LOS ANGELES (AP) — Juan Soto’s name recently came up in business speculation after he allegedly turned down a contract offer of $440 million for 15 years stay with the Washington Nationals.
The outfielder was in the spotlight during Monday’s media sessions.
And on Monday night, he took center stage by winning the Home Run Derby.
Soto threw his bat in the air after his 19th homer in the finals, outscoring Seattle Mariners rookie Julio Rodriguez to win by one.
“It feels great,” Soto said. “I will be a Home Run Derby champion forever.”
Soto, 23, and Rodriguez, 21, are examples of some of the young talent in the game. One of the game’s all-time greats, 42-year-old Albert Pujols, also provided highlights.
Players from the National League All-Star team gathered around Pujols before the St. Louis Cardinals big man began his bonus round in his first-round matchup with Kyle Schwarber of the Philadelphia Phillies.
Players on the American League roster ran from near the other dugout to show their appreciation for Pujols, who is in his 22nd major league season.
Soon, all the All-Stars in the Home Run Derby surrounded Pujols in an impromptu salute.
“That was pretty impressive,” Pujols said when interviewed on the field immediately after his round.
Pujols was not finished. Former Cub Schwarber, the event’s top seed, also finished his round with 13 home runs, leading to a one-minute swing-off.
The chants of “Albert Pujols” resounded throughout the stadium. The cheers grew louder with each home run.
Pujols finished the first-round matchup one more home run than Schwarber before losing in the semifinals to Soto, his compatriot from the Dominican Republic.
“That was a really special moment,” Soto said. “I was sitting down and even my BP pitcher, he was telling me about it. It may be his last Home Run Derby and All-Star Game, so we should be there for him and give him some power to keep him going.”
Soto added about his confrontation with Pujols: “I respect him a lot. Even though I won it at the end of the day, it’s just a competition. He knows how proud I am of him and how much talent he brings to all generations and the advice he gives us.”
Rodriguez, also from the Dominican Republic, reached the final after hitting 32 home runs in his first-round win against the Texas Rangers’ Corey Seager and 31 in the semifinals, denying the New York Mets’ Pete Alonso the opportunity for a triple.
Rodríguez was first in the final and hit 18 home runs. Soto knew what he had to achieve and celebrated between home plate and the mound after emerging victorious.
“It shows you the generation that we have coming up, all the players that we have,” Soto said of the final matchup with Rodriguez.
As for what’s ahead for Soto: “I just let my agent do what he has to do. All the conversations they have, they are going to have with him. I’m only going to be here to play baseball. I’m just going to go to Nationals Park and give my 100% every day.”