Ahead of the Game: Hitting virtual taters - The Explorer: Import

Ahead of the Game: Hitting virtual taters

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Posted: Monday, June 12, 2006 11:00 pm | Updated: 7:52 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

June 7, 2006 - As a kid, I always had a knack for the long ball. Usually my range of power extended from the backyard Wiffleball Field to the street in front of my house where we'd play a delightfully fun game we dubbed tennis baseball.

Basically, instead of bats we found you could hit a tennis ball much farther if we used a racquet. Call it a performance enhancer if you will; lump me in the same category with Jose Canseco and Barry Bonds, if you must.

On May 29 - Memorial Day - I rediscovered my power-stroke in a most unusual place and in an even more befuddling medium: video homerun derby.

Over the course of my lifetime I've rebelled against the video game movement, which hasn't just washed over the nation, it's completely drowned a generation of kids (and adults) in a sea of virtual fantasy.

I was the kid that would drag his reluctant brothers, friends and cousins outside to play hockey or football even when the temperature in New Jersey was too cold for penguins.

Who needs video games, I thought. Why sit indoors developing carpal-tunnel in your thumbs when you could be outside playing the real thing?

But today's youth don't necessarily share my passion for the great outdoors and video games are partly to blame.

I found myself transfixed, however, as I competed in the Budweiser Long Ball Challenge held at the Fox and Hound. Apparently I didn't need all those years of tennis baseball; when it came to homerun derby on Xbox 360 I, like Roy Hobbs, was a natural.

Here's how it works. Two representatives from Budweiser go out into the crowd and target males in their 20s, like me. They then tantalize you with free T-shirts, hats and a trip to Pittsburgh for the 2006 MLB All-Star Game. You get two-minutes, most homers wins and the top two scores advance to another tournament.

I bit. At the very least, I figured nothing beats a free T-shirt.

So I strolled to the plate - OK, a television in the corner of the restaurant - to take my hacks with my thumbs. Originally, I was disappointed to find that I had no choice; I had to use Andruw Jones of the Atlanta Braves. I wanted Alex Rodriguez.

After pitch after pitch came and left the yard, I put down my complicated controller after the allotted two minutes content that at least I hadn't embarrassed myself: 17 homers, including 10 in row.

Now I can see the draw and the adrenaline rush of putting one out, even if it was Jones who gets the credit.

It was the most dingers the two Bud reps had ever seen hit. One of them then had to walk over to Northwest resident Jay Gonzalez, who was sitting at a nearby table and tell him 15 dingers wasn't enough.

Gonzalez is like me. The last video games we can recall playing were in the early 1990s on game systems like Sega and Nintendo that are now relics and belong in a museum. Our money isn't among the $31 billion being spent around the world annually in the industry.

Judging by Google hits, video games (1.24 billion sites with the word video game) may have replaced baseball (425 million) and all sports as the national pastime. Video games allow us to excel at sports, even if we couldn't hit a cow in the rear end with snow shovel on the baseball diamond.

Apparently, I can do both. Before I head to Pittsburgh, however, I first must win the Tucson regional and the Phoenix state meet. Now, this is beginning to feel like a sport.

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