MINNEAPOLIS -- The 2014 Gillette Home Run Derby brings the All-Star Week extravaganza back to the Twin Cities terrain where it first began.
It was here, 29 years ago, where fans plunked down a charitable donation of two bucks a pop to enter the Metrodome and watch five hitters from each league stage a swing-off in between the American League and National League workouts. When the casual afternoon affair was over, the totals were added up, the AL had edged the NL, and Dave Parker was the first unofficial champ of an event that exists only in the memories of those who were there that day.
The Derby that begins Monday night at 8 p.m. ET at Target Field and on ESPN will be decidedly different.
This one features AL and NL teams not thrown together haphazardly but carefully crafted by captains Jose Bautista and Troy Tulowitzki. And it will not only be watched by millions of viewers but will also raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for worthy causes like the Major League Baseball RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) program, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Derek Jeter's Turn 2 Foundation, among others.
It will also contain a new format that should both pick up the pace and ensure the top sluggers don't lose their stamina -- and that could be key in a ballpark not known to be overly friendly to hitters.
"I like the challenge with the bracket system," Bautista said. "I think other people are going to like it, too. Hopefully we put on a good show and raise a lot of money for these charities."
The guys joining Tulowitzki in the NL field are Giancarlo Stanton, Yasiel Puig, Todd Frazier and Justin Morneau. Though Morneau did not make the NL All-Star team via the Final Vote campaign, Tulo selected the 2008 Derby champ in part because of the sentimental story that is his return to Minnesota after so many successful seasons with the Twins.
It's an interesting field for several reasons, not the least of which is Cespedes -- with a batting-practice swing perfectly tailored to this event -- stands a very real chance of becoming the first back-to-back winner since Ken Griffey Jr. (1998-99).
And that Morneau-Minnesota reunion is pretty good, too, particularly knowing how much he endured with concussion issues that limited his playing time and productivity in his final years with the Twins.
"I've been able to appreciate coming back to things like this or just to have good days and feel good playing," Morneau said. "It's given me a different perspective. I feel fortunate to be up here with these guys."
Morneau was also pretty pleased to learn the wind was blowing out to right on the day of the Derby.
But looking at the participants lined up on the dais at the afternoon news conference before the event, it was clear who the Derby's most captivating figure is.
"Don't stand me beside Giancarlo Stanton," Dozier joked, "because that guy looks like a horse. He's double my size."
Indeed, we know Stanton's built like an NFL tight end, at 6-foot-6, 240 pounds. And we know he's hit more 450-foot home runs than most teams this season (witness this one he hit 484 feet in the first week of the season).
We also know no ballpark can contain Stanton, as his home games at cavernous Marlins Park have not prevented him from tying Tulo for the NL homer lead, with 21.
Now we'll see what Stanton can do when every swing is aimed beyond the fences.
"I don't want to know how many Giancarlo's going to hit," said Stanton's former manager Ozzie Guillen, who will be doing Spanish-language commentary of the Derby for ESPN Deportes. "I want to know how far he's going to hit them."
Stanton is the favorite, but the others will have their say, and this Derby will be particularly slanted toward those who get off to a strong start.
Remember when Josh Hamilton hit a ridiculous 28 home runs before recording 10 outs in the first round of 2008? He was winded for the semis and spent for the finals, losing that Derby to Morneau.
If a guy goes off like that this time, he won't be physically punished. For one, he'll be limited to seven outs, instead of 10. And also, as long as he leads his league in first-round output, he'll get a bye in the newly-created second round and advance straight to the semis.
Each round will grant participants seven outs. Six guys will advance out of the first round (the two league leaders and the four guys who finish with the second- and third-highest first-round totals in their league), two will advance out of the second round to face the two rested sluggers in the semis. The two finals participants -- one from each league -- will again receive seven outs apiece, and if it comes down to a tiebreaker, they'll get three swings apiece.
"You obviously want to take the least amount of swings that you can," Bautista said. "If that means trying to go all-out in the first round and skipping the second, that's going to be a benefit later on."
This Derby is full of fresh faces. Of the 10 guys taking part, only Cespedes, Morneau and Bautista are past participants.
Last year's Derby raised $529,000 for charity, and this year's will include a $95,000 to the local RBI and Boys & Girls Club programs, $50,000 to the winning participant's charity in his name, $25,000 to each league captain's charity of choice, $20,000 to a charity of choice for each of the winning participant's league teammates and $8,000 to a charity of choice for each of the competitors from the league opposing the Derby winner.
The remaining of the money raised by and contingent upon the number of home runs will be donated to RBI and the Boys & Girls Clubs on behalf of Gillette and MLB. For each orange FlexBall home run hit by a Derby participant, Gillette and MLB will combine to donate $10,000 to designated charities, in addition to the $5,000 donated for every non-FlexBall home run.
And here's another area that was inconceivable in that first low-key Derby back in 1985: Fans at home, playing their own version of the Derby on their phones and tablets. The MLB.com Home Run Derby mobile game is available for download on the Apple App Store and Google Play. New for 2014 is Multiplayer Derby Mode, Achievements and Objectives.
Indeed, the Derby has come a long way. And on Monday night, its participants will be hitting them a long way. Target practice is about to begin.