Reporting Ashley Dunkak
By Ashley Dunkak
COMERICA PARK (CBS DETROIT) – Every year as the All-Star Break approaches, conversation renews about whether participating in the Home Run Derby can wreck a hitter’s swing.
In Torii Hunter’s experience, it can – but the mindset at the plate, rather than the actual mechanics of the swing, is what gets crooked.
“You’re thinking, ‘I’ve got to swing up on the ball, and try to get it in the air,’ but that swing doesn’t work in the game,’” Hunter said, laughing. “In [batting practice], you know what’s coming. It’s coming at a certain speed, you can time it, you can hit it out, but during the game, if you don’t change that mindset after the Home Run Derby, then you’re in trouble.”
Hunter went to the Derby in 2002, his fourth full MLB season. He had hit 20 home runs through the first half of the season. He accepted an invitation to the Derby because he thought it would be fun, but he said the experience actually hampered his second half slightly. He remembers the mental readjustment taking two or three weeks.
“It’s tough for a guy that hits doubles and is not used to just hitting home runs in the Home Run Derby to turn it off and on,” Hunter said.
According to Hunter, teammate Prince Fielder is the perfect example of the type of hitter who will not encounter that same problem. Fielder, who has 275 career homers and is a four-time Derby veteran, does not find the homer contest daunting.
“It’s kind of my normal swing, I guess,” Fielder said. “Obviously you get tired, but like I said, it’s my normal swing, so as far as affecting my swing – it doesn’t. That always helps.”
Though Fielder has already won the event twice, in 2012 and 2009, he said he still enjoys going to the All-Star Game and participating in the Derby because it gives him more time with his kids.
“It’s a lot of fun just because my two boys love it a lot,” Fielder said. “They have a lot of fun down there playing with the other kids. Any time I see them having fun, it’s always fun for me.”
Hunter said that while being selected for the Home Run Derby is always an honor, he is absolutely supportive of teammate Miguel Cabrera, who has 29 home runs already this season but decided to pass on the Derby because his back has been bothering him.
“If you have any kind of injury or you’re sore, you don’t want to go out there and swing so hard that you injure that and really knock you out for two weeks,” Hunter said. “The ultimate goal is winning it with the team, and if you’re away from the team because of the Home Run Derby, I’m going to be pissed! So I’m glad he’s not doing it because that’s my favorite and best and most important player on this ball club, so I’m happy.”