Tag Archives: Home Run Derby

2014 Year in Review: The 11 (More or Less) Best Things I Consumed This Year

That’s right everyone, it’s your (on a good year) biannual reminder that I do in fact maintain a blog, despite readership soaring into the single dozens and almost three of those people not being blood relatives of mine. And would you look at this! I’m actually continuing an attempted tradition I started last year! To recap, upon moving to Minnesota I discovered the locals’ penchant for making year-end best-of lists, mostly involving bands they’ve proudly discovered the rest of us won’t hear of for another four years ever. Combine this with popular periodicals and media outlets throwing their hats in the ‘best of’ ring and you’ve got a year-end recapstravaganza. I took this as a chance to make some jokes at my own expense (always fun) and blow some creative juices on some nonsense. So here we are! A new year! Food and places and sights and one thing I actually kind of hated! I hope you enjoy it, all twelve of you.

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11. Serial (Podcast)

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This one comes with a few disclaimers. 1. This will be one of the longer sections. If you’re strapped for time or not sure why you clicked this link at all, just skip ahead. 2. This is the elitist NPR radio show section, high potential for boringness, skip if needed. 3. The show received a lot of criticism for having issues with racism; I find them mostly unfounded but, coincidentally, I am also a white person, and may very well be guilty of the same ignorance, and am not terribly qualified to comment on their validity. Ok, disclaimers over.

Serial is a podcast about a murder, with the investigative purpose being that the man who was convicted of the crime and sentenced to life for it may in fact be wrongly imprisoned and innocent. It is the most popular podcast in the history of the word ‘podcast’ with millions of people downloading it weekly (it is so popular there are numerous other podcasts that exist just to discuss this podcast). It is also all true; the murder in question did happen in 1999 in Baltimore. Serial consists of 12 episodes of NPR’s Sarah Koenig, a journalist who used to work for the Baltimore Sun, re-investigating that murder, that of a Baltimore teenager named Hae Min Lee. Her ex-boyfriend Adnan Sayed was found guilty of the crime; he vehemently maintains his innocence to this day from his prison cell. Imagine if True Detective was real, and we listened to it on the radio, 45 minutes at time, for 12 weeks (eat that, stupid binge-watching!). It became a phenomenon with the internet (specifically Reddit) collectively taking it upon itself to become an armchair police investigator, digging through thousands of case exhibits and police records thinking someone could confirm Adnan’s guilt or prove his innocence. We unexpectedly crowd-sourced a homicide investigation, fifteen years after the fact. It took me a long time to warm up to it for a lot of reasons and issues, ethical and otherwise, like Aren’t we opening some heavy wounds for Hae’s family just for our entertainment? Aren’t we putting the man convicted of the crime, guilty or innocent, through the same hell (again)? Aren’t we jeopardizing the livelihood of some of the principals involved in the case if Reddit is discovering their identities and addresses and publishing them on the internet? Perhaps silliest, What does it say about us that we cry foul about “spoilers” when this is a real case that happened fifteen years ago? Isn’t that willful ignorance? I kept listening and gave them the benefit of the doubt, as the possibility they were going to exonerate an innocent man certainly deserves as much. And I won’t discuss what they found, in case anyone still wants to dive in, but I really don’t know if the work they did here was worth it. I don’t.

What was amazing, and why it sits on this list, is not what they found; it was listening to how they found it (or failed to find it). We got to listen to what Slate called “show your work” investigative reporting, something the journalism nerd in me finds to be catnip. There’s never been anything quite like it. We got to listen to Koenig talk to Adnan from prison over and over; imagine if we got to listen to Truman Capote work through investigating and writing about the ‘In Cold Blood’ murders. The show evolved as it gained notoriety, with people who weren’t willing to speak to Koenig for the past year of her investigation suddenly calling with information and testimony (including Hae’s current boyfriend when she went missing). For the worse, the show also became self-influential, with its findings bleeding into people’s memories and “realities” of the days surrounding the murder, in a way its popularity inadvertently corrupting its own integrity. It got bigger and bigger, maybe too big for what Koenig and crew intended. Major media outlets began reporting things like the fact that Adnan has an appeal coming up in January. It got so big the same was demanded of it as is every other piece of popular media these days; a perfect and completely satisfying finale where everyone loves everything or the entire thing was a huge waste of time and we hate it forever. The public demanded that Koenig prove Adnan guilty. Prove Adnan innocent. Either one, just make your choice, Serial. In the final episode, with Koenig still poring over the case and uncertain of her own thoughts on that question, Adnan himself, from behind the permanent bars of a life sentence, almost teasingly and certainly ironically asks Koenig, “So, you don’t really have no ending?” It was fascinating to listen to and discuss it, warts and all.

