Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Baseball's All Star Classic 2010

They’re lining the field in Anaheim for the All Star Game tonight. The ballots have been counted, players have been selected, and the first pitch will open the door to another well contested event.

The brains of baseball figured out some years ago that the all star game would be more significant if there were a little carrot at the end of the stick. They decided that the winner would be the host of the World Series at the end of the season, a distinct advantage. As a result, the games are hotly contested. They are truly games, and not frivolous contests. Hockey and basketball have yet to discover a formula to add any excitement to their all star games. The National Football League game for all of its “chosen ones” is a joke.

Baseball also figured out an activity to add to the festivities in the four day break. They would have a home run contest. They would choose the best home run hitters, and let them come up with a king of the dingers.

All players in the contest are allowed to choose their own pitchers. It is a batting practice format. Pitchers stand a little closer to the batter, well protected by a cage. Batters may pick and choose their pitches, but only put numbers on the board when their hits go over the fence.

Champions in the event are not always the biggest and the strongest individuals. Timing is a factor in this endeavour, although it doesn’t hurt to be six feet five inches tall, tipping the scales over two hundred and fifty pounds.

Last night’s winner fitted that bill perfectly. His name is David Ortiz, better known as “Big Papi”, and he plays for the Boston Red Sox. He is a giant, and he can knock the cover off a baseball. But he does not always make good contact, and several of the expert reporters did not select him as their favourite to win. In the final analysis, he was able to put more balls in the seats than any of the other competitors to win the title.

The event fits the format perfectly. After much deliberation, I have concluded that there would only be one event that could take place in all the other major sports which would be comparable to the Home Run Derby: a punting contest for football players.

Even that falls short of the importance of the Home Run. Naturally, a long punt is a good thing in football; however, few outcomes are determined by punters. Home run hitters often make the difference in a ball game. Skating is critical in hockey, but a skating race in the All Star Break is pretty much a yawner. Ditto for the hardest shot contest; nice, but fairly meaningless.

Basketball has its skills competitions, with the emphasis on the Slam Dunk. No matter has you dress up that event, it still is something many of us will never completely understand. It was a chore to run and touch the mesh hanging from the hoop, for me personally. The only times I touched the hoop happened when I was adjusting the netting on a step ladder.

They do have three point shooting contests, with money balls and the like. But it pales in comparison with “Going, going, gone!” in baseball lingo.

Football coaches would never allow their quaterbacks to participate in contests of passing for distance. “Sorry, coach, I tore up my shoulder in that last throw. Torn rotator cuff. See you next year.” That will not happen. Tackling contests? I don’t think so!

Baseball’s Home Run Derby stands alone as an activity in sport. It generates sufficient interest within the game to be an attractive event. All position players from both teams hang out on the field to encourage their teammates. Sons and daughters of all of the players chase balls, play catch, and towel off their fathers for support. It is indeed a family activity.

It is what the game needs, desperately, to keep its fans interested.

On Friday the Jays move on to Baltimore to complete the second half of the season. They need more offence from Hill and Lind, quality starts from all their pitchers, strong relief, and continued good play from the three players they sent to the all Star Game: John Buck, Vernon Wells, and current home run leader, Jose Bautista.

Time will tell. Manager Cito Gaston has his work cut out for him. He will need to pull those magic strings at critical times, hopefully for the best.

Well done, big Papi!

James Hurst
July 14, 2010

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