SBJ/19980629/This Weeks Issue

McGwire’s McBlasts make cheap seats the place to be

Mark McGwire is doing for baseball what it hasn’t done for itself. Call him “The Slambino,” call him “The Big Bopper,” call him “MacZilla,” call him “Paul Bunyan with a bat.” But whatever you call him, you can also call McGwire the biggest thing in sports since Michael Jordan walked off the court after Game 6 of the NBA finals.

Not only is Roger Maris’ home run record in jeopardy, but so, too, are distant seats, scoreboards and even cars in faraway parking lots. In Minnesota, the Twins planned to hand out hard hats to everyone in the oxygen-challenged seats at the Metrodome. For the first time in baseball history, fans have taken to buying seats in the outer reaches of the upper deck instead of the more expensive seats closer to the field, all the better to see McGwire launch one of his cloudbusters. One 510-footer somehow, someway snuck through an open panel in Arizona’s Bank One Ballpark and landed on the street. It may be the only ball that will ever be hit out of that fortress. Another dinger dented a St. Louis Post-Dispatch sign on the upper-deck center field façade in Busch Stadium, which the next day wore a 4-1/2-foot Band-Aid to Mark the sport.

Even batting practice has become an event. Before a sold-out game in San Diego, 30,000 fans arrived early just to see McGwire take BP. Everywhere McGwire goes, the scene is the same: Everyone stops, nobody fungoes, everybody watches. There is a ring around the batting cage from dugout to dugout. One awed observer, Houston Astro coach Tom McCraw, marveled, “I’m in this game 38 years and I’m about to watch this guy take BP. I ain’t gonna miss it.”

At one game, McGwire smote a ball into Big Mac Land, an area of Busch Stadium where everyone in its 200 or so seats gets a free McDonald’s Big Mac if a ball reaches there. Only this was Beanie Baby Night and the promotion had been extended to include all 47,549 fans in attendance. McDonald’s handed out $95,000 worth of sesame-seed buns and all-beef patties along with a ton of special sauce atop to crowds that lined up as if it were a Powerball line.

FROM UNDER MY HAT: Molson’s Ale, peeved that it lost its rights to “Hockey Night in Canada” after umpty-ump years of sponsorship, ran a commercial feeding the fears of Canadian hockey fans that they were losing their national sport to Southern cities. The commercial features a man addressing a group of NHL executives in a drawl, saying, “Gentlemen, down South we all have trouble followin’ yo’ puck. What we want to do is introduce this heah blue streak on the screen every time someone passes the puck. And when they shoot it, a red streak. Blue, pass … red, shoot. … Ya’ git it, bhoys?” The next thing you see is the door flying open and the man flies out, a blue streak trailing after him. … The proposed NBA lockout next month might well deep-six another Dream Team romping through the World Championships. And save bettors from having to take Cameroon and 123 points. … The American Medical Association, obviously with little else to do, criticized Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bull teammates for celebrating their sixth NBA championship by lighting up stogies. Yeah, like tell that to Red Auerbach, who celebrated his 1,036 games and nine championships by cramming an enormous stogie in his mouth and contentedly sitting back to enjoy both his victories and his cigar. … Bob Lemon became the sixth Cleveland Indian to have his number retired. Well, sorta. Seems that Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove, who now wears number 21, refused to give it up, saying, “It’s been my number since my first day in the big leagues.”

HAVING LITTLE TO DO WITH ANYTHING: When Tampa Bay pitchers Jason Johnson and Eddie Gaillard were called up from the minors to face the Angels in Anaheim, they caught a cab from the airport and asked the driver to take them to the newly named Edison Field. The cabby, never having heard of the “Big E,” promptly took them to the ballfield at Edison Elementary School in Anaheim. … With hooliganism running rampant at World Cup matches, one French region, Alsace, on France’s eastern border, is billing itself as an “official soccer-free zone” to attract fearful tourists. … Green Bay city officials are considering renaming the street where Brett Favre is building a steakhouse “Brett Favre Pass.” Sure beats the “tribute” paid Vince Lombardi by naming a rest stop for him on the New Jersey Turnpike.

ENDQUOTES: Fox Sports announcer Chet Coppock on the upcoming rassling bout between Karl “The Mauler” Malone and Dennis “Rodzilla” Rodman: “I’ve got the over/under on their ring time at about 90 seconds.” … Mark Kriegel in the New York Daily News: “Obviously, Americans don’t riot well enough to be considered serious contenders in soccer.”
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