10. Yellowcard at the Varsity Theater (Performance)

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There was the slight issue that I badly underestimated how many disillusioned teenagers would be at this show moshing violently. The band was popular a decade ago, I thought I fairly assumed the crowd would all be my age (wrong). So Jake and I spent a decent portion of our night fending off psychotic morons while trying to enjoy the show. That aside, I watched one of my favorite bands of all time from twenty feet away. They rocked enough to impress JJ, who tagged along despite never hearing their music until the week of the show. I ended up with Ryan Key’s (lead singer, front and center) guitar pick after some impressive floor scrambling by Brady. It was a fantastic two hour time machine of songs of sun and surf that brought me back to high school. Good times.

9. Tie – Christian Ramirez’s bicycle kick goal, Giancarlo Stanton’s Home Run Derby performance (Sporting Event)

I’ll just let you watch both of them. Some quick background; Minnesota has a soccer team that plays in the NASL (that’s like AAA for baseball fans). It’s a blast to watch their games, as quite an assortment of my friends will now attest after I dragged them to a game. This year, fans of the NASL voted one goal to be the goal of the year. I was in the house to enjoy it, and freak out about it accordingly. Enjoy.

As for background on that Home Run Derby, I already blew a couple thousand words on that. If you missed it, enjoy. If you just want video of the home run (and that .gif! Ahhhh!!!) that almost left Target field, enjoy that too.

8. Tie – The Southern Reach Trilogy, by Jeff VanderMeer, The Martian, by Andy Weir, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin (Books)


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That first one is basically LOST meets Stephen King’s The Thing, a story about a mysterious quarantine zone that no one can explain, and the shady entity that keeps sending team of scientists to investigate it (with horrid results, unsurprisingly). It wasn’t always great (and I have my suspicions I got played into reading them by some tying deal Entertainment Weekly had with the publishers). They were difficult to read and left much to the imagination (like LOST), with one perfect review saying reading those books is like trying to read someone’s dream, not always so easy to tell what’s actually happening. But they were so, so weird, so unique, which is wonderful. I’ve never read anything like them, and had a blast watching the author unravel his own mysteries. If you dig some funky sci-fi with a surprising amount of horror, I’m happy to lend them to you.

The second one is the opposite, about astronaut (and Macguyver-wannabe) Mark Watney being stranded on Mars after a terrible accident sends his crew fleeing, Watney presumed dead. It’s Castaway on the red planet. It’s ingenious and incredibly funny and suspenseful as all hell considering you logically “know” Watney will survive until at least the end of the book; Weir doles out his catastrophic setbacks terrifyingly believably. Ridley Scott is bringing this to life with Matt Damon this year; you might be better served by a couple fantastically stressed out nights with this version instead.

The final one I read in one night, and is the only one I’ll ever reread, the highest respect I can give to a book. A bookstore owner who’s kind of an elitist douche finds a baby on his store’s steps and his most prized rare book stolen. What ensues is a celebration of the power books can have on the world. Have some tissues on hand.

7. True Detective (Television)

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Apparently people hate this show for a dozen reasons: mainly, that it was less about the case Rust and Marty investigated and more about what said case did to them (uh, that’s awesome?).  That the mythology of Carcosa and the Yellow King ultimately amounted to nothing (yeah, and? Wasn’t chasing that info down the rabbit hole kind of fun?). That the finale was underwhelming (see: every show in history these days, people are the worst). That it might have been plagiarized (if that’s true, crap). And, most famously, that it was male wish-fulfillment and horrid to women, both in plot and theme and empty female characters (you be the judge). That last one does ring true, but the writer also cautioned the show is told from Rust and Marty’s perspectives, so it is what it is. What it definitely was was the best acted TV show I have ever seen. It’s dark Louisiana grime and horrors were gorgeous to behold as Cary Fukunaga shot them. Its credits were haunting (that shot of of Louisiana interstates played across Woody’s face like bondage and bandages over wounds!). The finale was terrifying and then completely unexpected. How they ultimately solved the case waaaaaaas kind of idiotic, but none of it mattered. Watching the two leads throw acting punches was riveting. The eight episode format and promise of complete cast turnover each season was new and weird. Excited to see what season two has in store.

