Braun pegs agent as Derby BP pitcher
Brewers outfielder selects friend and former prospect
MILWAUKEE -- Agent Nez Balelo goes to great lengths to serve his clients, even if it means showing off his fastball in front of more than 50,000 baseball fans.Balelo, a one-time Seattle Mariners prospect who now works on the other side of the white lines, will be the pitcher for the Brewers' Ryan Braun in the State Farm Home Run Derby on Monday at Yankee Stadium.
The Derby can be seen live on MLB.com by MLB.TV and All-Star package subscribers, and on ESPN, beginning at 7 p.m. CT.
Players get to choose their own pitcher, who is usually a member of the big league coaching staff. But there are exceptions, including last year, when Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder tabbed Minor League manager Mike Guerrero and Rockies outfielder Matt Holliday invited his brother, Josh. The Mets' David Wright finished second in 2006 with teammate Paul Lo Duca as his pitcher. And in 2001, the D-backs' Luis Gonzalez won the event with Arizona bullpen catcher Jeff Motuzas serving up fastballs."It was a natural decision; it just makes sense," Braun said. "He's going to be there anyway. I'd love to have [Brewers infield coach Dale Sveum] come, but he's going on vacation with his family, so I wouldn't want to take that away from him." Balelo, a longtime friend of Braun's, might be the first agent to give it a try. "What can I say?" Balelo said. "It will probably be the biggest stage that the two of us will ever be on. We're going to cherish every moment of it." The last time they were in the spotlight together was on May 15, when the Brewers announced a seven-year contract extension with Braun that guarantees as much as $51 million. Balelo is part of the Creative Artists Agency (CAA) in Los Angeles, the same firm that represents fellow Brewers All-Stars Ben Sheets and Corey Hart. The big league setting will not be entirely foreign to Balelo, a Mariners fourth-round selection in the 1985 First-Year Player Draft whose promising baseball career was cut short after he was involved in an accident at an offseason construction job. After that, Balelo started baseball development camps in Los Angeles. That's where he first threw batting practice to Braun, who later attended the University of Miami and signed with the Brewers after they made him the fifth overall pick in the 2005 Draft. Braun and Balelo still meet up in the offseason for batting practice. "Nez has been throwing to me for probably seven, eight years -- it's been a while now," Braun said. "I'm comfortable facing him, and I think it gives me the best chance to win." But while the two friends have been batting practice partners for a long time, they've certainly never done their routine in front of 56,000 fans and millions on TV. "Of course there is the anticipation and the nerves setting in," Balelo said. "But what are you going to do? I've done it for so many years, and I've done it with him so many times, that I am just going to try to block everything else out the best that I can. Hopefully, I'll find his bat and the baseballs will find their way over the wall. "I know his swing like the back of my hand. We'll be able to make adjustments as we go, and we're hoping that it will be a nice little formula. We should have some good chemistry." In addition to the bright lights, Yankee Stadium also brings another quirk that might make a Home Run Derby title tough for Braun. The famous short porch in right field will aid Braun's lefty-hitting competition, but he isn't worried. "Yeah, [lefties] will definitely have an advantage," Braun said. "But I think it will just depend on who is swinging the bat well that day and who get in a good groove. Hopefully I'll be there in the end. All you can ask for is a chance."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Dave Fultz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.