KBO and MLB legends look to go deep as Home Run Derby X arrives in Korea
Major League Baseball arrives in Seoul on Saturday for the first of two events scheduled in Korea this year — the FTX MLB Home Run Derby X.
Described as a mix of a home run derby and a full festival of fun and food, the MLB Home Run Derby X is a new event launched by Major League Baseball this year as an attempt to take baseball outside of the baseball stadium and create a baseball-themed spectacle with a party atmosphere.
Fundamentally, the event is themed around a home run derby like the one traditionally played alongside the MLB All-Star Game. But rather than getting the best sluggers in the league to compete to see who can hit the most home runs in a certain period of time in whichever stadium is hosting the All-Star Game that year, MLB has developed a completely new format for Home Run Derby X.
To start with, Home Run Derby X is not held in a baseball stadium. The inaugural London event in July was held in Crystal Palace Park, a distinctly baseball field-less park in south London. For the so-called Seoul event, the organizers are actually headed to neighboring Incheon and the Paradise City Hotel on Yeongjeong Island, where a specially-built field will host the event.
The Home Run Derby X arena is narrower than a regular baseball field and, as well as the traditional outfield fence, includes four targets that batters can earn points by hitting. There is also a catching zone, where opposing players are allowed to attempt to pluck the ball out of the air — again a major difference from the traditional home run derby.
Rather than 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 batters actually play for those teams in real life — the MLB season is currently underway and professional baseball players are quite busy — but have been assigned to them either for the Seoul event or for the duration of the Home Run Derby X tour.
Each team has four players, three of whom are playing the entire tour — London, Seoul, Mexico — and one that has been added as a local hero for the tournament.
After the London tournament, the Yankees lead the standings with five points, followed by the Red Sox on three, the Dodgers on one and the Cubs on zero.
The Yankees are led by former Yankees slugger Nick Swisher, a 2009 World Series winner, 2010 All-Star and participant in the actual 2010 MLB Home Run Derby.
Swisher fills the “Legend” spot on the Yankees roster, and is joined by Italian softball star and Olympian Erika Piancastelli, the “Superstar,” and Mexican gymnast Daniel Corral in the “Wildcard” spot.
In Seoul, the Yankees are joined by Hanwha Eagles legend Kim Tae-kyun, one of the most productive batters in KBO history. Kim sits in the top 10 on the KBO all-time lists for hits, at 2,209 and total bases, at 3,557, and ranks 12th overall with 311 career home runs.
The Red Sox legend is Jonny Gomes, a prolific slugger who appeared for eight different big league clubs before retiring in 2018. Gomes is also a World Series winner, with the Red Sox in 2013, and a prolific home run hitter, becoming the first person in Tampa Bay Rays history to go deep three times in a single game.
Gomes is joined by Jocelyn Alo in the Superstar spot, taking over from Paige Halstead who played in London. Alo, a prolific softball slugger, won back-to-back Women's College World Series in 2021 and 2022 and retired from college softball as the all-time leader across both softball and baseball in home runs, at 122, slugging percentage, at .987, and total bases, at 761.
The Wildcard spot goes to Liv Cooke, the world champion football freestyler, while the local hero spot goes to LG Twins legend Park Yong-taik. With 2,504 career hits, Park is the all-time KBO hits leader and a prolific slugger with 213 career home runs to his name.
The Dodgers are represented by first baseman Adrián González, who played at the Texas Rangers with Park Chan-ho and the Dodgers with Ryu Hyun-jin. During a long career, González made the All-Star squad five times, one the first base Gold Glove four times and was named Silver Slugger twice.
González is joined by U.S. softball star Ashton Lansdell, a prolific slugger who managed four triples in a series for the U.S. women’s national team earlier this year.
Fittingly, considering the Dodgers' long history of Korean players, the home run team gets two Korean players, with Olympic short track speed skater Kwak Yoon-gy taking the wildcard spot and KBO legend Jeong Keun-woo.
Jeong played most of his career with the SK Wyverns, now the SSG Landers, and the Hanwha Eagles, before joining the LG Twins for the last season of his career. He retired in 2020 with 121 career home runs, 1,877 hits, 722 RBIs and a .302 batting average.
The Cubs are led by 2008 Rookie of the Year Geo Soto, a former Cubs catcher who made it to the All-Star game in his very first season. The superstar spot goes to U.S. softball star Alex Hugo, with Esports-star-turned-footballer Spencer Owen in the wildcard spot.
But the real focus of the Cubs team has to be on the Lion King himself, local hero Lee Seung-yuop. Samsung Lions legend Lee was the youngest professional player anywhere in the world to pass 300 career home runs, achieving the feat at just 26, and went on to be named KBO MVP five times. Lee still holds the KBO records for home runs, runs scored, RBIs, total bases, slugging percentage and OPS.
As well as the baseball, the Home Run Derby X will also include performances from Heize, Crush and Psy, as well as food trucks selling U.S. ballpark-inspired options and a number of activity areas.
Saturday’s event is the first of two big 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 the KBO has to offer.
BY JIM BULLEY [email@example.com]