6. The Guardians of the Galaxy, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Birdman (Film)

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I always have a tough time of picking movies because they’re all so unique in tone and mission. Plus, I feel like I’ve failed to see about 30 films this year I badly wanted to watch (Whiplash, Nightcrawler, Wild, Big Hero 6, etc etc). For Guardians, I defy anyone to watch that movie and not laugh or have fun. It’s the most entertaining and re-watchable superhero movie ever, and that comes from someone who bows at the altar of Nolan’s Batmans. It pleases me to no end that some weirdo story no one had heard of about the Bad News Bears in space made more money than any other movie this year. Please put Chris Pratt in every movie currently in production.

For Grand Budapest, I’ll be brief. Are you among Wes Anderson’s legions of nerds/obsessors? This might have been his most fun movie ever. Do you hate his movies? Don’t bother, skip ahead. Actually, no. Try watching this one and don’t be such a jerk. Never seen one of his movies? This might also be his most accessible, and a great place to start.

Birdman is weird and magnificent, and I don’t even remember half the movie because my boss sent me into a furious rage six minutes before I walked over to the mall to watch it. The story is great, the acting is great, the fact that they trick you into thinking the entire movie is one continuous shot/take is unsettling and involving and great. The ending has instigated debate as to what actually happens in that final scene, and I looooooooove debatably open-ended movies. I look forward to seeing it again, soon. Go enjoy some weird.

5. Lake Street Dive (Music)

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I am unhealthily in love with this band and its lead singer Rachael Price’s voice (Amy Winehouse and Adele and Motown and Americana). I have cruelly subjected my coworkers to their new album Bad Self Portraits a hundred times but fortunately they just asked if they could go to their show the next time they’re in the Twin Cities. I’ve watched this performance twenty times, this one a dozen more. It’s been a good time clicking their “related artists” on Spotify this year and finding other Americana acts like Sarah Jarosz, Aoife O’Donovan, ten others. It all started with them, and for my fellow MN PIP adjusters, they do a heck of a lot to rewrite the stimulus attached to the phrase ‘Lake Street.’ Enjoy!

4. The root beer served at the South Gate Brewing Company, Oakhurst, CA (Food and Drink)

For this paragraph, if everyone could pretend I’m discussing craft beer and not root beer, it will go a long way towards you finding me a bit less nuts. Phil and I stopped here as it was a stone’s throw away from our hotel during our two days in Yosemite National Park (more on this shortly). The staff was fun and enjoyed needling us about our trip, the food was great, highly recommended. But the root beer, my goodness. Their menu advises the draft root beer is made with “sarsaparilla and Tahitian vanilla.” Describing what something tastes like is about as futile an exercise as exists in the world. All I can say is it tasted very different. For the most part, root beers taste the same with variances in levels of carbonation, or maybe honey or something like that. This one was out there. It was good enough I demanded we eat there again Friday night, which Phil obliged, even taking home a growler of it to his fiancée. Ugh, I can still taste it.

3. The food, drinks, architecture and funky voodoo spirit vibe of New Orleans, LA (Adventures)

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I made it to both New Orleans and Las Vegas for the first time this year. I have spent many years assuming that of all the cities in this great nation, those two would be the women I would have absolutely nothing in common with. That I’d need to throw on some body armor before wading out into their open, wretched, disease-riddled arms. For all six people who will understand this reference, what Homer Simpson feels about the great city of New York kind-of disdain. And while my maybe six waking hours in Sin City did nothing to dissuade me of this opinion, the Crescent City fared the complete opposite. I. Can’t. Wait. To go back. The people are magnificent and weird. The culture is weird. The drinks are weird (that hurricane kicked my ass). Their architecture is like drugs for your retinas, from the cemeteries to the Garden District. It is spooky, but in a fantastic way because I can’t stand scary crap? The FOOD. The CHURCHES. The STREETCARS. I think I’m mostly still stuck on the architecture; there were no directions to gaze in that didn’t demand a second look. Dave Grohl spent a song/episode of the Foo Fighters’ new Sonic Highways on the jazz influences of New Orleans, and an opening lyric sings you can find Dave “dancing with the spirits in the Square.” A strange city, indeed, to have been overrun by ghosts, but only in New Orleans can you party with them.

