HOUSTON Miguel Tejada walked on the field, gazed at Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds and Willie Mays, and felt very out of place in the All-Star Home Run Derby.
''Shivers,'' he recalled. ''Just being so close to those guys, it's unbelievable.''
A call for the usual intentional walk to Bonds opened Monday night's All-Star Home Run Derby with a laugh. Tejada then drew gasps, flashing even more power than the slugger who usually gets the attention.
The Baltimore shortstop hit a record 15 home runs in the second round, topping out at 497 feet and putting several over the 58-foot wall behind the left field seats, toward Crawford Street. He went on to defeat hometown favorite Lance Berkman 5-4 in the final with five of 10 outs to spare.
''Oh my gosh, I'm winning the Home Run Derby,'' Tejada thought to himself. ''I usually watch it from my house, usually watch it on TV.''
Five of Berkman's 10 homers in the second round were dramatic shots out of the ballpark, including a 493-foot drive.
''After I hit three in a row out of the stadium, I thought that was really neat. The fans were going crazy,'' Berkman said. ''I got in a nice groove. The second round was quite an experience. I ran out of gas.''
Both finalists batted right-handed and replaced left-handers who pulled out, with Tejada taking over from Jason Giambi and Berkman, a switch-hitter, getting the call after Ken Griffey Jr. got hurt last weekend. The big wall in left, which has replica 1860 locomotive that runs across it, provides a perfect panorama for right-handers.
When he took first swing, Tejada was hoping to hit just one homer.
''Miggy, you're not going to win,'' he recalled thinking. ''There's so many home run hitters.''
Bonds did get pitched to, hitting eight homers with the roof closed in the first round, one a 483-foot shot over the top row of seats in the right-field upper deck. But he had just three in the second, when the panels pulled back to reveal the night sky and the humidity rolled in.
Before the competition, the 14 living players among the 20 with 500 or more homers came together in a room beneath the right field upper deck to swap stories, pose for photos and project what the future will bring to the long ball. If the ball has been juiced in recent years, this was the appropriate setting for such a gathering Minute Maid Park.
Adding it all up, the gathering totaled 8,083 homers. Ten of the top 11 sluggers in baseball history, all but the deceased Sultan of Swat, Babe Ruth.
Aaron, the only man to top Ruth's 714, predicted that Bonds (currently at 681) will surpass his mark.
''It won't bother me a bit,'' Hammerin' Hank said.
Even among the glittery stars, Bonds shined the brightest the light from the cameras reflected off the diamond crucifix earring on his left earlobe.
He posed for pictures with his godfather, Mays, now fourth on the career list at 660 after being passed by his godson earlier this year.
Bonds was looking forward to the Home Run Derby. He's been intentionally walked 71 times this season three more than the previous record he set two years ago and walked 131 times in all.
''I don't have a chance to swing much,'' he said.
Even if he does pass Aaron, Bonds guessed that he wouldn't remain No. 1 very long and that this generation's stars won't dominate the top of the list forever.
''Someone's going to pass us,'' said Bonds, later greeted by the fans with a standing ovation.
Mark McGwire, making a rare ballpark appearance, predicted 28-year-old Alex Rodriguez (367) or 24-year-old Albert Pujols (136) could be the ones.
''In 10 years, it's going to be scary,'' he said.
McGwire, whose season record of 70 homers in 1998 was topped by Bonds' 73 in 2001, didn't want to discuss baseball's decision this spring to ban the use of androstenedione, the steroidlike supplement McGwire used in 1998.
''Great. Perfect. Then I would have never used it,'' said McGwire, who stopped taking andro the following year, saying he didn't want children to follow his lead.
Bonds wouldn't talk about steroids. He was among the athletes who testified last fall before a federal grand jury last fall investigating illegal steroid distribution. His personal trainer was indicted. Bonds has denied using illegal steroids.
''What court are you talking about?'' he said when asked whether the court proceedings were a distraction. ''I'm not in court. I'm not in there, so I don't have to worry about it.''
Reggie Jackson thought it was unfair that the media has cast suspicion on today's home run hitters for using illegal steroids.
''You haven't fingered anybody,'' he said. ''So until then, stop accusing until you have evidence that this guy did this, and if you don't, lay off of him. If it was me, I would sue for defamation of character.''
© 2018. All Rights Reserved. | Contact Us