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Weary Gonzalez has a 'blast' at Derby

Weary Gonzalez has a 'blast' at Derby

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ST. LOUIS -- Adrian Gonzalez knew he was going to have to collect all the energy he could after a harrying travel day, hugging a cup of Starbucks coffee as he wearily pondered his upcoming performance in a home run hitting competition.

As it turned out, perhaps the Padres slugger could have used a double shot of java -- or at least some more rest. Gonzalez only managed to crack two balls out of Busch Stadium and was eliminated in the first round of Monday's State Farm Home Run Derby, eventually won by the Brewers' Prince Fielder.

"I'm not going to make any excuses," Gonzalez said. "I just started to pull off the ball, top-spinning it. It kind of just took ahold of me there and I wasn't able to make the adjustments I needed to make. I was excited and had a lot of fun with it. I think it was a good experience."

Tied for second in the Major Leagues with 24 home runs this season and owning 90 round-trippers over the previous three seasons with San Diego, Gonzalez seemed like a sure bet to put on a power display against the beautiful backdrop of the Gateway Arch.

But some eight hours before the Derby, Gonzalez waited for the media crush at the downtown Hyatt hotel and began to power ahead with caffeine. His travels to St. Louis had been troublesome, allowing him only 2 1/2 hours of sleep and forcing him to drive a rented minivan to town after flying into Indianapolis.

As Gonzalez recounted, he and fellow All-Star Heath Bell had originally been scheduled to fly to St. Louis on a midnight red-eye, but instead they opted to connect through Vegas, grabbing what should have been an earlier flight while doing a little All-Star break gambling.

The connecting flight was late from Las Vegas and the two Padres teammates were forced to rent the van. Bell refused to drive for fear of getting a speeding ticket, so Gonzalez found himself hustling down the highway to St. Louis, barely making it in time for the pre-workout press conferences.

"It felt like getting to a Minor League All-Star Game," Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez sprayed several line drives around the outfield that would have been sure extra-base hits, but under Derby rules, those don't count for anything. The first Padres player to participate in a Home Run Derby since Fred McGriff and Gary Sheffield in 1992, Gonzalez finally belted his first shot with seven outs on the board.

That shot landed in the first several rows of the left-center-field bleachers at Busch Stadium, which -- as usual -- were portrayed as an ocean of red. After lining his eighth out into the pitcher's L-screen, Gonzalez smacked his longest and final blast of the night, a 416-foot shot above the bullpen in right field.

It was well shy of the 11 home runs that both Nelson Cruz and Fielder had already put up in the first round, making Gonzalez a long shot to advance.

"No matter what I did, I wasn't going to be disappointed," Gonzalez said. "I'm just happy to be a part of it. I definitely came in with the mindset that I had a chance to win, but it just didn't happen. But it was fine. I had a blast doing it."

For his participation in the Derby, Gonzalez selected Ray Krohn, a trusted batting-practice pitcher with the Padres.

"He throws close to 500 pitches [every day], so I thought that was a good thing to do," Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez and his wife, Betsy, will donate $400 -- $200 for each home run he hit -- to The Adrian and Betsy Gonzalez Foundation and the Padres Foundation to benefit children. The Padres committed to match their donation and the Trinity Bat Co. will also donate $100 for each Gonzalez home run in the event.

Gonzalez said that he had no idea what to expect coming into the Home Run Derby, his first. As the rounds went on and Fielder moved closer to his eventual victory, Gonzalez said the transition from participant to fan was easy.

"[I'll remember] just how far the home runs were hit," Gonzalez said. "I think that's one thing that you always look at. That was a pleasure to be a part of. It was great."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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