A princely night at the stadium
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 13, 2009 - The hometown heroes didn’t come through during Major League Baseball’s Home Run Derby on Monday night, but hometown fans still showed their deep love for all things baseball.
Never mind that many fans had sold their seats for top dollar and watched the Home Run Derby at home or elsewhere. Tens of thousands at Busch had cameras flashing, and most stayed for the entire three-hour event.
And never mid the fact that I’ve never been a Home Run Derby fan. I was for a night. It was fun.
As I told friends for whom I departed the auxiliary press box to sit with, “This is like a pretty good movie that you can talk through.”
Jennifer McCarthy of St. Louis purchased her tickets earlier in the day when the Cardinals released some that had gone un-purchased or unclaimed.
“Hey, I paid face value. I’m happy,” she said.
Many other fans had paid hundreds of dollars.
And even though Albert Pujols and St. Louis native Ryan Howard didn’t reach the final round, everyone seemed to leave happy.
Well, a few fans were blasting Cards’ announcer John Rooney, who provided the play-by-play for the evening.
“They could have had anybody. I don’t care if he is from here,” said a tall and tattooed fan as he left Busch Stadium.
Cardinals All-Star Albert Pujols struggled in the first round, but added the only real drama of the evening by reaching the five home-run mark and forcing a tie-breaking round with Tampa Bay’s Carlos Pena and Minnesota’s Joe Mauer.
He belted two more home runs to reach the second round, but the standing-room-only crowd knew that this would be a short evening for Prince Albert.
“He’s done,” said Craig Davis from Bloomington, Ill.
Pujols told the crowd after bowing out “I wish I would have put on a better show for our fans. I want to thank these guys, these fans right here.”
He received repeated thunderous ovations during the evening, but the most sincere came after he spoke those words.
What finished off Pujols were the early exploits of Texas Ranger Nelson Cruz and Milwaukee’s Prince Fielder.
Both launched 11 first-round home runs, including some of the longest blasts in this Busch Stadium’s history.
Fielder was the only batter to top 500 feet, with a 503-foot blast during his final set of at-bats.
In the final round, Fielder topped Cruz 6-5, but had he needed more homers it was obvious he could have smacked some. In fact, of his 10 final outs, Fielder had five remaining.
Former Cardinal standout Jack Clark had the honor of bringing the Home Run Derby trophy to the field – two linked silver bats – and it went to Fielder who followed the Brewers custom of untucking his shirt after a victory.
“I was just happy to be able to put on a show, and I'm glad I won,” Fielder said when presented the trophy on the field.
Howard finished with 15 home runs and said, following the contest, “I just started too slow.”
As the crowd filed out of Busch, few people seemed upset about a Derby that lacked a standout moment.
In fact, as many camera flashes lighted the night as Fielder was within one home run of the title as did when Pujols was taking his early swings.
But maybe that’s just what St. Louis fans wanted - a workman-like effort that crowned a hardworking champion.
Alvin A. Reid is editor of the St. Louis Argus and a weekend host on the new ESPN 101.1 FM. His weekly Major League Baseball - St. Louis Cardinals column, which is now published on The Beacon website, was honored by the Missouri Press Association as Best Sports Column in 2004 and 1999. He is co-author of the book, "Whitey's Boys: A Celebration of the 1982 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals" and was a member of the inaugural staff of USA TODAY Baseball Weekly.