Considering the many qualified candidates that ESPN could have chosen to announce the 2016 T-Mobile Home Run Derby at San Diego’s Petco Park on Monday night, Aaron Boone is as good a choice as any.
As a player for the Yankees in 2003, Boone hit one of the most memorable homers in Yankees history – a walk-off home run in the 11th inning, off of Tim Wakefield during Game 7 of a tightly contested ALCS which gave the New York Yankees a 6–5 victory over the Boston Red Sox and the series win over their arch rivals.
The home run was rated the ninth-best home run of all time on Baseball Tonight. I remember lying on the floor of my new apartment with my girlfriend (who became my wife six years later) and going crazy as Boone’s blast flirted with the foul pole before going out.
Now, as an analyst for ESPN, Boone will be covering the T-Mobile Home Run Derby along with ground-breaking announcer Jessica Mendoza, who becomes the first female analyst to call a Homer Derby and legendary mic wrecker Chris Berman.
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"It’s been great working with Jessica, “Boone told TSL. “She’s so easy to be around and she cares so much and works so hard at trying to get to know people and get to know the game better. Her work ethic has really impresses me. To get to call a homer Derby with Chris Berman and Jessica, it’s going to be a fun night at Petco."
Last season hometown hero Todd Frazier electrified Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati as he won the crown under an exciting new format that has reinvigorated national interest and enthusiasm for the event which at one time looked as if it was losing fan appeal, similar to the NBA Slam Dunk contest.
“… you never know how adjustments to the rules is going to take, “ Boone told The Shadow League in an exclusive interview on Saturday. “I think it was, pardon the pun, a home run. And because of the weather in Cincinnati with the threat of rain, they tweaked the format even more an hour before the derby went off and it turned out to be a complete blessing."
"The format was action packed from start to finish. I thought the element of a clock with limited time was really cool. It was interesting to see how guys tried to maximize their swing all the while knowing that you don’t want to completely tire yourself out or rush.”
As some rain hit the Cincinnati streets during the day, the new five-minute time limit per batter per round was shortened to four minutes, a previously announced 60-second time extension for homers surpassing 475 feet was changed, with players now receiving a 30-second bonus if they hit two homers of at least 425 feet.
Frazier captivated the crowd, winning the Derby by hitting his last home run before the 30 second time limit was up.
“In past years, some guys would take a lot of pitches because they aren’t up against the clock,” Boone told TSL. “I thought it was an action packed and perfect format last year so I hope we can get something of the same.”
The 2015 Home Run Derby came down to a final round mash-out between MLB's young crusher Joc Pederson and Frazier.
As I reported that day live from the scene of the baseball eruption, "drama, suspense and 400-plus foot moonshots ruled the day, and "Toddfather," as Reds fans call Frazier, pulled off a dramatic comeback in the final two rounds of competition to bring the derby title back to the crib."
“The electricity was amazing at Great American last year with Todd Frazier doing what he did in that building," said Boone, who has attended many a homer derby in the past, but got his first crack at announcing one in 2015.“It was special and being the first one that I called, it was a pretty fabulous atmosphere, “Boone told TSL.
Frazier, now a member of the Chicago White Sox and second in baseball with 25 homers, hit a barrage of homers in the final 90 seconds of the derby finals to edge Pederson 15-14. Frazier's 15 dingers were the most in a final round of the Home Run Derby in MLB history. He was no doubt inspired by the sea of Red jerseys worn by the hometown fans that were on their feet for every Frazier homer in the final round, particularly his thrilling comeback in the last two minutes.
He was down 14-5 at one point, with time ticking away and then he turned on the power pack and turned the building upside down. He tied the contest 14-14, then in bonus time (granted because he hit two homers longer than 425 feet) Frazier quickly closed out the competition with the crowd frantically shouting, "Let's go Frazier." As he triumphantly raised his championship belt and held his son in his arms, fellow New Jersey native Frank Sinatra's "My Way" blared from the stadium speakers.
Boone says it will be hard to match last year’s energy.
“We are obviously going from one of the great home run hitting parks in Great American to the more pitcher-friendly Petco,” Boone reasoned, “but you’re talking about guys with prolific power and there are places in Petco that you don’t have to completely kill it to get it out of there.”
Eight of baseball's crush kings will slug it out under the new and improved rules where, players will once again face off head-to-head and milly rock against the clock.
Here’s the first round matchups with the players seeded based on their season home run totals as of Wednesday, July 6.
No. 1 Mark Trumbo (28) vs. No. 8 Corey Seager (17) No. 2 Todd Frazier (25) vs. No. 7 Carlos Gonzalez (18) No. 3 Adam Duvall (23) vs. No. 6 Wil Myers (19) No. 4 Robinson Cano (20) vs. No. 5 Giancarlo Stanton (19)
“I think there's a chance we can duplicate last year because again, the new format creates a fast-paced action packed competition and the one-on-one matchups are a great touch," says Boone.
"However, last year was almost scripted the drama was so good, so maybe we can’t match that, but the aura of the home run is still a big deal in our sport."
“Giancarlo Stanton is my top choice,” Boone told TSL. "When he gets on a roll there’s no one in the sport where the ball comes off the bat like it does with him. It’s just out of this world."
(Photo Credit: nypost.com)
One notable absence is Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant, a cult hero who attended The University of San Diego and appeared in last year's contest. Bryant decided to skip the homer derby to the devastation of most All-Star fans. The early season MVP candidate may not be competing, but he is one of seven All-Star teammates who were named to the team.
“I think anytime the Cubs, who are one of MLB’s most famous franchises, are relevant again and arguably the best team in MLB, naturally I think it’s created tremendous buzz and excitement especially in the Midwest… but it’s certainly becomes a prominent national story when the Cubs are good,” said Boone.
“Also when you have a charismatic manager and a great one in Joe Maddon, along with this kind of awesome blend of youth and veterans...it’s a colorful and fun time to watch because they are so talented with up and coming stars,” said Boone who is interested in seeing how the team handles the pressure of a century long World Series drought. “I’m looking forward to seeing what unfolds in the second half. I’m certain they will be in the postseason but expectations are there now after reaching the NLCS last season.”
As a guy who began his career with the Cincinnati Reds in 1997 and played one of his final two season with the Washington Nats in 2008, I asked Boone his opinion of the job former Reds and current Nats coach Dusty Baker has done with the NL East-leading Nats after a two-year hiatus.
(Photo Credit: mlb.com)
“I think he was the perfect fit,” Boone told TSL. “
"The Nats are a team that's been one of the most talented teams for the last three or four years but had this underlying, couldn’t get out of its own way, somewhat underachieving level,” Boone told TSL. “There was tenseness and a pressure the team had built into it and Dusty was the perfect guy to come in there with all the hats he’s worn in this game.”
“If you know what Dusty brings to a room…I think he’s changed the culture in that clubhouse and allowed them to flourish more so, but the next test isn’t just getting to the postseason but advancing and that’s ultimately how Dusty will be measured, but he played a strong role in helping them bounce back this year.”
And Boone will play a major role in providing baseball fans with a voice in the sky for another MLB Homer Derby full of big boppers going yard bringing fame to their names.