Fauber: HR Derby still has magic left

By Brad Fauber

I’m not going to sit here and pretend like I’m old — at the ripe young age of 23, I like to believe the best years of my life are still ahead of me.

But when I sat down to watch the Major League Baseball Home Run Derby and the All-Star Game earlier this week, I honestly felt like a kid again.

My interest level in the MLB’s All-Star festivities — particularly the Home Run Derby — has waned over the years, maybe because the steroid era somewhat ruined the beauty of the long ball for me, or perhaps I just outgrew the idolization of athletes that comes with being a sports fan in your childhood years.

I hadn’t really paid attention to the Home Run Derby since the mid-2000s, when Miguel Tejada represented Baltimore in 2004 (along with teammate Rafael Palmeiro) and 2006, and even then it was only because Tejada played for my favorite team.

It’s for that same reason that I decided to tune in to this year’s edition of the Home Run Derby, as Chris Davis became the first Oriole since Tejada to test his power against the greatest sluggers currently playing in the big leagues. Of course I had to watch it — I wouldn’t be a true fan if I didn’t. So I set my DVR to record it (I missed most of the live portion while covering the Strasburg Express game Monday evening), and I’m glad I did.

Watching the Derby late on Monday night after work brought back a flood of memories from when I was a kid. Seeing Prince Fielder, Bryce Harper and eventual champion Yoenis Cespedes hit towering shots at Citi Field in New York took me back to when I used to watch Ken Griffey Jr., Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds do the same thing during their playing days.

The Home Run Derby was always so cool when I was little. It was something that me and my cousins would always emulate my backyard, using the fence around my grandparents’ pool next door as center field and using any combination of bats and balls that we could get our hands on. Sometimes we used Wiffle balls and bats, other times a board and a soft rubber ball would have to do.

We would spend hours upon hours just taking turns at the “plate,” mimicking the great power hitters that we all loved watching. Cal Ripken Jr. was always my favorite baseball player, but when it was time to play home run derby in the backyard, I turned into Griffey — hat turned backwards, upright stance, shoulder sway and all.

When I blasted a shot off the side of the house — sorry Nana and PawPaw — I wasn’t a kid playing in the backyard with a plastic bat. I was Griffey stroking a home run off the warehouse in Baltimore (an event I was too young to remember seeing live, but had seen plenty of times in replays). When a home run went over the house — which we viewed as the grandest feat of all — I was McGwire hitting a 500-foot shot over the Green Monster at Fenway Park.

The Home Run Derby was always a magical event, and somewhere along the way I lost that affection for it. I’m glad I gave it another shot.

On Monday night, I didn’t care that the Home Run Derby is essentially glorified batting practice. I appreciated it for what it was — baseball players with tremendous power hitting baseballs a long, long way. And I enjoyed every second of it.

My jaw literally dropped at some of the home runs hit, and I’m pretty sure I turned to my girlfriend after Fielder’s 480-some-foot bomb in the first round and asked her something along the lines of “Did you just see that?” — even though I knew she did and probably couldn’t care less.

I don’t think I’ll ever regain that love for the Home Run Derby that I had when I was a kid, but on Monday night, I was as close to being 10 years old as I’ve been in a quite a while.

Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or bfauber@nvdaily.com