By Michael Clair
The All-Star Game. The Midsummer Classic. The Best of the Flesh. The Ole Summer Pick-and-Choosy. No matter what you call it, it's the highlight of the season for baseball fans who like to watch the very best players show off their skills and try their hardest not to get hurt.
But in today's chaotic age where video games, internet, TV shows, DVRs, jobs and lying in bed questioning the meaning existence all vie for a viewer's time, it's hard to grab people's attention. Even with the sheer amount of star power at the All-Star Game -- and gigantic men with muscles the size of ripe cantaloupes blasting home runs in the Derby -- sometimes that highly sought-after 18- to 49-year-old demographic can't be snagged.
With that in mind, here are seven events that could boost the All-Star weekend to new heights, making it required viewing for 72 straight hours.
The Bunting Derby
Yes, home runs are sexy. Home runs are cool. But you know what a small minority of fans also find sexy? The talent and skill of a properly placed bunt. If a home run is the $200 million Michael Bay summer blockbuster, then bunting is the small independent drama that wins awards for its understated look at our own mortality.
Are you really saying you wouldn't tune in to watch Billy Hamilton take on Leonys Martin? Ichiro Suzuki vs. Dee Gordon? Tanner Roark vs. Jean Segura?
In case those matchups don't get your blood pumping, this wouldn't just be a contest to see how many bunts land fair in a minute's time. This would be a contest where players must avoid bunting into the dreaded lava, minefield or sludge pit of hopeless despair. It's like a baseball version of Mario Kart. And while insurance companies might tell you not to play with actual mines or hot lava, the kids today know the difference between real fear and a facsimile.
Pitcher's Home Run Derby
What's fun about watching a bunch of guys who are really good at home runs swinging for the fences? That's like asking Batman to beat up some purse-snatchers. It's routine at this point.
But pitchers, on the other hand? Now that would be fun to watch. Madison Bumgarner has already stated his desire to compete in the Home Run Derby (career .153/.198/.226 hitter with 4 home runs, 10th among active pitchers), as has Justin Verlander (career .069/.069/.069 hitter, 0 home runs). Get Yovani Gallardo (12 HR) and Travis Wood (8 HR) in there, and you've got a real competition brewing.
Of course, Bartolo Colon is automatically the top seed.
Let's say you like the idea of the Home Run Derby, but much like Dr. Claw from Inspector Gadget, you crave even more power. More strength. More giant muscles. You don't really care how those talents translate onto the baseball field; you just want to see the biggest and beefiest ballplayers out there.
You're in luck. Because we're going to put them in a wrestling onesie, wrap a back brace around them and have them throw boulders over walls and stuff.
After one more position player takes the mound, 2014 will set the record for most position players pitching in a season. With the need to preserve bullpen arms becoming ever more important, managers are increasingly turning to their utility infielders to pitch.
While the actual All-Star Game lacks a "pitcher/infielder/outfielder" designation, it's time to honor these double threats.
Like Dean Anna and his 56 mph knuckler:
Or Drew Butera's 94 mph fastball:
But this wouldn't just be the Test Your Speed booth at the county fair. Instead, a panel of international judges and scouts would grade the participants on velocity, control, and the joie de vivre they express through their craft.
Hopefully we can also find a loophole to get Jeff Francoeur (4.26 ERA in 6.1 IP with the Triple-A El Paso Chihuahuas) into the competition. He deserves it.
Clubhouse Obstacle Course
While some people want a straight race between players like Dee Gordon and Billy Hamilton, I say no thanks. If I wanted to watch guys run around for no reason, I'd watch soccer. (Just kidding. I, too, have been struck with World Cup Fever.) Hence, a clubhouse obstacle course.
To win, the players must race from the parking lot to the clubhouse, get dressed for the game, avoid a series of obstacles, dig through a kiddie pool filled with chocolate syrup and find the flag hidden in a giant nose.
(Double Dare image via Pixelated Pop)
Not only will this test a player's speed, agility and ability to locate objects buried inside a comically-large facial feature, but it will also gauge how many hours they've spent watching Nickelodeon -- something fans have long wanted to know.
Should it be too difficult to find a team willing to cover their clubhouse in a fine layer of green slime, bringing back Supermarket Sweep isn't a bad idea, either.
So far, all of the ideas have at least been in the athletic realm. But we have 162 games a year to watch baseball players play sports. Why not have them expand their horizons? Hence, the MLB Science Fair.
Each manager will pair up two players who must demonstrate their science skills to a panel made up of high school science teachers, people who've seen a few episodes of Cosmos and their own parents.
And last, we have the Final Boat. Inspired by MLB's Final Vote, in which fans select the last players to be added to the roster, this event has a slight twist: Instead of fans choosing, the final candidates are put on a boat that's been marooned in the middle of the ocean. Who will survive and reach the All-Star Game first?
Will it be the player who tries to swim through shark-infested waters? The one who signals for help? The one who fashions a crude raft out of driftwood? Combining heart-pounding reality TV and that movie where Tom Hanks became friends with a volleyball, this would be a true ratings blockbuster, with the entire world tuning to see who will survive the weekend and help their league win the big game.
Sadly, due to timing and massive legal issues, none of these events will be ready to go for this year's summer tilt. Hopefully we'll see at least a few of them come to fruition within the next few years. The future beckons.
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