Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Buy Sam a Drink: Kentucky Derby vs. Home Run Derby

One day when I have the luxury of taking summer vacations, it is going to be oh-so-easy to pick a week to go – find out when the MLB All-Star game is and then pick a destination. Honestly, if you are a sports fan and you choose to vacation during the week of the Baseball All-Star game, you miss ABSOLUTELY NOTHING in the sports world. I always felt that Sports Center should just take the week off and morph into ESPN Classic for a few days.

But today we are still obligated to cover the sports world, and even give it a little “all-star” flavor if we can. So today I am calling upon my unique and varied array of sports experiences to settle a debate that has probably never even been proposed before, and probably will never be proposed in the future.

So because we need to write something All-Star related, it is time to decide…


Put your strange round hat on with me after the jump

Before we even start, I am going to direct everyone’s attention to the fifth word in the capitalized, bolded question above: “sporting”. Comparing the events based on how fun they are is not worth anyone’s time. The Kentucky Derby is a beautiful and strange dichotomy that fuses the most pristine and moneyed traditions in the Bluegrass State with the most catastrophic scenes of drunken debauchery imaginable. As an event and a social gathering, few things can top the Kentucky Derby – certainly not The Home Run Derby. Instead, we will focus on the aspect of “sport” in the event – how entertaining it is, how memorable, and which one makes you more prideful when you say “yeah, so I was at the _____ Derby last week…”

I have been to both events twice, the Home Run Derby obviously in 1994 and 2006 in Pittsburgh and the Kentucky Derby the past two springs. I have long wondered whether the 1994 Home Run Derby was actually one of the better ones over the years, or if I just think that because I was so young and I was in attendance that day. The fact that steroids had not yet crept into the public conscious probably made the event seem inarguably genuine and downright heroic, as opposed to, say, Bobby freaking Abreu belting 41 homers, causing everyone I was watching with to laugh and say what a joke the competition had turned into. The strike was just weeks away that summer of 1994 and the All-Star festivities would serve as one of the last chances to see the game for long, long time.

In ’94 there was no river or bay or hit it here sign – just a far-too-large-for-baseball stadium that made it seem like there was just a boundless quality to any homer that was hit. No one could hit it out of Three Rivers, but anything reaching the Upper Deck would surely get an uproarious response. I remember giggling as Mike Piazza hit zero homer runs, and then sitting in awe as Frank Thomas put the “star” on the Upper Deck. Ken Griffey Jr. was my favorite player at the time, and watching him lazily float balls into the right field Upper Deck (“lazily” isn’t meant as a harsh remark – it’s just Griffey’s style) was probably my most memorable baseball experience in Three Rivers.

By the next time I attended the event, things were definitely different. Big and Rich was on the field performing while Chris Berman was screaming Chris Berman things over the PA. The event was fun, but it was largely saved by the fact that Ryan Howard hit the sign to win somebody a million dollars or flights or whatever (see, I was there and can’t even remember). I had a great time because I was with my brother, but by the second round, you are a little “ooh” and “ahh”-ed out.

The problem of over-indulgence does not occur, however, at the Kentucky Derby. Well, as far as watching the horseracing is concerned. Yes, there are races throughout the day, but I personally have never paid them much attention. The entire day drifts (perhaps staggers is a better word) along towards the six o’clock hour, when all of Churchill Downs turn their attention to the track.

I should pause here to note that I have never won any money at Churchill Downs. If such was the case, then I would without hesitation say that the Kentucky Derby is a better event. But that is the problem – you are betting on a freaking horse. As my dad says, if the athlete you are betting on cannot tell you how it is feeling before it competes, it isn’t worth betting on. The horse isn’t going to come out and say it feels tired or tight, after all.

But while this is somewhat of a drawback, it also makes the event intriguingly entertaining. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, thinks they have some kind of inside info on who will win. Suddenly everyone is a horseracing expert and knows that so-and-so runs better on a wet track, or a long track, or whatever. It is the baseball equivalent of a new fan seeing Brady Anderson’s 1996 stats and informing you that he is a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame. And of course, everyone is plastered, so disagreeing with someone entails that they either 1) spend 30 minutes following you to tell you why they are right or 2) sock you in the face.

All the speculation and drunken banter culminates in the most exciting two minutes in sports – literally. Eight hours of drinking, scorching heat, and illogical wagers produce a kind of fervor that can only be matched by the closest, down to the wire games. It is one of the few guarantees in sports, as far as excitement goes. Super Bowls are often blowouts while the NBA Finals and World Series have practically trademarked anti-climacticism (it’s a new trademarked word – don’t use it or you owe Bud and David money). The Kentucky Derby always delivers, though.

The ’94 Derby was a special event for me, but since then it is clear that everyone’s interest has waned. Like a traveling circus with Chris Berman as the ringmaster, the Home Run Derby stops into town for a night, lasts late into the night, and then packs up, only feeling fresh the next year because few can remember who won it the prior year. Sure people don’t remember Derby winners, but they aren’t over-saturated by the activity. A super-anticipated horse race beats 4 hours of home runs any day of the week.

The “party of the summer” atmosphere doesn’t hurt, either.

Which means…

Hey Kentucky Derby!



SeanCollier said...

Every year, I find myself thinking, "Oh, the home run derby. I'll be out, so I should tape it." Then, when it comes time to set the timer, I think..."Wait, why the hell would I tape the home run derby?"

tecmo said...

I didn't read the post. I just ogled the pics...

Unknown said...

This blog doesn't need a whole lot more of anything, except pictures of Erin Andrews.