CHICAGO – Midway through his round at the home run derby last year, things weren’t going well for Josh Donaldson.
On his first swing, he fouled the ball right back and thought to himself, “What am I doing here?” The next few cuts didn’t go much better, so out trotted Victor Martinez, who’d formed a relationship with Donaldson during the Detroit-Oakland post-season clashes, to lighten the mood.
“After my fourth out, I don’t think I even came close to hitting a homer, he comes out with a big old smile on his face, a towel and Gatorade bottle and he’s like, ‘Hey man, you’re doing great!’” Donaldson recalled. “And I’m like, ‘No I’m not! I almost missed one,’ in my head. But I looked at him and (thought) ‘You know what? He doesn’t know any better, this is to have fun.’
“I ended up hitting three after that and it was great.”
Donaldson will be looking for a more successful return engagement in this year’s revamped home run derby, to which he was named Wednesday. The Toronto Blue Jays slugger is seeded third for next week’s competition and will face Anthony Rizzo of the Chicago Cubs in one of four first-round matchups.
Each hitter gets five minutes per round with homers stopping the clock in the last minute and up to 90 additional seconds available through distance bonuses. Donaldson’s input helped lead to the revisions and he says, “I’m interested in seeing how it plays out.”
Still, while he’s in it to win it – “I’m a competitor, if we were playing dominoes I would want to win at dominoes,” he says – last year’s experience will remind him not to make it the be-all, end-all.
“It’s not about it getting in your head, it’s enjoying it,” he says. “You’re sitting there and you’re trying to hit a home run and you should be able to hit a home run because it’s batting practice, but with that said, just have fun. It’s one of those experiences that’s pretty neat. Not everybody gets to do it.”
Serving cookies to Donaldson in the derby will be Bobby Tewksbary, a private hitting instructor he works with. Athletics hitting coach Darren Bush handled the duties last time.
“He’s one of the first guys who sort of broke down swings with me before, I guess you could say, I became good,” Donaldson said of Tewksbary. “I think he’s going to be in heaven being out there with these major-league baseball guys because he’s really worked hard the past few years spending time on the evolution of swings, guys who are good and putting it together.
“For him to be able to see guys he’s studied on is pretty cool.”
As for concerns that participating in the derby could potentially mess up his swing, Donaldson isn’t giving them a thought.
“I did it last year,” he said, “and didn’t feel any effects from it.”