The future of entertainment
By Gino Bona
Special to Page 2

You know there's something wrong with the Home Run Derby when the highlight of the event happens to be A-Rod's highlights - or "frosted tips."

Looking good, bro.

Now that the Derby is over - and Garret Anderson has become a household name for the next 12 hours - it's time to turn our attention to an event that's far more exciting than watching a bunch of Biffs bop homers against human pitching machines.

It's called the Big Air competition, held in Reno as part of the 2003 Great Outdoor Games, and it's airing July 21st and 22nd on ESPN and ESPN2.

Here's how it works: Twelve dogs jump off a dock and the longest jump wins. Sounds simple, right? Yes, and that -- along with several other reasons -- is what makes this event better than the Home Run Derby.

I've been looking forward to the 2003 Big Air competition for months. I absolutely love dogs. How much? I have a 2-year-old yellow Labrador retriever named Oscar that goes to doggie day care twice a week and has been trained to jump off a dock with Marv Marinovich-like guidance from his owner. Plus, I sincerely believe that "Best in Show" is the greatest motion picture in cinematic history. (And, no, my wife and I are not like the couple that owns the Weimaraner!)

But enough about me and my canine obsessions. Let's get to the argument at hand. Here are ten reasons why the Big Air competition is better than the Home Run Derby.

Gino Bona
Gino Bona and his dog Oscar show no signs of leaving the couch, forget training for the "Big Air" competition.
1. The dogs definitely want to be there.
You can tell the dog's excitement just by looking at each one as they step up onto the 48-foot long dock. Their tales are wagging. Their tongues are hanging out of their mouths. And their legs are trembling like Pookie with the cocaine shakes. Oh yeah, it's time to jump!

What about the players competing in the Home Run Derby, you ask? Please! Barry Bonds -- the best home run hitter in baseball -- turned down an invite to compete by serving up this eloquent excuse: "Because I'm a grown man and I don't have to do it."

You'll never hear a dog bark like that.

2. The dogs have an unshakable superstar that MLB lacks.
Yes, Bonds is the best home run hitter in baseball, but he's hardly the undisputed biggest star in the game that every fan clamors toward.

That's not the case on the docks, baby.

Meet Little Morgan, a black Labrador retriever from Minnesota, who makes Jason Richardson look flat-footed. Little Morgan's the gold medalist from the 2002 Big Air competition, the world record holder, and the #1-ranked athlete on DockDogs.com. Last year, Little Morgan jumped 26-feet, 6-inches to bring home the bling-bling. And his jumps are as sweet as Will Clark's swing (before he expanded like Violet Beauregarde after eating a 3-course meal in a stick of gum). Little Morgan frequently jumps out of the camera's frame w! hen he leaps off the dock . . . while Clark's gut made this whole HDTV thing seem like a bad idea.

Let's put it this way: Tony Kornheiser was irate when Secretariat was ranked #35 on ESPN's list of greatest athletes for the 20th century -- ahead of Mickey Mantle. Little Morgan is poised to make the 21st century list . . . ahead of Bonds.

Little Morgan
Don't be surprised to see SPORTSCENTURY: Little Morgan on ESPN Classic.
3. The competitors don't look the same.
Every Derby contestant has the same physical attributes: Taller than 6' 2", necks that resemble telephone polls, and forearms that look like red whiffle ball bats. Conversely, the dogs always have one competitor who doesn't look like the others. This year, the only non-Labrador retriever is Xena, a German Wirehaired Pointer. Her coat is harsh and wiry -- especially when it gets wet. After a few jumps, Xena looks like Nick Nolte after an all-night bender. How can you beat quality programming like that?

4. The dogs never fail to jump, but the sluggers don't always go yard.
Not only did Bret Boone fail to hit a home run, but he whiffed on a pitch! He definitely put the "boo" in "Boone," baby.

5. The girls compete with the boys.
Remember the publicity generated when Annika Sorenstam played in The Colonial? That was undeniably good for the game of golf. However, unlike golf, Little Morgan won't complain like Vijay Singh.

That's because the 2003 Big Air competition will see four females mixing it up with the fellas. The Big Air competition is an equal opportunity event that lets the best leapers do their thing - regardless of gender.

But beware of potential consequences when you dive into the following formula: Male & Female Dogs + Water = Possible Hanky Panky

Let's just hope that the water cools off the,! um, heat. As Bob Barker prophetically warns, "Have your pet spayed or neutered."

6. The Big Air Competition has an "A-List" Master of Ceremonies.
The 2002 Great Outdoor Games were held in Lake Placid, New York and Governor George Pataki hung the gold medal around Little Morgan's neck on the awards stand. Major League Baseball has Bud Selig. I know, I know. Try to curb your enthusiasm.

7. The dogs simply put on a better all-around show.
Last night's Derby contestants merely stood in the batter's box, hit bombs, and went back to their teammates to exchange lifeless fist-bumps. The dogs have a much more entertaining routine. They anxiously wait for the green light from their handlers to run down the dock to jump . . . look like giant flying squirrels as they leap off the lumber . . . make a huge splash in the water . . . continue swimming to retrieve the chase! object . . . and then swim back to shore and give an Antoine Walker-like shimmy to remove the excess water from their coats. What's not to like about that?

Michael Jackson and Little Morgan
This Michael Jackson isn't the "King of Pop," but his dog Little Morgan reigns supreme in the "Big Air" competition.
8. The unexpected can happen at any given moment.
What happens to Home Run Derby contestants that shocks or excites the public? Well, besides Garrett Anderson winning the damn thing.

The dogs competing in the Big Air competition never let you down. They're all about entertaining the humans. Let's take the sport's Babe Ruth, Little Morgan. Before the 2002 Big Air competition, Little Morgan competed in the Super Retriever Series in Northfield, Minnesota. Little Morgan's owner, Michael Jackson (no, I didn't make that up), went turkey hunting before the Super Retriever Series and left Little Morgan in his truck. Well, dogs will be dogs and Little Morgan ate four days worth of dog food and a 12-inch submarine! sandwich while Jackson was away. According to Jackson, Little Morgan gained 6 pounds and competed in the event with a swollen belly. He finished in 16th place and, most likely, couldn't get comfortable for a week.

Reminds you of the Babe getting hammered the night before a big game, huh?

9. Dog handlers are far more entertaining than pitching coaches.
Dog handlers are a completely different animal. Some run with their dogs down the dock while others stand at the end and throw the chase object. But every one of them boisterously encourages their dog to jump really, really far. They're great additions to the show. Especially the fat ones.

The Derby has a handful of middle-aged men throwing 67 MPH meatballs over the plate while they stand behind a protective screen, thus not allowing for their personalities -- if they exist -- to shine. You're better off using a machine. Hey, you want to impress me? Have each slugger's dad throw balls over the plate! With no protective screen!

10. There is no chance the dogs are corking anything.

They obey the rules.

Gino Bona strictly adheres to "sit" and "stay" on his Wink & The Gun web site, which can be reached at www.winkandthegun.com. Email him at gino@winkandthegun.com.





BIG AIR

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