Imagine the NBA holding a slam-dunk contest on a 9-foot hoop or golfers playing the U.S. Open on a par-3 course.
That's what Monday's All-Star Home Run Derby will be like with some of baseball's biggest sluggers launching balls into mile-high air."To me, that's going to be the highlight of this whole All-Star Game," said San Diego's Tony Gwynn.
In this, the Year of the Homer in baseball, there is no more fitting venue to host St. Louis' Mark McGwire and the other long-ball contestants than Coors Field, where more homers have been hit the past two seasons than in any other major league ballpark.
The lineups had not yet been completed Sunday for the event, which for the first time will be televised in prime time, but among the most likely participants are: McGwire, Atlanta's Chipper Jones and Andres Galarraga, and Colorado's Vinny Castilla for the NL; Seattle's Alex Rodriguez, Cleveland's Jim Thome, Detroit's Damion Easley, Baltimore's Rafael Palmeiro and Anaheim's Darin Erstad in the AL.
Ken Griffey Jr. of the Seattle Mariners, leading the AL in homers, announced last month that he would skip this year's event because it messes with his swing. And the Cubs' Sammy Sosa, who set a record with 20 homers in June, had to pull out Sunday with a sore left shoulder.
Still, Sosa was planning to attend the festivities in Denver as a spectator.
"You know me, I want to be there," he said. "I'll be there watching McGwire."
McGwire should test the laws of gravity and may crush the stadium record for the longest homer, a 496-shot belonging to Mike Piazza. In fact, some of the restaurants and art galleries surrounding Coors Field may want to board up some windows with Big Mac coming to town.
And although Sosa and Griffey - who with McGwire will be chasing Roger Maris' record of 61 homers - won't be participating, the St. Louis first baseman was looking forward to his sixth home-run contest.
"I've enjoyed it. I think that's probably the best part of the All-Star game," he said. "Everybody has their own opinions about it, but I enjoy it. I'm sure they have their reasons (for pulling out)."
Before the homers start flying on Monday, NL manager Jim Leyland and the AL's Mike Hargrove will announce their lineups and starting pitchers for the 69th All-Star game. Atlanta's Greg Maddux (12-2) is expected to be Leyland's choice while Yankees left-hander David Wells (11-2) may get the nod from Hargrove.
Also on Monday, four teams - each made up of a celebrity, a major league rookie and a retired All-Star - will compete in a new event, the MCI Hitting Challenge. Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway, actor Kevin Costner, George Brett, Andre Dawson, Dave Kingman and Robin Young are some of the participants.
They'll serve as a prelude to the big boys, who'll be taking aim at the Rockpile, a section of seats in deep, straightaway center field.
"I had a great time last year," Jones said. "I'll go out and embarrass myself again. I know I'm not going to win but I'll sure go out and try to hit one in the third deck."