Major League Baseball arrives in Seoul on Saturday for the first of two events scheduled to be held in Korea this year – the FTX MLB Home Run Derby X.
The MLB Home Run Derby X is a combination of home run derby and a festival full of fun and food, a new event launched by Major League Baseball this year as an attempt to take baseball off the baseball field and create a themed baseball scene with a festive vibe.
Basically, the action centers around a home run derby like that traditionally played alongside the MLB All-Star Game. But instead of getting the league’s top players to compete to see who can score the most home runs in a given amount of time at which stadium that year’s All-Star Game, MLB developed an entirely new format for the Tenth Home Run Derby.
First of all, Home Run Derby X is not held on a baseball field. The inaugural London event took place in July at Crystal Palace Park, a premier baseball park in south London. For the so-called Seoul event, the organizers are actually heading to nearby Incheon and the Paradise City Hotel on Yeongjeong Island, where the event will host a specially built field.
The Home Run Derby X arena is narrower than a regular baseball field and, in addition to the traditional outdoor fence, includes four targets that hitters can earn points by hitting. There is also a catching zone, where opposing players are allowed to try to get the ball out of the air – again a huge difference from a traditional running derby.
Instead of an individual event, the Home Run Derby X pits four teams against each other, the Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees. None of the competing hitters actually play for these teams in real life—the MLB season is currently underway and professional baseball players are very busy—but they are assigned to either the Seoul event or for the duration of the Home Run Derby X tour.
Each team has four players, three of whom play the entire tour – London, Seoul and Mexico – and one added as the local champion of the tournament.
After the London Championships, the Yankees lead the standings with five points, followed by the Red Sox with three points, the Dodgers on one point and the Cubs on zero.
Former Yankees player Nick Swisher, 2009 World Championship winner, 2010 All-Star and participant in the actual 2010 MLB Home Run derby, leads the Yankees.
Swisher fills the “Legend” place on the Yankees roster, joined by Italian softball and Olympic star Erika Piancastelli, the “Superstar,” and Mexican gymnast Daniel Corral in the “Wildcard” place.
In Seoul, Yankees were joined by Hanwha Eagles legend Kim Tae-kyun, one of the most productive fighters in KBO history. Kim sits in the top ten on KBO’s all-hits charts, at 2,209 and total bases, at 3,557, and ranks 12th overall with 311 home runs.
The Red Sox legend is Johnny Gomez, a prolific bazaar player who appeared for eight different clubs in the league before retiring in 2018. Gomez is also the World Championship winner, with the Red Sox in 2013, a prolific home hitter, becoming the first person in history Tampa Bay Rays to go deep three times in one game.
Jocelyn Allo joined Gomez as a Superstar, succeeding Paige Halstead who played in London. A prolific softball player, Alo won the Women’s World Championships consecutively in 2021 and 2022 and retired from college softball as the all-time leader in both softball and baseball in home running, at 122, the slowest percentage point, at 987. , and total bases, at 761.
The Wildcard spot goes to Liv Cooke, the freestyle soccer world champion, and the local champ spot goes to LG Twins legend Park Yong-taik. With 2,504 career successes, Park is the all-time KBO leader and a prolific slugger with 213 career runs back home to his name.
The Dodgers are represented by first baseman Adrián González, who played for the Texas Rangers with Park Chan-ho and the Dodgers with Ryu Hyun-jin. During his long career, Gonzalez made the All-Star Team five times, was the first base gold glove four times and was named Silver Slugger twice.
Joining Gonzalez is American softball star Ashton Lansdale, a prolific soccer player who scored four hat-tricks in a series with the US women’s national team earlier this year.
Fittingly, given the Dodgers’ long history of Korean players, the home running team has had two Korean players, with Olympic short-track speed skater Kwak Yoon-gi taking the wildcard place and KBO legend Jeong Keun-woo.
Jeong played most of his career with SK Wyverns, now SSG Landers, and Hanwha Eagles, before joining the LG Twins in the final season of his career. Retired in 2020 with 121 career paths, 1,877 hits, 722 RBIs and a 302 hitting average.
The Cubs are led by the 2008 Rookie of the Year Geo Soto, a former Cubs catcher who reached the All-Star Game in his first season. The superstar spot goes to American softball star Alex Hugo, with esports star-turned-footballer Spencer Owen in the wildcard place.
But the Cubs’ real focus should be on the Lion King himself, local champ Lee Seung-yuop. Samsung Lions legend Lee was the youngest professional player anywhere in the world to pass 300 times in his career, achieved the feat at just 26, and won the KBO MVP award five times. Lee still keeps KBO records for home runs, recorded runs, RBIs, total bases, slowdown percentage, and OPS.
In addition to baseball, Home Run Derby X will also include shows from Heize, Crush, and Psy, as well as food trucks selling American football-inspired options and a number of activity areas.
Saturday’s event is the first of two major MLB events in Korea this year. In November, the MLB World Tour will visit Busan and Seoul for four games, pitting a team of Major League stars against the best that KBO has to offer.
by Jim Poli [email@example.com]