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This Year's Derby was Good, but not Great

My favorite time of the year has finally arrived, the much anticipated 2009 MLB All-Star game.

Although the game itself is a highlight for me, I equally enjoy watching the Home Run Derby, held the night before the main event. I had the opportunity to attend the 2008 Home Run Derby in New York, and it was one of the most amazing displays of talent I have ever witnessed. After all, how can anything possibly compare to Josh Hamilton’s 28 home runs in the first round?

This year, however, both Hamilton and last year’s overall winner, Justin Morneau, declined their invitations to participate in the Derby. Their absences definitely opened the door for the mega-talented National League, first basemen Prince Fielder, Adrian Gonzalez, Ryan Howard, and Albert Pujols.

All of the National League derby participants have impressive numbers so far this season, with Pujols leading the Majors with 32 home runs. The American League representatives didn’t seem to have the same notable home run power this season. Leading the group was Carlos Pena, with 24 home runs heading into the break, followed by Nelson Cruz, Brandon Inge, and Joe Mauer.

Cruz and Fielder easily advanced into Round 2 with 11 home runs each, and Howard advanced with seven. But the drama was created when Pujols won the “swing off,” beating Pena and Mauer, and made it into the next round. In the second round, Cruz and Fielder, supported by their strong first round, were the two finalists.

I can’t say I was surprised by the outcome of the contest. Without Hamilton and Morneau, Fielder was an obvious favorite to win. With 22 home runs so far this season, the powerhouse first baseman from Milwaukee has shown that he has what it takes to succeed.

Overall, I felt a bit let down by last night’s Derby. I didn’t feel the same thrill as I did last year. Maybe it was because the 2008 Derby was held at the old Yankee Stadium, and there was such an excitement and energy in the air. Maybe it’s because Hamilton’s 2008 first round was so incredible to watch, almost super human. Or maybe it’s because I was hoping for the St. Louis hometown favorite, Albert Pujols, to take home the title, and instead he didn’t even make it into the finals.

Still, the Derby is a truly entertaining event, and I can’t wait to watch it again next year!