2. The Apostle Islands frozen sea caves, Bayfield, WI (Adventures)

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This past Winter, Lake Superior froze. It hasn’t happened in a long time, and it’s sadly plausible that it may not happen again. Since it froze, the Bayfield, Wisconsin sea caves flipped from glorious kayak swiss cheese holes to frozen caves for walking and staring and, in some extreme cases, crawling and shimmying under the earth itself (Luke is in a tunnel in that photo about the circumference of his torso, reaching out to the open air lake surface where I was sitting; be grateful Wisconsin Winter’s aren’t typified by earthquakes). I have never seen such sights, such impossible things. Walls of icicles. Caverns fifty yards under the state of Wisconsin. Ceilings made of smoothed frost that looked like wind-blown desert sand dunes. A line of people, single-file, walking across? Over? To? nothingness, on nothingness, post-apocalyptic nomads in search of refuge from the all-encompassing white. The ground was ice, and we walked where no person has any business standing. It was all so impossible, if not for what I did in September…

1. The treads on my shoes, hiking across the trails of the United States of America

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I got to start in on some wish-fulfillment this year, living out some dreams, doing things I will never forget and couldn’t if I wanted to. Franconia Notch State Park and the White Mountains of New Hampshire in April, walking up and down and up and down the crests of mountains like the Fellowship of the Ring (thanks Wayne). The Superior Hiking Trail up Minnesota’s flawless North Shore, looking down upon the lake that vanishes like an ocean (thanks Brian). Most amazingly, in September, the impossible vistas, slot canyons, desert highways and extraterrestrial landscapes of the national parks of the American West, chasing the ghost of John Muir, Lewis and Clark (thanks Ash, Phil, and God). Every hour of every day for various weeks at a time, more impossible, and I mean it when I say extraterrestrial, sights and scenes that have no business of this planet because they are so, so far removed from my typical routine, from my office desk, from my couch cushions. Things you would never believe exist a few hours from Phoenix, San Francisco or, hell, your house.

I asked to go back to working four-day weeks for the Winter, and aside from teaching myself to suck less at hockey, I intend to find a way to write something that matters, something memorable about some of the things that happened on that adventure, because some of those things that happened were the definition of memorable. It’ll be probably be very long, and no one will read it. Or them. Whatever it is. I hope it/they doesn’t/don’t take me forever to finish, but it/they sadly probably will. I hope the sometimes strangers who encouraged me to do it will read them. And some others too. I hope so much as one of them, or one sentence, one anything, will inspire anyone to go enjoy them as I did. So to be continued…

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North Stars: Dispatches from All-Star Week, Part Three: The Soggy Bombin’ Boys

The optimal conditions for an object set in flight to remain in flight are dependent on the following simple four items; air pressure, wind, humidity, temperature. At higher elevations, air pressure is lower, meaning the air is less dense, creating less friction on the flying object, and it remains in flight longer. Warm temperatures have the same effect of reducing air density. Humidity is the same again; the higher the dew point, the less dense the air is. Wind direction and speed are, well, wind direction and speed. The preferred conditions for an object set in flight to remain in flight are as follows: high elevation, a strong tailwind, humid air, hot temperatures.

The city of Minneapolis, Minnesota, in July, aside from being barely over 500 feet above sea level in places along the Mississippi River, is perfectly suited to keep flying things in flight soaring.  Temperatures can easily exceed 100 degrees and the humidity can suffocate all who haven’t lived in the Florida or Louisiana swamps. More specifically, at the downtown address of 353 North 5th Street, home of Target Field, the Minnesota Twins, and site of the 2014 Major League Baseball Home Run Derby, weather patterns have lent themselves to a curiously dependable wind behavior: one that blows from home plate towards the METRO Blue Line Light Rail station, which sits just beyond the left field bleachers. Low air pressure. Good tailwind. Humid. Hot.

