I've thought aloud on this blog before about Sports Reality TV and came up with these ideas previously. Those were written, of course, is jest, but this one is written with a bit more seriousness.
Let's stage a national home run contest. Naturally, major leaguers and former major leaguers would be ineligible, and I'll leave open the debate about former minor-leaguers (or former minor-leaguers who played AA ball or above). There will be drug-testing, to ensure that steroids, HGH and other drugs cannot permeate into this fun. After that, millions of Americans will be eligible to participate -- against, of course, reasonable, batting practice-speed pitching. After all, it was once said that the hardest thing to do in professional sports is hit a baseball. It's hard enough without it coming at you at 93 mph and then bending slightly within a foot of your face. Straight-up, BP fastballs, that's the ticket.
Now, I don't expect that we'll get contestants coming out of the woodwork the way they do on American Idol, but then again more Americans think they can sing than think they can hit a baseball, and more Americans probably listen to music than watch baseball games. Fine, because we need the process to be manageable.
Out of 280 million Americans, if we stage this contest, people will enter.
I'd envision running the entry-level contests at every minor-league ballpark in the country and at or near every major-league ballpark in the country, with brackets ultimately being composed of people from an American League orbit and a National League orbit (that is, if you start out at at a minor league park of an AL affiliate, you're in the American League half). People of all ages can enter, and, yes, we don't want the HS kids because we don't want to jeopardize their amateur status (and there will be big bucks in this tournament). I want the cross-country truck driver who lives in Elko, Nevada, the foreman of a steel fabrication shop in Plainfield, New Jersey, the high school baseball coach from Ninety-Six, South Carolina, the durable medical equipment sales representative from Casco, Maine, the building inspector from Yakima, Washington and the film studio carpenter from Studio City, California. All of them.
Now, before you say, so what, they've tried that before in golf, and Evan "Big Cat" Williams won those long-driving contests on ESPN14 at 2:30 a.m., let's make this more interesting. Let's put a $1 million prize for the winner (along with some customized Hillerich & Bradsby bats), and, say $200,000 for the runner-up. Ultimately, the winner will be decided on a live prime-time show on All-Star Game weekend or prior to a World Series game (given how late these games start these days). Stage it at Fenway, at Wrigley, or at the "Field of Dreams" field in Iowa. Cloak it in history or lore.
There are details to be worked out, such as the identity of the pitchers (and you could get one-time big-name players to pitch to the contestants in semi-final and final rounds), how many rounds there will be, how many swings a contestant will get in each round, etc., but the basic premise is there.
The Great American Home Run Hitting Contest.
Baseball is, at heart, a kid's game. And what better thing to do than to stage a contest that brings out the little kid in everyone?
Who is this year's version of "The Whammer", Babe Ruth, Henry Aaron? Which earnest fellow has left his day job behind for a little while to win this contest? It's America and part of Americana, plain and simple.
Major League Baseball might need a contest like this more than ever, if for no other reason than to remind everyone that baseball is a game for the whole family, a game that the Red Sox taught us last fall is about comebacks, never quitting, redemption, beautiful settings and prodigious feats, and not about Congress, off-the-field issues and performance-enhancing drugs.
In an age where legends cannot get traction and myths cannot swell because there are too many microscopes and scrutinizers to take the lustre off just about anything, it would be fun to have a Paul Bunyan swinging for the fences.
To bring out the little kid in all of us once again.