Commentary

Prince now Derby royalty

The Tigers first baseman put on a show at the 2012 Home Run Derby

Originally Published: July 9, 2012
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Once Prince Fielder got that look in his eye, it was big trouble.

Trouble for the rest of the soon-to-be-overmatched field in the 2012 Home Run Derby.

Trouble for Jose Bautista, who thought he actually had a shot to win this thing.

Trouble, especially, for whoever it is that's in charge of cleaning out the dancing fountains of Kauffman Stadium -- because he's going to need to round up some scuba gear to retrieve all the baseballs that Prince kept firing into them.

"Prince is a beast, man," said the designated godfather of this Derby, David Ortiz, late Monday night after taking in the sight of Fielder winning the second Derby of his career. "That's the definition of Prince in the dictionary. You go in there, you'll see: 'Prince-slash-BEAST.'"

Well, if there's a second entry in that definition, it might read like this:

Princeslashhistory maker.

Granted, Home Run Derby history isn't quite the same thing as, say, the socioeconomic history of modern Europe. But Prince is carving his name in the Derby history books whether anyone ever decides to publish them or not.

He has now won two of these Derbies, joining Kenneth Griffey Jr. as the only players in the 27-year history of this event to have won more than once. And though Griffey won it three times, one thing he never did was accomplish a feat that Fielder nailed down Monday night:

Winning one while representing each league.

Prince won as a National Leaguer/Brewer back in 2009 in St. Louis. Now he has won in his first year as a Tiger and an American Leaguer, here on the other side of Missouri. And if they ever decide to hold one of these Derbies in Joplin or Independence, we advise you to sprint to Vegas immediately and bet on him.

Then again, it wouldn't be a real good idea to bet against him in any future Derby, whether it's in Missouri or Mozambique, because this is a guy who is working his way into the all-time Derby pantheon.

The 28 homers Prince mashed in this Derby gave him 63 altogether in his four go-rounds in this event -- fifth-most of all time. The four big boppers ahead of him: Ortiz (77), Griffey (70), Jason Giambi (68) and Sammy Sosa (65).

[+] EnlargePrince Fielder
H. Darr Beiser-USA Today Sports/US PresswireFielder tied a final-round record with 12 jacks.

The 12 home runs Prince whomped in the last round also made some Derby history. That tied the record for most in a final round set by last year's champ, Robinson Cano -- who, in an unrelated development, will now be wiping Kansas City off his list of favorite American cities.

And while nobody keeps records for home runs hit into bodies of water (assuming fountains qualify as "bodies"), we're pretty sure Fielder challenged that one, too. We counted six of his homers that plunked into the resplendent fountains -- many, many, many feet from where he was standing with that humongous bat of his -- plus one more that landed in a waterfall.

So if you could have sworn you saw a Coast Guard armada steaming toward Kansas City as you were nodding off to sleep, it was clearly all his fault.

Kansas City Royals DH Billy Butler has spent the past six seasons hitting in this park. He made sure to tell everyone who asked Monday night that what they'd just witnessed from one of his childhood buddies growing up in Florida definitely does not happen every day in these parts. Not in games. Not in batting practice. Not in his dreams.

"I've played with Prince since he was 8 years old, man," Butler said. "Nothing that dude does with [a] bat would ever surprise me. I know what type of talent he has."

Asked if he thought Prince was so strong, even as a third-grade mini-mite, that he could have crunched home runs into those fountains at age 8, Butler had to laugh.

"He was hitting balls out of old Tiger Stadium when he was 8, wasn't he?" Butler chuckled. "So I'm going to say he probably could have."

The funny thing about Fielder's latest triumphant Derby journey, though, was that he almost got eliminated in the first round. After hitting four in his first seven swings of the night, he then made six straight outs and found himself sitting on four homers with one hack to go.

But then it happened. He launched a 448-foot cloud scraper that plopped into the fountains in right-center, nudging him one homer ahead of Carlos Gonzalez and Andrew McCutchen. And that was just enough to get him into Round 2.

"In the first round," said his personal pitcher, Brewers minor league hitting coach Sandy Guerrero, "he never got into his good rhythm. But we said, 'Just get us to the second round, and we've got a chance.'"

Hey, good call -- because in Round 2, the beast got rolling. He went deep on four of his first five swings, seven of his first 10 and nine of his first 13. The average distance of those nine bombs was estimated at 433 feet.

And his second home run in that series was a 476-foot Mars mission that kerplunked into the fountains in nearly dead center field. The folks from ESPN's Home Run Tracker estimated that if that fountain hadn't gotten in the way, the ball would have traveled 499 feet. It was such a sight to behold, it even stunned Guerrero, who has been throwing BP to Prince since Double-A.

"That one almost went over everything," Guerrero said. "It reminded me of the ball he hit [in the Derby] in St. Louis that went 503 feet. Basically, it was like a cannon. It just went BOOM."

