Souhan: Home run derby with payback worth watching

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 14, 2014 - 12:43 AM

Records, windshields in peril in home run fest.

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Justin Morneau

Photo: Charlie Riedel, Associated Press

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Baseball’s Home Run Derby, otherwise known as the ‘‘I couldn’t get a ticket to the All-Star Game consolation exhibition,’’ is scheduled for Monday night at Target Field, unless it snows.

To prompt a brief interruption in our embrace of all things All-Star, this must be noted: The Home Run Derby often stinks.

Too often it represents everything that is wrong with baseball: It’s long, redundant, filled with dead time, rewards steroid users and can include lethal doses of Chris Berman.

There are only three ways in which a Home Run Derby becomes worth the time:

1. It occurs in your home ballpark.

2. A player with local ties wins it.

3. All entrants are so saturated with performance-enhancing drugs that they can smack the ball out with their eyebrows.

We’re lucky. On Monday night, we’ve got a shot at two of those. Or more.

Viewed on TV in most ballparks, the Home Run Derby looks a lot like the NFL combine, outdoors. Guy swings hard. Ball lands in the stands. Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to work?

When the Home Run Derby comes to your ballpark, the event becomes a marriage of architecture and athletic prowess. Monday night, someone like Giancarlo Stanton or Jose Bautista may hit a ball farther than we’ve ever seen one hit at Target Field, fulfilling Standard No. 1.

With baseball employing PEBs (performance-enhancing baseballs), someone may hit one out of the park to left, for the first time.

Sunday, during batting practice for the Futures Game, Twins prospect Kennys Vargas smacked one ball over the black-screened batter’s eye in center field. Another threatened the warranty of a red truck on the right field plaza.

Was he the one who hit the truck, breaking the windshield? “Yeah,’’ he said.

Was he trying to hit the truck? “Yeah,’’ he said.

Having watched the Twins at Target Field for almost five seasons, fans might be shocked at where a well-struck ball might land. Someone may even hit one onto the right field plaza so that it bounces over the gate and rolls toward First Avenue.

When Populous designed Target Field, Twins officials hoped to one day see Justin Morneau regularly hitting such physiologically improbable home runs to right field.

And that’s where we might be treated to Standard No. 2 on the list. Because baseball’s bizarre selection process doesn’t allow a final step in which an intelligent baseball figure adds players who belong on the roster, Morneau will not play in the All-Star Game. Even though his introduction might have become the highlight of the game, he’s having an All-Star season, he was one of the great players in the game before his concussion, and he’s beloved in Minnesota.

So Morneau is like a lot of Minnesotans this week: Attending the Home Run Derby because he couldn’t make it to the big event.

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