Mookie Betts, a two-time World Series winner and 2018 MVP, was easily the most famous and accomplished player in the 2023 derby. He didn’t need validation from a novelty home run contest, he just wanted to add another stamp to his baseball passport. “I really should have done it last year when it was at Dodger Stadium,” Betts regretted. “My wife wasn’t as adamant as she is now. This year she said go ahead, knock it out.” I asked if Betts’ wife just really likes seeing her husband send baseballs to another dimension. “No, that’s not what she was saying. She just thought I should check it off the bucket list.” Turns out it was more about wanting to give him a blissed-out boost. “She wants to watch it, but I don’t think she’s expecting much of me, which is cool,” Betts smiled. In his first derby showing, Betts went out with a whimper. His 11 homers were the fewest of anyone in the derby. Perhaps Betts’ pre-derby assessment doomed him. “I don’t hit home runs in BP [batting practice]!” Betts warned. “Just line drives.”
When the party ended, T-Mobile Park was a graveyard not for red Solo cups but for baseballs. Three hundred and forty one total home runs were detonated, many of them seeming to defy the laws of physics. One of the best parts of the entire day, which is a wonderful baseball celebration, is the way the players embrace the vibe. The Home Run Derby is an ultimately meaningless exhibition. There are no real stakes to it. But all 46,952 fans, plus the sea of All-Stars who were in the building on Tuesday (and Marshawn Lynch, a noted vibe lord himself who presented Guerrero with his chain), contributed to the best vibes baseball puts out in a given season. Those spawned an equally precious and rhapsodic moment when Guerrero realized he had beaten Randy Arozarena, officially making he and his dad the first father-son combo to each bring home a derby championship.
As Arozarena ran out of gas, Vlad Jr. could hardly contain himself, storming onto the field and hitting Arozarena’s trademark celebration with his deposed competitor before proudly hoisting his trophy for the world to see. The derby might not be as “real” as an actual game, but that moment—and the summertime elation pulsing through the stadium all night—was very real indeed.