But that was just the first act in this show. Before Prince was finished with that round, he'd deposited three more homers in the dancing waters plus another laser beam that came down in somebody's luxury box behind the right-field lower deck.

[+] EnlargeMark Trumbo
Peter G. Aiken/USA TODAY Sports/US PresswireTrumbo showed the world that few players have as much raw power as he does.

"A couple of pitches there I threw low, really low -- maybe two or three inches off the ground, and he hit those balls off the fountain," Guerrero said in amazement. "After that, he motioned at me, like: 'Keep them right there.' I thought, 'Wow, that's really hard, to throw balls in that spot, but it's even harder to hit them where he hit them.' It shows you what an incredible hitter he is."

That spectacular round all but guaranteed Fielder a spot in the finals. Then he just sat back, hung with his two sons and let the rest of the contestants duke it out for the right to lose to him.

That duel came down to a fun little mano a mano between Bautista, whose 11-homer eruption in Round 1 seemed to stamp him as the bopper to beat, and the other feature attraction of this evening, Los Angeles Angels rocket launcher Mark Trumbo.

After an eye-popping first round, Trumbo looked all but done for in the second round when he made seven outs on his first nine swings. But then came four waves of the bat that may elevate Trumbo to a whole new place on the American sports map.

He pounded four titanic home runs in those four swings. One was caught by a policeman standing in the concourse behind the left-field seats. The second one cleared the most distant fountain in the park in the deepest part of left-center. And the fourth somehow whooshed over the Royals Hall of Fame building in left field. The oohs and aahs after that shot didn't die down for a good minute and a half.

"I've played here a long time," Butler said. "That's the first time I've ever seen that. I've seen balls that hit the building. But I've never seen one go over the roof. … And I've never seen a ball that went over those fountains. But Trumbo hit one over the top of the fountains. That was unbelievable."

In fact, the Trumbo homer that had his fellow players most in awe was a first-round line-drive scorcher that appeared to fly parallel to the earth, about 12 feet above the ground, all the way from home plate to beyond the center field, 420 feet away. The way his peers muttered about that one afterward, you could have sworn it had defied the law of gravity.

"What that dude did," Ortiz said with a shake of the head, "that wasn't even fair. I was impressed watching all those shots he hit. But that 420-foot line drive, I've never seen anything like that before in my 20 years in the game."

As it turned out, Trumbo's adrenaline tank hit empty after Round 2. He lost a "swing-off" to Bautista to determine who made it to the finals and wasn't around afterward to accept all the accolades. Nevertheless, this will go down as the night he made himself an official baseball attraction. And you can bet you haven't seen the last of him on the Derby highlight reels.

So the man opposing Prince in the finals was Bautista, a guy who loves the Derby so much that he confessed he even used to watch the original Home Run Derby, those goofy old black-and-white TV shows that have been known to surface on ESPN Classic from time to time.

He was so charged up to win that swing-off, he actually headed into that last round thinking it was his time to put on one of those epic Derby final rounds that would live on video forever. Little did he know he never had a shot.

[+] EnlargeJose Bautista
Scott Rovak/USA Today Sports/US PresswireBautista started strong, but Fielder was too much in the final round.

Up stepped Prince to kick off the finals, squashing a 441-foot lunar rover to deep center field. Uh-oh. Here it came. On his next swing, a 476-foot monster mash roared way on out there to the outer limits in right-center. And the very next swing disappeared down a ramp in the right-field lower deck.

"He just got into a flow with me right away," Guerrero said. "We just got that rhythm going together. I don't know if you noticed, but we did it the same every time: Take one pitch, take two pitches and here we go -- BOOM."

Well, technically speaking, it was more like BOOM-BOOM-BOOM-BOOM-BOOM-BOOM-BOOM-BOOM, because nine swings into that grand finale, Fielder had eight homers … and one out. And this Derby was all but over.

Bautista had a seven-homer final round in him, himself. But his trouble was that, to beat Prince on this night, he would have needed to hit more home runs than anyone had ever hit in the final round of any Derby ever staged. And he didn't have that in him.

When Bautista's final out fell to Earth, Fielder walked straight toward Guerrero and threw his arm around him. Then the two littlest Fielders, Jadyn and Haven, came sprinting toward their dad and leaped into his arms.

And for baseball's latest two-time Derby king, that was the best moment of all.

"When you see your kids having a good time and seeing how much they enjoy it, you have a good time, as well," he said. "I'm just happy that I'm healthy and able to be here and happy that they like it, too."

Their dad might not have been the Vegas favorite to win this extravaganza (that honor went to Bautista), but for the Fielder kids, it was never in doubt. Just ask Jadyn, who had predicted it just that afternoon at the All-Star news conference.

Asked why he was so sure his father was going to win this thing, Jadyn said it was simple, really: "Because he's the best player ever."

Hmmm. Babe Ruth might have other ideas. But then again, how many Home Run Derbies did the Babe ever win?

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com