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Home Run Derby has hit new elevation

SHARE Home Run Derby has hit new elevation

A man who'll be serving up longballs at the All-Star Game Home Run Derby has some advice for the 50,000 or so fans with tickets.Park a healthy distance from Coors Field.

"If I was coming to the home run contest, I'd park someplace near the outskirts of Salt Lake," said Florida Marlins coach Rich Donnelly. "That would be safe. I wouldn't park in the state of Colorado."

The Home Run Derby, always a popular event at All-Star games, has assumed a higher profile this year. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa are making highly publicized runs at Roger Maris' record 61 homers, and the light air of Denver will give fly balls a boost.

ESPN, which will televise the event live at 6 p.m. Denver time Monday, has 17 cameras in place - including one in the left field parking lot. Last year 4.08 million households watched a taped replay of the Home Run Derby at Jacobs Field in Cleveland. With a 5.7 rating, it was ESPN's highest-rated non-National Football League telecast.

With McGwire, Sosa and Andres Galarraga among the players set to participate, interest is running high even though Seattle's Ken Griffey Jr. and Juan Gonzalez of Texas don't plan to take part.

Griffey backed out because the Mariners play in Texas on Sunday night and he won't arrive in Denver until early Monday morning. Gonzalez, who's played every game this season, said the derby takes too much of a physical toll.

`Soft and Straight': Katy Feeney, National League senior vice president, said that while the rotation for the derby isn't official, Donnelly probably will pitch to National League hitters. Colorado Rockies coaches Rick Mathews and Gene Glynn are among the other possibilities to pitch.

"`I'm just going to throw it soft and straight, and see how far they hit it," Mathews said.

Donnelly handled the duties once before, at the 1994 All-Star Game in Pittsburgh. He threw the entire contest - a workload of more than 200 pitches.

His goal is to throw 65-70 mph fastballs down the middle of the plate, belt high. At the '94 Home Run Derby, Donnelly accidentally threw a pitch up and in to the Chicago White Sox' Frank Thomas and was booed by the crowd at Three Rivers Stadium.

Donnelly joked that he's preparing for the 6-foot-5 McGwire by throwing batting practice to Marlins outfielder John Cangelosi, who's 5-8, 160 pounds, and pitcher Jesus Sanchez, who's listed at 5-10, 153 pounds.

Big blasts: McGwire, Sosa or one of the other participants could set a new standard for Coors Field. Mike Piazza hit the longest homer on record at the park - a shot off Darren Holmes last September that traveled an estimated 496 feet. That topped Larry Walker's 493-footer against Oakland in August.

Donnelly won't be surprised if someone skips 500 feet and proceeds directly to 600.

"You're going to see balls hit to places where they've never hit baseballs and probably never will," he said. "This is going to be great."

Mathews, who's watched Galarraga, Dante Bichette, Walker and Vinny Castilla send balls to the stadium's nether regions over the years in batting practice, said cars parked behind the left-field fence are in imminent danger.

"I'll probably park at the hotel downtown, leave my car there and walk to the ballpark," Mathews said.