Julio Rodriguez Made The Home Run Derby Fun Again

As Mariners fans, we have a love/hate relationship with the Home Run Derby. Our last entrant was Robinson Cano, who flamed out in 2016. Before that, we had Bret Boone in 2003, who managed a whopping 0 homers, and again in 2001, when he got all of 3 (turns out, when your specialty is hitting them the opposite way, that’s not necessarily the best way to win a derby). We also got Edgar in there in 2000, which I had totally blocked from my memory; even back then he felt out of place. Maybe if you arranged a Doubles Derby or something …

But, then you’ve also got the 1990s, and all the times Ken Griffey Jr. made it fun and relevant. Although, I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t specifically recall any of his three victories. I feel like I must have watched them, but they don’t really stand out except in reruns on ESPN The Ocho.

It’s funny, I couldn’t tell you for sure the last time I sat down and watched the Home Run Derby in its entirety. I’m guessing it wasn’t in 2016, since I didn’t write about it. But, Cano was never built for something like that; I don’t care that he won it all with the Yankees in 2011. Anyway, that’s pretty damning for the derby itself, since there’s literally nothing else going on in sports the week of the All Star Break. Although, it’s hard to blame the event itself. Usually, the Mariners are so mediocre by this point in the season, all I want is a fucking break where I can focus on literally anything BUT baseball.

This year, however, excitement for baseball is back! All it took was a 14-game winning streak, and 22 wins in 25 games!

I know for a fact I haven’t seen the Home Run Derby since they changed it from 10 “outs” to a time limit each round. I don’t know which way I like more. It feels like there’s more urgency when the outs start ticking upward; that makes those runs guys go on feel more impressive. If you’re down to your last out, and you rip off four or five more dingers, that can make all the difference, in a relatively pressure-packed situation! But, on the other hand, we’re definitely getting more bang for our buck with the time limit. Especially over the last three years, we’re seeing higher home run totals across the board, and isn’t that the point? More dingers = more fun & excitement!

It’s a little silly, though, to be regularly tinkering with the rules, because the derby grows stale or whatever. They seem to have a similar “problem” as the Academy Awards: everyone tries and fails to make the event shorter and more popular with the youths of today. There are eight participants, they each get three minutes to hit as many homers as possible. That’s 24 minutes in round one, 12 more minutes in round two, followed by a two-minute final per person: 40 minutes of home run action. So, why does it take three hours to put on this event? Well, everyone gets 30 seconds of “bonus time”, automatically built in. How is it bonus time if everyone gets it? WHO CARES?! Then, you get an additional 30 seconds if – during your allotted three-minute round – you hit two home runs of 440 feet or more. Then, there’s a brief rest period between your round and the bonus time, plus you’re allowed to take a time out during your three-minute round.

Look, I’m not complaining. I’m just saying, if your goal is to make this thing shorter, you’ve got a funny way of going about it. Honestly, three hours feels appropriate for this sort of nonsense.

I will say that it can get a little confusing, as oftentimes they’re already throwing the next pitch before we can even see if the last one went out or not. There were times when the counter was a little slow, so you’ll forgive me if Conspiracy Theory Steven wasn’t on alert when Juan Soto’s total jumped up a few extra homers in the final round out of nowhere.

But, in the grand scheme of things – even in the grand scheme of baseball things – you have to remember none of this means anything. This is the consummate Just Happy To Be There sort of occasion. Did Julio Rodriguez have fun? Did he more than double his 2022 Major League salary by finishing in second place? Did he make a name for himself on a national level, to the point where he even overshadowed the winner? Yes, yes, and yes, and that’s all that matters.

I always forget how irrelevant we are up here in the Seattle area, when it comes to the national perspective. We were pretty well known for our professional football when Russell Wilson was around. In soccer circles, I guess we’re kind of a big deal. But, by and large, unless you live in an A.L. West market, you don’t get to see the Mariners very much. It was funny to hear – even among other baseball players at the event – all the guys who had never seen Julio in person before. Not to mention all the people around the country who had never seen him period!

It’s a shame that ESPN doesn’t cover the sport like it used to. Even in the summer, Sportscenter and the like are focused more on the goings on of the NFL and NBA offseasons. Used to be, you could flip on ESPN in the evenings and see a nonstop barrage of highlights from the day’s MLB games. That would be the opportunity for the rest of the nation to see what’s happening (or not happening) in Seattle. Now, it takes a 14-game winning streak to finally break through; something that happens maybe once a generation.

It’s safe to say, though, Julio Rodriguez made a big impact yesterday. He led off the event by hitting 32 homers, easily defeating Corey Seager, who had 24 (which was the most by anyone in a single round at the Home Run Derby not named Julio Rodriguez, making his the unluckiest of draws). Then, he followed that up by mashing 31 more in the second round, to defeat last year’s winner, Pete Alonso (who looked like he was taking the thing WAY too seriously; do you really need to meditate heading into your turn?).

With the reduction in time for the finals (from 3 minutes to 2), it was disconcerting to see Julio struggle in regulation. He didn’t even qualify for the extra 30 seconds, as he only hit one home run 440 feet or beyond. Still, it was impressive that he managed 18 of them in total, which gave him a glimmer of hope to win it all (since Juan Soto did barely just enough in each of his victorious rounds). It even seemed likely that Julio would win, after Soto struggled through his first minute. But, then he caught fire. And, he managed to unlock the extra 30 seconds that Julio couldn’t, which gave him plenty of time to get that 19th home run during his bonus period.

Kind of a bummer of an anticlimactic ending, but all in all it was super fun to see Julio do his thing. It’s even cooler to witness the world getting their first glimpse of our latest superstar. Julio Rodriguez has already made a big impact on the field for the Mariners this year. He’s a big reason for our success and an even bigger reason for our hope for the future. He’s only missing a couple things so far: he’s yet to take away a home run over the fence, and he’s yet to have that signature at bat that endures the test of time (though, I would say that grand slam against the Rangers – blowing open a game that was only a 1-run lead – was pretty special).

The cool thing, though, is that he’s only 21 years old. He’s got PLENTY of time to make his lasting mark on the game of baseball. Even cooler, now he’s going to have the eyes of the world on him. If anyone can rise to that occasion, it’s Julio.

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