CINCINNATI — Break out the boats. This All-Star Home Run Derby might make a splash.
The annual long-ball celebration will have a favorable setting Monday. Great American Ball Park has been one of the major leagues’ most homer-friendly places since it opened in 2003, with its short distances and lift-producing humidity providing a cozy flight path to the seats.
And maybe beyond.
The Ohio River flows past the right field stands and could become a final resting place for homer-dented baseballs. Only one has ended up there during the park’s 13-year history.
Anyone feel like some paddling?
“I’m assuming people will be in the river canoeing and waiting for some balls,” said Reds Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin, who played at Great American for two seasons. “I think they’re going to get peppered out there. There will be a lot of long, majestic home runs.”
There’s just a lot of home runs at the park, period.
Great American was built as a hitter’s park. The right field foul pole is only 325 feet away, a short distance chosen with Ken Griffey Jr. in mind. He was the Reds’ biggest star when it opened.
An average of 2.53 homers have been hit there each game this season, which ranks fourth in the majors behind Yankee Stadium (2.8), Camden Yards (2.74) and Miller Park (2.68), according to STATS. Great American led the majors in homers in 2005 and ranked second from 2006-08.
The combination of close walls and muggy summer air — which helps the ball carry — is the recipe for a hitter’s delight.
“It’s the best home run park in the game,” said former Reds third baseman Aaron Boone, who played in Cincinnati during the park’s inaugural season. “It’s going to be fun to see if some of these lefties can hit it into the river and over everything. I think there’s going to be lots of ooh-and-ah moments in the home run derby because of the smallness of the park.”
Only one homer has landed in the river. Adam Dunn hit one off Jose Lima on Aug. 1, 2004 that cleared the batter’s eye in center, bounced on the street outside the ball park and was found among some driftwood in the river. The ball flew an estimated 535 feet before its first bounce.
“The distance was one thing, but the height — it just seemed like it was never going to come down,” Larkin said.
Juan Francisco also hit one that ended up outside the park, a homer off Rodrigo Lopez in 2011 that cleared the right field stands, bounced onto the adjacent street and hit a car. That homer flew an estimate 502 feet before hitting concrete.
It’s much tougher to hit one out of the park now. A riverboat-themed party deck has been added atop the batter’s eye. A videoboard was installed above the right field seats this season.
Reds third baseman Todd Frazier is in the derby again after finishing second to Yoenis Cespedes last year. He’s very comfortable at Great American, where he’s hit 15 of his 25 homers this season.
“It’s something you dream of in the backyard when you’re 5 years old playing with your buddies,” Frazier said. “And I don’t know who wouldn’t want to be in the home run derby. It’s great. Just to hear your name announced — and especially in the city you play for — it gives you goose bumps just to think about it.”
Under a new format this year, the eight All-Stars will be seeded in brackets and each of their rounds will be timed. Each hitter gets five minutes per round, with a chance for extra time if they hit some really far.
Hitting two homers of at least 420 feet in a round will earn an extra minute. Hitting one 475 feet gets an additional 30 seconds. The most extra time a hitter can earn is 90 seconds per round.
That provides even more incentive for hitters to not only clear the walls, but to aim for the upper reaches of the park and that swath of water way off beyond right field.
“That’s why I’m excited about this one,” former pitcher Curt Schilling said. “These guys have a chance to make a big league ballpark look like a Whiffle ball field, and that’s pretty cool.”
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