KANSAS CITY -- So much of Carlos Beltran's plan for Monday's State Farm Home Run Derby was shrouded in secrecy. Beltran was the only competitor not to bring a personal pitcher with him. He did not decide to bat left-handed until after swinging from both sides of the plate during pre-Derby batting practice.
But Beltran's performance oozed of preparedness. The Cardinals slugger nearly made it to the finals of his first career Derby, swatting 12 home runs over two rounds to fall short of a date with Derby winner Prince Fielder.
"I didn't come here with the mentality to win the whole thing," Beltran said. "I came here with the mentality to have fun, and that's what I did."
Batting left-handed and swinging at batting-practice fastballs from former Cards bullpen catcher Jeff Murphy, Beltran clubbed five home runs in the second round to face elimination. But that did not stop him from putting on a show -- Beltran increased the power behind his homers as he went along, averaging 435 feet on his second-round blasts and hitting one an estimated 459 feet.
The All-Star outfielder hit seven homers in the first round, launching them as far as 436 feet and averaging a shade over 410. For a Derby contestant, he was notably consistent; unlike many sluggers, who tend to hit home runs and make outs in bunches, Beltran did not hit more than three home runs or make more than three outs in a row in the first round.
The greatest challenge, Beltran said, was waiting roughly 90 minutes between his first- and second-round swings. To kill time, he stood on the field with his wife and daughter and watched the other contestants, eventually retiring to the clubhouse for a quick bite to eat.
"I didn't know what to do," Beltran said laughing. "I didn't know if I should lie down or eat something or go home and come back. It's a long thing."
Earlier Monday, Beltran shrugged when asked if he would bat right-handed or left-handed, given his relatively even splits as a switch-hitter. He had not even decided whom to use as a pitcher, despite the fact that the Derby's other seven contestants all flew in coaches, friends or family members to pitch to them.
But do not confuse uncertainty with lack of preparedness. Beltran, who had never before participated in the Derby despite his 322 career home runs, was eager to participate as the oldest player in the field. In doing so, he became the seventh different Cardinals hitter to appear in the Derby and the fourth in four years, following Albert Pujols in 2009 and Matt Holliday in 2010 and '11.
Beltran also brought a Kansas City story to Kauffman Stadium, returning to the place where he played his first seven big league seasons and hit 123 homers. When he came to bat to lead off the Derby, the hometown fans gave him a warm reception.
"This is a place I spent a lot of years," Beltran said. "Being able to come back as an All-Star, it's a good thing.
"For me, the best part is being able to see people from the past when I played for the Royals. It's a beautiful ballpark. It's a beautiful place and I'm just happy to be back."
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