Slugfest of the all-stars: Home Run Derby 2011 tonight at Chase Field

With the State Farm Home Run Derby set for later tonight at Chase Field in Phoenix, American League captain David Ortiz looks to carry his squad to victory in what has become a brand-new derby format.

Each league will have one captain -- last year's champion, Ortiz, for the AL and Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder, the 2009 Home Run Derby champion for the NL. Both captains then choose an additional three players to fill out their roster.

This year, an individual and a team champion will be crowned in the first-ever head-to-head matchup between the AL and the NL. In years past the derby has featured a slew of players from both leagues, each one vying for the Home Run Derby title. What makes this a much better system is the teammwork required to win. And for those who are still hell-bent on the old-school format, have no fear. Once a team champion is announced, the player who knocks the most balls out of the park will be christened the new champion.

The AL squad includes Adrian Gonzalez; the major-league leader in RBI with 77, Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista, and Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano. Bautista has a major-league-leading 31 home runs. Cano is hitting .296 with 15 home runs through 87 games.

In addition to power-hitting first baseman Prince Fielder, the NL team features Fielder's teammate, Rickie Weeks (17 HR), and outfielders Matt Kemp of the Dodgers (22 HR) and Matt Holliday of the Cardinals (14 HR). Fielder, also with 22 HR this year, is batting .297 through 92 games.

Incumbent champion Big Papi picked a deserving group of players to represent the his league this year. Two of those guys stand out -  Bautista and Gonzalez. The Blue Jays recognized their star outfielder as an All-Star talent when they signed him in 2008 - reminiscent of the Ortiz signing in 2003 by the Red Sox. In his first season with the Sox, Gonzalez has 128 hits, 214 total bases, and 29 doubles - leading the majors in those three categories. Boston fans, its hard not to be excited about this guy. I haven't seen anyone hit like him since Ted Williams. He is a true five-tool player. And did I mention he is a two-time Gold Glove winner? Pair him with Bautista and you have two of the most feared hitters in baseball in the same lineup.

To make things more interesting for this year's derby challenge, Major League Baseball will make a $150,000 donation to the winning captain's charity of choice along with a $100,000 donation to the Boys & Girls Club of America (BGCA). The losing team will receive a $25,000 donation - made to the charity of its captains choice.

The remaining donation amount will be determined by how many long balls are clocked into the stands during the competition. When a hitter is down to his last out, a partial 24-karat Gold Ball will be used for every pitch thereafter. Gold Ball home runs are worth $18,000 (a dollar for each of the 18,000 State Farm agents in the US and Canada). The resulting gold ball total will be donated to BGCA on behalf of State Farm and MLB.
The 2011 home run slugfest is going to be more competitive this year because these guys want to play like it's the All-Star game, which determines home-field advantage in the World Series. The winner of the contest holds bragging rights for the rest of the season. Tune in to the derby starting tonight at 8 pm.

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