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Did you know Minneapolis is the birthplace of the Home Run Derby? I didn’t, but everyone around the Twin Cities does. Turns out, the 1985 All-Star festivities at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome held a new event called “The All-Star Home Run Contest.” It pitted the National League vs. the American league instead of the individual event we know today; admission was two dollars, it did not air on television, and for as eternally expansive as Major League Baseball’s video archive is, they do not possess a single frame of footage from the event. It is remembered for a few quirky reasons: the first is that one of the kids shagging balls in the outfield, a graduated senior from Saint Cloud Apollo high school named Sean Moe, mistakenly (and instinctively) robbed the NL’s final batter, Ryne Sandberg, of a home run, keeping the NL’s lead at two. The second is that Twins player and fan favorite Tom Brunansky, who hit last, capitalized on that slim margin and belted four home runs, winning the competition for the home town American League. The event was small scale, and Derbys since have more prominently etched themselves into our memories. The very first All-Star week Home Run Derby has since been forgotten, but it is remembered by the state of Minnesota, its home.

In 2014, the All-Star game returned to Minnesota after a nearly 30 year absence, which was wonderful news to Twins fans suffering through an extended playoff drought and an excellent chance to show off the jewel that is Target Field to the greater baseball audience, with its yellowed limestone walls, downtown skyline just beyond right field and the shaking neon hands of Minnie and Paul. While Target isn’t known as a home run bandbox like, say, Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark or Coors, there was still incredible news flooding in in the form of the names signing up to launch baseballs into the night: the Blue Jays’ “Joey Bats,” Jose Bautista. Twins hero whose career had resurrected in Colorado, Justin Morneau. Cuban defectors and human highlight reels Yasiel Puig and Yoenis Cespedes (the defending champion). And the best news? After years of futile pleas for his participation, the real life Paul Bunyan and a man who broke a Major League scoreboard with a laser beam homer, Miami’s Mike Giancarlo Stanton was in the field. Nine of the 10 participants were righties, and wouldn’t be subjected to Target’s cavernous right field and raised walls. Fireworks were guaranteed.

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What I’m trying to say is the stars seemed aligned for something indelibly wonderful to happen. A field full of absolute mashers in a Derby returning to its prodigal home in a stadium that would cater to right-handed lumberjacks spending their evening mercilessly expelling baseballs from Target Field towards Saint Paul, Stillwater, Wisconsin. And I would be there, fulfilling a lifelong dream of seeing the Derby in person.

It was those aligned stars that made reality’s horrible sucker punch land that much harder. The temperature at the time of the contest’s first home run was 54 degrees. Fifty four. It would prove to be, quite literally, the coldest day in the history of this state in July, and baseballs do not fly in the cold. The wind was doing its part by blowing at a stiff 19 miles per hour, however, slight problem; it was blowing straight in towards home plate, and baseballs do not fly into the wind. And the humidity? Oh, it was pretty humid. Humid enough to rain for five hours, and baseballs do not fly, nor do they do much of anything, in the rain.

It was that same sucker punch that made what transpired even more astonishing.

