Derby Champ Does Des Moines
Epifanio [Sandy] Guerrero has a new nickname. It’s Derby, courtesy of the apprentice ballplayers he‘s been working with this season.
That, a ring and a late dinner are his rewards for being what I guess you’d have to call the winning pitcher in MLB’s slugging orgy in St. Louis on Monday night.
Guerrero was Home Run Derby champ Prince Fielder’s hand-picked soft-server. His regular gig is hitting coach for the Nashville Sounds, Triple A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers. Last night I talked with him while the Sounds prepared to face the Iowa Cubs in Des Moines.
Derby fielded the good natured ribbings of the Sounds players in between swatting them fungoes and tossing a round of BP. He hits left and throws right, patrolling the field with baseballs bulging in his back pockets like giant warts. They suggest big pains in his ass.
When he hits infield the ball goes exactly where he wants it to off his bat. Each position winds up with a hard grounder to one side or another, a slow chopper they’re forced to charge and a truly major league popup; the guy is Rod Carew with a fungo bat in his hands. It’s a treat to watch after another little league season of layman volunteers who can’t so much as loft a fly ball in the general direction of a pod of shaggers.
Guerrero said that Fielder had been disappointed with his showing at the 2007 derby when Guerrero’s brother Mike [currently managing the Brewers’ High A team at Brevard County - they’re the sons of famed Dominican scout Epy Guerrero] pitched to him. Sandy was the 1st choice then too, but wasn’t available because of his duties at the time with the Brewers’ Double A team in Huntsville, the place where the two met as Fielder climbed the ladder of the farm system.
“We talked this year in spring training that if Prince was in the derby and I was free, he would ask me to pitch for him again.” Guerrero said. “He called last week and asked if I could come to St. Louis with him.”
Guerrero did more than serve up a steady diet of juicy fruit on Monday night. He and Fielder formulated a game plan in the NL clubhouse before they took the field.
“I told him it was a muggy night and to save his energy.” Guerrero explained. “No matter where the pitches are, take a few after every swing. Otherwise you’ll get tired in the 2nd and 3rd rounds. Some of the other guys were yelling at him, ‘hey, what was wrong with that pitch,’ but he stuck to the plan and saved his energy. He wasn’t even tired at the end. He could have gone another round.”
Guerrero also told Fielder that he wouldn’t be pitching him low and in, normally the chubby slugger’s preferred sweet spot.
“I wanted to throw more out over the plate so he could extend his arms. When he hit the 500 footer I motioned to him to look up at the crowd and listen. The St. Louis fans were cheering him even though the Brewers and Cardinals are fighting each other. They’re good fans.” [I believe the red-clad crowd booed lustily when Cub token Ted Lilly was announced in the pre-games on Tuesday, but I granted Guerrero’s point.]
So how did the newly crowned sultan of swat show his appreciation for the customized pitching performance?
“Everybody wants to know if he gave me money or something. No, it was just an honor that he asked me and I was happy to do it for him because he’s one of the best hitters in the game.” Guerrero claimed.
“I did get a nice ring though and I’ve been wearing it. It’s in the clubhouse. And we went out to dinner with Prince and his wife that night. The next morning I had breakfast with him and I said, ‘man, can you believe we just won the Home Run Derby?’” Guerrero recalled.
It’s clear that he truly thinks Fielder is a [sorry] prince of a guy, noting that it’s hard not to cross the line drawn between coaches and players when the ones who are not only talented but eager to learn come along. Guerrero puts the misleadingly surnamed Fielder solidly in that category. Now that the two toil for different teams in the same organization it’s easier for them to just be friends.
Last night, while Derby sat in a dugout in Des Moines watching the Iowa Cubs beat Nashville 11-4, the great slugger named Fielder blasted a three-run shot off of a pitcher named Homer in Cincinnati.
Guess King Prince did still have another round in him.