Derby participants forming their strategies
Cabrera taking the 'go deep' approach to Monday's competition
ANAHEIM -- A little more than five hours before Sidney Holland was to throw the first pitch of Monday's State Farm Home Run Derby to Chris Young, the competition's eight participants gathered for a brief, yet jovial, press conference inside the Anaheim Marriott hotel.
Competition strategies quickly emerged as the most prevalent discussion point, and the answers ran the gamut. Corey Hart and Young labeled their pitcher as the X-factor. Nick Swisher talked about controlling his nerves. David Ortiz cautioned against getting too tired too quickly, while Hanley Ramirez simply said he planned to swing as hard as he could on each cut.
And then there was Detroit's Miguel Cabrera.
"My game plan is, 'Go deep,'" he began, eliciting plenty of laughter in the room. "Left field. Right field. Center field. Everywhere."
Yep. That about sums it up.
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This year's event is headlined by five first-time participants, and be assured that they have spent plenty of time preparing for the event. The veteran of the group -- Ortiz -- didn't disclose any of his secrets on Monday, but the Derby rookies had already done ample research.
Hart went straight to reigning Derby champion Prince Fielder for advice and came away knowing he had no choice but to call Triple-A Nashville hitting coach Sandy Guerrero. It was Guerrero who threw to Fielder at Busch Stadium last summer.
"I've got the reigning champion on the throwing side of it," Hart joked.
There were guesses as to who might launch the longest home runs -- Ortiz earned some looks on that one -- but players were also quick to point out that a 330-foot poke over the left-field wall in Angels Stadium counts the same as a mammoth blast to center.
"I'd like to see how far I can hit one," Swisher added. "I know it's not close to these guys, but I'd like to hit it out."
"I'm trying to hit them 350," Young said. "I'll let [Matt] Holliday hit them 500."
And if his underwhelming strategy wins him the crown, Young made one request: "I want all of these guys to carry me off the field."
"Done," Vernon Wells responded.
For Wells, his success will ride on the arm of All-Star teammate and catcher John Buck. Wells made Buck tryout for the gig earlier in this week, after which Buck was warned by Toronto's pitching staff that if Wells didn't win, the fault would lie singularly with him.
"We'll see if the pressure gets to him," Wells said. "He threw to me in the cage a couple of days ago. He was good, maybe a little too firm. We'll see once the lights are on and the cages are not around how things work out."
As for Holliday, his strategy could hardly be categorized as one. Though he'll be having his older brother, Josh, throwing to him, the Cardinals outfielder is sticking with the swing he regularly employs.
"I think most of us every day play home run derby in batting practice," Holliday said. "I don't think it's that different than what we do on a day-to-day basis."
Holliday will have some time to size up his competition before strolling into the batter's box. Young will take his swings first on Monday, followed in order by Wells, Hart, Swisher, Holliday, Ortiz, Ramirez and Cabrera.
As much fun as the Derby's eight competitors had making their predictions hours before the event, there was also a sizable responsibility placed on their shoulders. How well these hitters do will determine certain how much money goes to charity.
"It's a lot of responsibility, but we take it on," Young said of the chance to swing for something more than pride. "To be able to do this for a positive cause is amazing."
State Farm will make a donation for each home run hit during Monday's event. For every Gold Ball -- these will be thrown to a player when he has one "out" remaining in the competition -- that goes over the wall, a $17,000 donation will be made. All other home runs will generate a $3,000 donation in support of the Boys and Girls Clubs.
Each Derby participant has also been paired with a member from an Orange County Area BGCA. State Farm will make a $50,000 donation to the club whose member is paired with the Derby winner. The other seven clubs will receive a $10,000 gift.
"I think that all of us guys up here as professional athletes have been put on a pedestal, and I think when you're on a pedestal like that, you have the opportunity and the obligation to reach out to people and do a lot of special things," Swisher said. "We are giving money to a great cause, that's the name of the game."
Also in play on Monday will be a pair of "Hit it Here" signs, which are part of an initiative with MasterCard Worldwide and the Stand Up to Cancer program.
If a player hits either of the two signs -- one will be placed in left field and the other in right-center -- during the Derby or Tuesday's All-Star Game, MasterCard will make a $1 million donation to Stand Up for Cancer. If a sign is hit on both days, that donation will be $2 million.
State Farm will also use Monday's competition as a springboard for a new, online "GO TO BAT" initiative that will have charities benefiting from every home run hit during the second half of the season. Fans are asked to visit www.statefarm.com/gotobat and select a designated charity. At the end of each week, State Farm will select a random individual and donate $100 to that winner's charity for every home run hit that week. Prizes will also be awarded to each weekly winner.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.