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Minnesotans remember and treasure everything about their jewel of a state, like that Bob Dylan hails from here despite him barely acknowledging that fact whatsoever; perhaps when the rest of the country writes you off as the inhospitable hellhole Antarctica of the lower 48, a certain “me versus the world” group mentality takes hold. And Minnesotans, and I’m talking real Minnesotans (so not me, not yet anyway), are used to making the best of the worst, of curveballs or bad poker beats; when it stays under the freezing point for three consecutive months, uninterrupted, you develop a knack for that. Like I said, I am not yet one of those people, and I had been passionately angry about the weather for 48 hours before I walked through the Target Field gates for what is now known as Gatorade All-Star Workout Day. It’s a fancy-ish sounding way to say the All Stars are on the field, taking some hacks in the cages, the pitchers are long tossing, everyone is screwing around and having a good time (it’s very strange to see these mythic figures, lionized by Sportscenter or the Topps Company into immortality, out stealing each others hats or cracking jokes or chasing their kids around the field while the youngsters spill melted Icee syrup onto their fathers’ baseball pants). I was trying very hard to have a similar good time, but was full of impotent and pointless bitterness at the weather and a petulant “why today, how could this happen” attitude. I was fortunate enough to be close to the first base line for warm-ups, maybe four rows away from the American League in red, which was helping tremendously. The sun was out and the grass was emerald and former Tampa Bay Ray hero Scott Kazmir was warming up with newly former Tampa Bay Ray hero David Price. Yu Darvish and Koji Uehara were doing the same. Some unlucky soul was tasked with catching Max Scherzer as he unloaded .50 caliber rifle shots from his right arm. The Captain himself, Derek Jeter, in his last All-Star game as he retires, trotted out to great applause and handshakes in every direction. My camera worked overtime (photos down at the bottom, if you’re interested), but then the rain came and chased everyone off the field. It was brief, but enough to curtail most of the AL players’ warm ups. The NL then took their turn, and I fished through a sea of navy for the players representing my Atlanta Braves, Craig Kimbrel and Julio Teheran. Freddie Freeman made it easy on me by shagging balls at first. When Freddie headed in to take some hacks, he got in one swing before the rain came again, a downpour this time, and Workout Day was over before it even started. At 7:16 pm, while the P.A. was bellowing “We hope to start momentarily,” the grounds crew slowly and soggily tarped home plate, again.  As fans fled to dry safe havens, Luke Bryan’s ‘Rain is a Good Thing’ played out from the speakers, and the Jumbotron pacified the increasingly distraught crowd with highlights of the Twins 1991 World Series victory (the Twins beat my Braves that year, so between the pained anguish on Tom Glavine’s face and the Luke Bryan music, the evening was not going well). It was very cold and it was wet and I was angry and frustrated and lamenting what had become of an opportunity I’d dreamed of for decades. Hiding from the downpour, I was lonely enough (regrettably, couldn’t find any one else to go with me) to text a buddy in the left field stands asking if he thought God hated baseball, or Minnesota, or maybe both. He said he wondered the same thing.

The rain did not stop, but once ESPN finally saw it fit to get the sodden show on the road, Cincinnati’s Todd Frazier and hometown Twins hero Brian Dozier were the first offered up to the elements, both mustering a paltry two homers in the rain and swirling winds. I got angrier that they’d been robbed but the Minnesota faithful were enjoying themselves, cheering for Dozier happily. They were making the best of it, like they always do, even though the two hitters’  fly ball outs landed in pools in the infield and a vendor actually passed by me yelling “HOT CHOCOLATE, HEYAH!” Then something funny happened during Frazier’s turn at the plate, which a friend pointed out the timing to me the next day: after hours of rain delays and cold misery, right when Frazier finally launched the night’s first home into the left-center field bullpens, an enormous and vivid rainbow erupted over the city skyline. The fans happily acknowledged it as the P.A. announced its presence to the stands and for the first time that night, something fun had happened. It was as if the game itself and the tradition of the Derby were just as fed up with the soggy conditions as we were, and now they were going to fight back, Frazier’s home run a defiant paintbrush rebelliously recoloring the pressing gloom. It would seem that whether or not God was interested in the night’s proceedings, those mysterious baseball gods were indeed in Minneapolis, and so was newly adopted son Todd Frazier, just making the best of things.

Adam Jones and Troy Tulowitzki got the event going in earnest, sending balls flying across the stadium. Morneau conquered that long right field wall a few times, one of which managed to get wrapped up in the seal of Hennepin County atop the stadium flagpoles. Joey Bats put on the night’s first great show, launching ten home runs in his first round that landed almost entirely in the second deck. Defending champ Yoenis Cespedes could not get in a groove, and narrowly avoided early elimination before heating up in the second round and absolutely catching fire in the third. Watching him in person was the biggest surprise of the night, because Yoenis Cespedes is a freaky robot. He is not unlike one of those golf ball testing robots; his swing happens in the blink of an eye like a rubber band snapping and the torque generated on his bat by how fast he spins around is terrifying. It’s amazingly powerful and, more impressively, consistent, regardless of where the pitches were thrown. He is built for this competition (and it wasn’t surprising he went on to win it again; he may not lose for many years). No one had defended their Derby crown since Junior Griffey in the ’90s, but that won’t be what those in attendance that night will remember.

