Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Home Run Derby & Celebrity Toss


There used to be a cheap little black-and-white TV show called Home Run Derby that ran from 1959 to 1961. Hosted by Mark Scott, it pitted sluggers againts other sluggers in head-to-head competition -- like Gil Hodges vs. Willie Mays. Every show would begin and end with an announcer naming a litany of baseball stars who'd appeared on the show or would appear on the show, capped off by the words ". . . and many others" -- leading many young schoolchildren to wonder, no doubt, when that Latin slugger, Manny Uthers, would be on the show. But -- it was the 50s, and the Latin slugger hadn't quite been invented yet in America.

The patter on the show was classic Americana. In a typical episode, exchanges such as the following could be heard:

Scott: Boy, Mickey, Kenny Boyer sure hit that ball a long ways.
Mickey Mantle: He certainly did, Mark.
That's back when America surely assumed that Mickey Mantle went home after the show was over and had cookies and milk.

I'd never have guessed that from this meager beginning, Major League Baseball's Home Run Derby would emerge, and that it would be so much fun to watch. Last night was the 21st anniversary of MLB's version, so I guess it has some staying power. In front of a packed PNC Park crowd, Ryan Howard of the Phillies came back from behind, after little David Wright of the Mets surprised the crowd with 16 dingers in the first round, beating Wright in the 3rd round with a monster homer to left-center that bounced off of a Master Card sign, awarding a lucky fan 500 free airplane flights. Howard and David Ortiz put several home run balls into the Allegheny River outside PNC Park, initiating an impromptu game of bobbing-for-baseballs among kayakers paddling nearby.

As a backdrop to the conspicuous display of slugging, there were plenty of celebrities around at which to gawk. Directly in front of our section sat the MLB big-wigs and their guests, including baseball commissioner Bud Selig, who apparently travels with a big guy who opens bottles for him and stuff; George Will and his family; Lynn Whitfield; and many others (not "Manny Uthers"). George is, of course, known to be one of the foremost baseball fans on Sunday morning TV, but he got so excited when he appeared in a film clip on the Jumbotron, talking about Ted Williams, that he jumped and pointed at it, apparently doing his best to convince his sons that he's all-that when it comes to baseball.

Speaking of all-that, before the game, Alyssa Milano put in a cameo appearance down near the dugouts, shilling a line of ladies' baseball gear, trading body-checks with Derek Jeter and posing for photos with fans. A line of ladies' baseball gear? Because . . . when you think of Alyssa Milano, you think of baseball -- right? Anyway, that's one appearance I was not too happy about. Somebody should tell me when there's a chance that Alyssa and I are going to the same party -- we're not currently speaking to each other. Don't ask me about it, it's just too painful to talk about.

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