Derby not horse play for El Caballo
Lee means business in his first Home Run Derby appearance
ATLANTA -- Carlos Lee will probably be all smiles during Monday's CENTURY 21 Home Run Derby. Don't be fooled -- he's taking this very seriously.
"Oh, he wants to win," said teammate Geoff Jenkins. "There's no doubt about that."
Lee is one of eight sluggers set to participate in this year's derby, which begins at 7 p.m. CT on Monday on ESPN during All-Star Game festivities at Comerica Park in Detroit. The 20th anniversary of the event will be celebrated with several dramatic changes, including a largely new eight-man field representing eight different nations and the introduction of a "Golden Home Run Ball" during each player's at-bat.
It's Lee's first All-Star bid and his first appearance in a home run derby, unless you count his everyday batting practice. According to Brewers third base coach Rich Donnelly, who will accompany Lee to Detroit and serve as his pitcher, Lee has a knack for crushing BP pitches at will.
In fact, Donnelly seems more nervous than Lee.
"When you pull [the batting cage] away, it's like being naked," Donnelly said. "Now you throw in a catcher, the crowd ... it's harder than people think it is."
So Lee has been practicing. He takes two normal rounds of batting practice and focuses on hitting line drives to all fields. In his third round of hacks, he goes into derby mode, and Donnelly waits longer between pitches to simulate the oohs and aahs of the crowd and the token shows of awed players on the sidelines.
"The key is that you choose pitches you can drive," said Lee, who will represent Panama in the event, which hopes to draw attention to the upcoming World Baseball Classic. "That's the important thing."
He will compete against Hee-Seop Choi of the Los Angeles Dodgers (Korea), Philadelphia's Bobby Abreu (Venezuela), Pittsburgh's Jason Bay (Canada), Atlanta's Andruw Jones (the Netherlands), Boston's David Ortiz (Dominican Republic), Detroit's Ivan Rodriguez (Puerto Rico) and Texas' Mark Teixeira (United States).
|2004||Miguel Tejada||27||56K | 350K|
|2003||Garret Anderson||22||56K | 300K|
|2002||Jason Giambi||24||56K | 300K|
|2001||Luis Gonzalez||16||56K | 300K|
Lee drove in two runs on Sunday to give him 76 RBIs before the All-Star break, tops in the National League and a Brewers record. He has started every game this season and is batting .268 with 22 home runs.
"Carlos has been everything he was advertised to be and more," said Brewers starter Chris Capuano, the pitcher of record in Sunday's 8-4 win at Turner Field.
Lee is the ninth Brewer to represent the team in an All-Star Game in his first season with the club, joining Ben Sheets (2001), Dave Parker (1990), Jim Sundberg (1984), Ted Simmons (1982), Rollie Fingers (1981), Larry Hisle (1978), Hank Aaron (1975) and Tommy Harper (1970).
Brewers position players are hitting .163 (8-for-49 w/ two RBIs) in the All-Star Game and the last to get an All-Star hit was Jeromy Burnitz, who doubled and scored a run in 1999. The last Brewer on a winning All-Star team was Jeff Cirillo in 1997, when the club was still in the American League and the game was played at Cleveland's Jacobs Field.
Lee joins Richie Sexson (2002-03), Burnitz (1999) and Greg Vaughn (1996) as the only Brewers to participate in the Home Run Derby.
"I'm just going to go there and enjoy myself," he said. "If I get a chance to win, that would be awesome, too."
Donnelly is a veteran of four Home Run Derbys. He won it in 1994 as Ken Griffey Jr.'s pitcher, and he most recently threw to Sexson in a forgettable 2003 Home Run Derby at U.S. Cellular Field.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.