to genuinely enjoy it, the fun of just cutting loose with their kids running around and no fielders to worry about. (Well, there is a Fielder to worry about, but that's a separate issue entirely.)
So maybe I've been too hard on the Home Run Derby. I am occasionally guilty of taking things too seriously, and maybe this is one of those times. At the very least, it was a lot of fun seeing Brandon Inge flail away unsuccessfully. No offense to Mr. Inge, but I could watch him make outs all day long.