Thin Air (And No Humidor) Lets Baseballs Fly Far: MLB All-Star Home Run Derby Shines At Coors Field

All Star Home Run Derby Baseball
AP/David Zalubowski
American League’s Shohei Ohtani, of the Los Angeles Angeles, hits during the first round of the MLB All Star baseball Home Run Derby, Monday, July 12, 2021, in Denver.

On Monday night, the Coors Field humidor rode the pine and the baseballs flew.

When Major League Baseball officials announced that they were moving the MLB All-Star game from Atlanta, Georgia, to Denver, the first thing every sports fan wanted to know was: How far will the balls fly in the thin air of Colorado?

The answer: far.

The night's winner was the New York Mets' Pete Alonso who looked at times like he could not not hit a home run. In the process, he hit a first round record 35 home runs and repeated as champion after winning the 2019 MLB All-Star Home Run Derby. (The game was canceled in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.)

Colorado Rockies player Trevor Story also had a good showing. He won his first round matchup and in the process hit a 518-foot home run, the longest home run a Rockie has ever hit at Coors. Talk around the league of the Rockies trading away Story after the All-Star break has not dissipated, but for this night, Story said he was proud to represent the Rockies in the derby.

“Anytime you're chosen to do an event like this it’s special, so I wanna go out there and represent well for Colorado and our fans,” Story said. Story lost in the derby to Baltimore Orioles player Trey Mancini in the second round.

But all eyes were on Japanese two-way player Shohei Ohtani. Ohtani didn't live all the way up to the hype, however, despite hitting some monstrous shots. He lost in the first round of the derby to Juan Soto of the Washington Nationals. Ohtani hit 28 home runs, but Juan Soto hit 31. One of Soto's home runs traveled 520 feet, the longest ever recorded in a home run derby. ESPN reported Ohtani hit six at-least 500-foot home runs during the derby, the most at that length during a derby ever.

(If you're wondering what the farthest home run ever hit in Colorado was, that honor is held by Joey Meyer, who hit a 582-foot home run at Mile High Stadium in 1987 during a Denver Zephyrs game.)

Ohtani will start at pitcher for the American League in Tuesday night's All-Star game and hit leadoff in the game. And he was the star off the field as well. Media from all over the world have descended on Denver for the game, including a large contingent from Japan.

Brett Sherrett of Aurora said Ohtani is a historic talent.

“You know, we didn’t get to see Babe Ruth," Sherrett said. To see somebody who can pitch the ball, hit the ball, it’s a once in a lifetime type of thing. I don’t think it’s gonna become more common."

Just a couple months ago, the pandemic had called this year's All-Star game into question after last year's game was canceled. But fans and players alike were excited to return, at full-capacity, to Coors Field.

“It’s cool to be a part of that and feel somewhat back to normal," said Chicago Cubs All-Star Kris Bryant before the derby. "You just end up having more of an appreciation for the game a little more and you don’t take this for granted.”

And of course, hitting the long ball at a mile high doesn't hurt either. The air's thinner, the ball flies farther; it's physics. To aid in home run counts, the Rockies and MLB even retired the humidor for the derby. The humidor adds weight and water to baseballs so they don't fly as far.

First time All-Star Chris Taylor of the Los Angeles Dodgers said he’s a big fan of playing in Colorado: “The ball flies. Big outfield, lotta hits in the outfield. And I like the stadium. I feel like it’s a pretty cool stadium, cool city.”

It was also a homecoming of sorts for former Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, who returned to Coors Field for just the second time since being traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in early February. Arenado received a warm reception from Rockies fans, and he's reliving his past in one other way: He's sharing a locker for the game with his old teammate, Trevor Story.