So you’re all in for dropping several hundred bucks on Home Run Derby tickets at Coors Field, but you want to give yourself the best chance at scoring a souvenir? Maybe Denver’s 1998 derby can offer some clues.
First, a few caveats. Neither Major League Baseball nor the Colorado Rockies charted homers during the 1998 derby, which means we were left to work off broadcast footage that didn’t always have the best angles. Second, we’re not sure if Major League Baseball is going to give this year’s derby balls a turn in the famous Coors Field humidor before those batting-practice fastballs are launched around the stadium. The humidor—which the Rockies use to add moisture to game balls in an effort to, well, keep them in the park—didn’t exist until 2002. Maybe it’s just us, but we’re desperately hoping MLB opts for dry, extra-bouncy baseballs for this derby.
The biggest difference between 1998 and this year’s event, though, is the way the derby is played. Twenty-three years ago, the rules allowed hitters 10 “outs” (batted balls that didn’t clear the outfield fence) in the first two rounds, and then five “outs” for the two hitters in the finale. Since 2015, however, Major League Baseball has promoted a far livelier show, eliminating “outs” in favor of a time limit (now four minutes, plus bonus time for things like extreme home run distance) that has resulted in far more opportunities to make a leaping outfield (seat) catch for your basement’s trophy case. At the 1998 derby, 82 baseballs total left the yard. In 2019—the last year the derby was played—148 balls left Cleveland’s Progressive Field in the first round.
Still, Denver’s home run fest in 1998 had a certain amount of intrigue, especially in retrospect. You could be forgiven for thinking the steroid era produced some of the meteoric derby bombs in Denver (cough, cough, Mark McGwire), but those titanic shots didn’t necessarily accumulate en masse from those players. Of the 1998 invitees mentioned in the Mitchell Report—the 2007 independent investigation into steroid use and performance-enhancing substances within the sport—only Rafael Palmeiro made it past the first round in the Mile High City. McGwire, the steroid era’s posterboy, jacked a 510-foot homer but finished in eighth place. It’s important to note that Ken Griffey Jr. (the eventual winner) and Jim Thome—two Hall of Fame sluggers who were never accused of steroid use—faced each other in the final round at Coors and are responsible for most of those upper-deck taters you see dotting sections 301 to 308.
Which brings us to this year’s spectacle. We’ve marked the rough location of every blast that was hit that July evening 23 years ago. As you might expect, virtually every outfield section collected at least one moonshot—but some areas were hotter than others.
- If you nab a seat within the Griffey-Thome zone—namely the upper reaches of right and right-center field—you’ll have to hope that Los Angeles Angels star Shohei Ohtani and his left-handed swing will drop a pearl into your hands.
- For anyone looking at second-deck seating options, right-center field seems like a quality spot, as does anything near the right field foul pole.
- Folks in first-level sections 105 to 109, in right field, will need an umbrella when a lefty hitter steps up to the plate. (Beware of line drives if you’re in the first few rows of sections 108 and 109.)
- Only two blasts in 1998 reached what today is known as the Rooftop—but it’s fun to think what that drunken scrum might look like if some balls get up there this year.
- If history holds, left field sections 153 to 155 will see lots of action when right-handed hitters are swinging.
- Balls seemed to cluster in the middle rows of sections 154, 155, and 156.
- Although sections 159 and 160 are the first-level areas farthest from home plate, there were plenty of souvenir chances in 1998.
- Anyone on the left field concourse also is guaranteed to see some baseballs, especially if a right-handed masher like the New York Mets’ Pete Alonso participates.
- For what it’s worth, extreme left field was a virtual dead zone in 1998, so keep that in mind if you have an opportunity to sit elsewhere in the outfield.
This probably doesn’t really need to be said, but a baseball would need to be shot out of a cannon to reach the Rockpile, Coors Field’s inexpensive bleacher seats located in center field. Legend has it that McGwire once hit the facing of that section in batting practice, and Hall of Famer Mike Piazza once smashed a ball in the vicinity during a game. If a baseball were to reach that farthest of far sections—the last row is reportedly 600 feet from home plate—that would be the homer to end all derby homers.
But if you nab that one-in-a-million baseball, give me a call. I need to hear that story.