Let’s set the scene: Ben Franklin Parkway on a Monday afternoon. Around 1,000 people line the street to watch our five foot eight shortstop attempt to break a record held by the fattest, slobbiest, power hitter of all-time, Babe Ruth.
Our protagonist's tools? A hollowed out aluminum bat and some jacked up baseballs that would make Acme jealous.
The cause? A boatload of cash from his sponsor, Red Bull. Oh yeah, history, too.
I didn’t have a credential for this one, so I set myself up along the waist-level fence, just a few feet behind the other media folk in attendance. Luckily for me, J-Roll™ decided that trying to hit 600 feet to straight-away center – or, in this case, the 75-foot wide Parkway – would be a difficult task. The Red Bull folks adjusted the plate so it was pointed at a 45 degree angle… or, as I’d like to mention, directly at my face.
That’s right, why not line up 1,000 people around what would normally be second base to watch a Major Leaguer use an aluminum bat to smoke jacked up baseballs with all his might? Sounds safe.
About five minutes before Mick Billmeyer began serving up meatballs to J-Roll™, a Red Bull employee bum-rushed me to get to the railing I was leaning on. In his hand, a cardboard sign informing spectators that they accept all risk of injury by standing in such close proximity to a batting practice on steroids.
Awesome. Should have brought my glove.
It was apparent from the start that J-Roll™ had no shot at hitting the ball 500 feet, let alone breaking the 575-foot record. Before taking his first cut, at 12:30, ESPN 3 announcers – Doug Glanville and some guy wearing a top hat that made him look like one of the bad guys from The Adjustment Bureau (an awful, awful movie) - interviewed Young James, Billmeyer, a 4’2 rep from Guinness, and one of the mad scientists who helped develop Rollins’ weapon bat.
The scientist described the advantages Babe Ruth had in hitting his 575 foot home run: more tightly wound baseballs (not the uber-modern equipment Jimmy was using), a 20 MPH tailwind (apparently John Bolaris was there with a fucking windsock that day), and competition. Yes, that’s right, one of the advantages Ruth had was the professional pitcher throwing to him. You can’t make this shit up, folks.
The scientist was then asked if he thought J-Roll™ had a chance to break the record. He was speechless. Literally. Nothing came out. Just lips moving. Something tells me we’re not going to see history today, Virginia.
It was at this point I was feeling bad for poor Jamie Apody. She was camped out a few feet off-center from Billmeyer’s pitching screen. If J-Roll™ was just a split second late on a pitch, we were in for a lot more Keith Russell.
Except for a few cops, another blogger, and Rollins’ screaming family, no one was lined up on the pull side (J-Roll™ was batting right-handed). Thank god.
After a couple fly balls (tell me when you’re surprised), J-Roll™ roped some off the third base side fence and one of the many flags lining the Parkway. Who would have thought that having a pro hit baseballs in a relatively narrow area would be dangerous?
After about 25 swings, which produced nothing more than a couple of 450 blasts, J-Roll™ took a mandated Red Bull break. Meanwhile, in the death zone, I was approached by Zachariah Selwyn, the runner-up on ESPN’s first season of Dream Job and the brilliant lyricist behind How to Get a Medical Marijuana Card. It was at this point I decided I was going to be as much of a jackass as humanely possible.
Let’s hit the reset button first: 12:45, 0 records, 0 balls that traveled even 500 feet, an expiring parking meter, the very real possibility that I was going to get decapitated, and Zachariah Selwyn, the guy who was once told to cut his hair if he ever wanted to make it in the business, asking me if I ever read the Guinness Book of World Records.
No, I haven’t, Zach.
Is Rollins going to break the record?
Um, probably not, Zach. He’s taken 25 swings, hit two fences, three trees, a flag, and not one within 100 feet of his target. To make matters worse, he has to hit the ball within a very narrow window.
Yeah, but they turned the plate so he could pull…
Yeah. I know, Zach. It’s still the equivalent of forcing him to hit a 600-foot blast directly over the shortstop’s head.
Perhaps I wasn’t that snarky… but it was close. I signed a waiver, though something tells me I’m not making it into the final cut of ESPN's documentary. You say documentary, I say Red Bull ad. Tomato, to- oh my god a ball just flew over my head.
A part of me thought J-Roll™ was just messing around, and that his little Red Bull break was going to result in the next pitch going 600 feet. It didn’t. A few more balls approached the 450 range, but nothing farther. A couple of wayward smashes found their way into the crowd. Another one – thankfully not a liner – almost hit a row of parked cars on the street behind me.
J-Roll™ had about five “last swings.” None of them resulted in the record.
So what did we learn today, kids? Well, when your team’s five foot eight, 170 pound leadoff hitter tries to break a record set by arguably the greatest home run hitter of all-time, he’s usually going to fail.
There was really no need for this. Red Bull is paying J-Roll™ a boatload of money and they sponsor his Twitter and Facebook accounts. Today's cock-up was just another extension of that partnership.
We all know Rollins is a man of many interests. He has his tentacles deep within the music industry and trademarked his own name. There’s nothing wrong with a little publicity, but I’m not sure trying to shatter an 80-year-old record, all as part of a ridiculous P.T. Barnum-like stunt, is what J-Roll™ needs to be doing right now.
He was 0-for-15 before going 4-for-4 in Sunday’s game. He had found his swing again. Today, in a failed attempt at history, he launched about 50 bombs with a hollowed out aluminum bat on the Parkway. That can’t be good for said swing.
Disagree? Let’s see how he does this week.
I would have included more – there's about 25 minutes worth of video – but it's all the same.