What they will remember is that Giancarlo Stanton is a massive human being. He is 6′ 6″ and it shows. When sportswriters use the cliché that some hitter is so big that the baseball bat looks like a toothpick in his hands, this guy makes it true. It does look like that. It’s silly to behold him waggle it over his shoulder as he waits for a pitch. He is country strong and his bat speed is otherworldly. He is likely the main attraction that 90% of the fans in attendance that night had come to see, and my god, he did not disappoint. His first swing was a home run that barely cleared the left field fence, but it was lofted so high into the atmosphere the crowd reacted as if it was going to scrape one of the hundreds of jets descending overhead towards MSP. He made a couple outs before launching another one, the first of the night (and the first I had ever seen) land in the third and topmost deck at the stadium. The crowd cheered and the NL All-Stars looking on danced and laughed at the show being put on. He somehow seemed to improve on each shot, with another bomb that was absolutely belted flying to straightaway center on a flat trajectory. No one hits home runs to straightaway center at Target, and if they do, the balls land on the grass berm just over the wall. This ball cleared the berm and cleared the towering batters eye before landing in a thin strip of seats just below the neon Minnie and Paul fixture. Absolutely no one has ever hit a ball there, and yet it was somehow upstaged a minute later.

With one out remaining, Giancarlo Stanton almost left Target Field. Click that link. Watch that video. It’s un. believable. Watching the Derby in person, you quickly develop a decent register of what is and what is not going to be a home run without Chris Berman’s call to alert you to greatness. It’s something like optical benchmarks, and you see what angle the ball leaves the bat and how quickly it passes little checkpoints on that trajectory, so the second the ball came off his bat, everyone knew something really batshit crazy had happened. The crowd, employing those same trained eyes, gasped really loudly. Normally, it’s pretty easy to track a baseball in flight as long as you see it leave the bat, but the gray murk overhead made that difficult and the ball disappeared (the first .gif in that link illustrates this perfectly). So we all looked up and ahead to see what patch of fans was going to stand up to catch the ball, betraying where it was going to land, if it ever did. The people who ultimately stood up were fans in that impossible third deck, and they were four rows shy of the Minneapolis night sky. A man in a blue rain jacket caught the ball once it returned to Earth (ESPN projected the distance of the shot at 510 feet, a Mickey Mantle-esque type blast), and on a normal July night in the City of Lakes, I cannot imagine where it would have landed. Stanton had to step out of the batters box while the crowd cheered and tried to make sense of what they just saw, while his NL teammates laughed with wide eyes and held their heads in disbelief (see the hilarious NL MVP Andrew McCutchen’s reaction in the second .gif in that link). Watching the replay, which I must have done forty times by now, you can see the ball erupt into the night sky faster than a launched missile, then disappear, and then, almost knowingly and defiantly, land just shy of a dozen flags lining the stadium lip, all blowing straight in towards home plate to irrefutably guarantee that, tonight, such a home run would be impossible. In the cold. And through the rain. I suppose you can learn a lot from a baseball about flying in spite of the elements.

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The evening did have a lot of lows for its wonderful highs; the cold and rainy weather never eased up and the hyper-talented Puig didn’t hit a single home run, even managing a check swing out at one point. After Stanton put on his fireworks display, he got a bye to the third round, which sadly backfired when he had to wait almost two hours to hit again and he got cold and out of his rhythm. He hit no home runs in that third round, losing to rainbow-maker Todd Frazier, who hit one measly home run. Joey Bats suffered the same fate of waiting too long between at bats and was easily defeated by Cespedes. The final round was an anticlimactic second coronation for Cespedes as he only heated up further, trouncing the overmatched Frazier. I am quite sure most of America discussed how boring it was the next day at the water cooler. They’re not wrong, I’m sure it sucked to watch at home. And I woke up the next morning still furious about the weather, about my lost opportunity for what could have been, but time heals all wounds, including petty ones like this. The experience was amazing, and Minnesotans are used to making the best of the worst, even newly minted ones. Besides, now I can say I was there for the coldest Home Run Derby ever staged, even if it wasn’t the most memorable ever staged. Time will tell where Cespedes and Stanton’s performances will be remembered among the all-time standout Derby moments, but I doubt they will be very high. People will remember watching Sammy Sosa hit baseballs out the open windows of Miller Park in 2002 much more vividly. They’ll have fonder memories of Mark McGwire nearly hitting the Massachusetts Turnpike in ’99, and absolutely nothing that happened this week will rank within a mile of the redemption of Josh Hamilton at Yankee Stadium in 2008, but that’s ok. It may have been lackluster but I went. I was there to see it all. And this year’s Derby may be quickly forgotten, but it will be remembered fondly by the state of Minnesota, its home.

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[PART ONE]
[PART TWO]

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