Wed, Jul 14, 2004 - Page 20 News List

Long-ball hitters amaze Bush senior

HOME RUN DERBY Lance Berkman of the Astros was the favorite and former US President George H.W. Bush expressed his delight, but it was Miguel Tejada of the Orioles who prevailed

AP , HOUSTON, TEXAS

Alex Rodriguez, left, of the Yankees, and Barry Bonds of the Giants ahead of the MLB All-Star Home Run Derby at Minute Maid Field in Houston, Texas, Monday.

PHOTO: REUTERS

After a call for an intentional walk to Barry Bonds opened the All-Star Home Run Derby with a laugh, Miguel Tejada flashed even more power than the slugger who usually gets the attention.

Tejada hit a record 15 home runs in the second round, topping out at 497 feet and putting several over the 58-foot wall behind the left field seats, toward Crawford Street. He went on to defeat hometown favorite Lance Berkman 5-4 in the final with five of 10 outs to spare.

"When I got to the finals, I was saying to myself, `Oh my gosh, I usually watch on my TV from home,'" Tejada said. "I was very excited."

Five of Berkman's 10 homers in the second round were dramatic shots out of the ballpark, including a 493-foot drive. The Astros outfielder earned the admiration of former President George H.W. Bush, who sat in the crowd of 41,754.

"When I see Lance Berkman get up there and do what he did, that brings joy to my heart," Bush said.

Both finalists batted right-handed and replaced left-handers who pulled out, with Tejada taking over from Jason Giambi and Berkman, a switch-hitter, getting the call after Ken Griffey Jr. got hurt last weekend. The big wall in left, which has a replica 1860 locomotive that runs across it, provides a perfect panorama for right-handers.

"After I hit three in a row out of the stadium, I thought that was really neat. The fans were going crazy," Berkman said. "I got in a nice groove. The second round was quite an experience. I ran out of gas."

Bonds did get pitched to, hitting eight homers with the roof closed in the first round, one a 483-foot shot over the top row of seats in the right-field upper deck. But he had just three in the second, when the panels pulled back to reveal the night sky and the humidity rolled in.

Before Monday night's competition, the 14 living players among the 20 with 500 or more homers came together in a room beneath the right field upper deck to swap stories, pose for photos and project what the future will bring to the long ball. If the ball has been juiced in recent years, this was the appropriate setting for such a gathering -- Minute Maid Park.

Adding it all up, the gathering totaled 8,083 homers. Ten of the top 11 sluggers in baseball history, all but the deceased Sultan of Swat, Babe Ruth.

Hank Aaron, the only man to top Ruth's 714, predicted that Bonds (currently at 681) will surpass his mark.

"It won't bother me a bit," Hammerin' Hank said.

Even among the glittery stars, Bonds shined the brightest -- the light from the cameras reflected off the diamond crucifix earring on his left earlobe.

He posed for pictures with his godfather, Willie Mays, now fourth on the career list at 660 after being passed by his godson earlier this year.

Bonds was looking forward to the Home Run Derby. He's been intentionally walked 71 times this season -- three more than the previous record he set two years ago -- and walked 131 times in all.

"I don't have a chance to swing much," he said.

Even if he does pass Aaron, Bonds guessed that he wouldn't remain No. 1 very long and that this generation's stars won't dominate the top of the list forever.

``Someone's going to pass us,'' said Bonds, later greeted by the fans with a standing ovation.

Mark McGwire, making a rare ballpark appearance, predicted 28-year-old Alex Rodriguez (367) or 24-year-old Albert Pujols (136) could be the ones.

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