CINCINNATI — In the end, the 2015 Home Run Derby came down to a final round mash-out between MLB’s young crusher Joc Pederson and hometown hero Todd “Toddfather” Frazier. The new derby format proved to add some juice (no pun intended) to a derby that is always much anticipated but rarely lives up to the hype.
Last night at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, 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.
In the first round, Frazier, the No. 2 seed behind Albert Pujols, defeated two-time Home Run Derby champion Prince Fielder 14-13. When a motivated Frazier hit his 14th homer to send Fielder packing, fireworks went off like rocket ships and grenade explosions in the stadium and fans held up signs that read: “Downtown Goes Frazier.” Then the 1998 Little League World Series star from New Jersey, put down Josh Donaldson in the semifinals, 10-9 with a home run just 24 seconds from expiration time.
Pederson had eliminated Pujols, the No. 1 seed, in the semifinals, 12-11, to set up the final round battle.
Frazier, with his brother Charlie pitching to him, hit a barrage of homers in the final 90 seconds of the derby finals to edge Pederson 15-14. Frazier’s 15 dingers is 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 who 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 up the building. He tied the contest 14-14, then in bonus time (granted because he hit two homers longer than 425 feet, a new rule this year) 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.
“We brought it home, baby.,” Frazier said. “It’s about time.”
Age Of The Young Dons
While Frazier, a two-time All-Star who was drafted 34th overall by the Cincinnati Reds in the 2007 Major League Baseball Draft, has been in MLB for five years already, Pederson has only been in The Bigs for three months and he’s already considered an elite member of the wave of young stunners infiltrating MLB over the past few years.
“Yeah, they’re unbelievable. Kris Bryant, Mike Trout, Bryce Harper are all great players,” Pederson told The Shadow League at All-Star media day on Tuesday. “It’s a dream come true and an honor to be here to represent the Dodgers and my family. It’s something you dream about and just being able to see what its like here and participate is pretty special.”
It’s also vindication for Pederson who says the Dodgers kept him in the minor leagues longer than necessary, despite him being one of just four players in Pacific Coast League history with 30 home runs and 30 steals in the same season. In 2014, he joined Frank Demaree (1934), Lefty O’Doul (1927) and Tony Lazzeri (1925) as the only PCL guys to do it.
Being invited to the All-Star game after just three months in the league should ease the pain and bewilderment Pederson says he endured while waiting to be called up and become a part of a Dodgers outfield that was packed with dope and high-contract players. The arrival of a young Cuban ball destroyer named Yasiel Puig, who hit .319 in 104 games with 19 home runs in 2013 and was selected by Baseball America to their annual “All-Rookie team”, didn’t help the process either.
“It was frustrating, extremely frustrating,” Pederson said. “You dont understand the process involved but once it takes its place, looking back you understand this is why that happened…or maybe its just a part of growing up, but in the minors I was extremely frustrated at times and wondered what else I needed to do to get to the next level. There just wasn’t a spot for me or whatever it was, and I think it helped me grow up a lot. So I’m thankful for the stuff that happened and it makes me better now, but back then I definitely wanted things to be different.”
Teaming the multi-faceted Pederson with the freakishly talented Puig gives the Dodgers and skipper Don Mattingly one of the elite outfields of the future. “They are similar in the sense that they are both exciting young guys and are going to be refreshing to the game the first time around,” Mattingly said. “They both have to deal with a lot of new stuff with Yasiel coming over from Cuba and Joc coming through the minor leagues…all of a sudden you get to the big leagues and there’s all the other stuff that goes on other than the game itself.”
He also marvels at how far these young cats are hitting the ball post-PED era. “It amazes me a little bit,” Mattingly said. “Jocs not that big but he swings a heavy bat and the power he generates with that body is kind of amazing.”
Mattingly is also quick to point out that while both players have Hall of Fame potential, they’re on two different spectrums personality-wise and it creates a nice balance.
“Yasiel approaches the game with a reckless abandon of sorts,” Mattingly added. “He’s always very in your face and pumped up, but Joc’s more calm…he just plays. Joc doesn’t do his thing with nearly as much flair as Puig. Joc’s flair comes from hitting the ball so far and his swing, but they’re different in style and the way they go about it. Equally effective though.”
Guys like Colorado Rockies five-time All-Star Troy Tulowitzki, a 10-year MLB veteran, aren’t ready to just move aside and let the young bucks take over, but he doesn’t deny that newbie players are making an impact on the game quicker than when he was coming up.
“What Mike Trout has done in the MVP voting and Bryce Harper being a four-time All-Star already at 22 is really a joke and totally impressive,” Tulo told The Shadow League. These young guys are leading the league in stats and really carrying their teams which is unusual and cool. It shows how far our game has come. I remember when I was young, the thought was that we can’t bring these young guys up to the Big Leagues too soon, we don’t want to ruin them. But now they’re ready earlier. With all the travel ball and the high level of competition they face at a young age…the Big Leagues is a big jump, but not as much of a jump as it once was.”