Saturday, May 06, 2000

Going, going, still going ...



[mcgwire]
Mark McGwire hits the longest yard on the riverfront.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
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        Matt Huller is going to hate himself this morning. He gave up his ticket to Friday's Reds-Cardinals game to stay home in St. Louis to cut the grass.

columnist
        He not only missed seeing Mark McGwire's mammoth home run — the longest on record at Cinergy Field — but a good chance to grab it.

        The first 473-foot home run ever struck on the riverfront was fielded, dropped and ultimately retrieved by Huller's pinch-sitter, George Olsson.

        Think of it as one small step for McGwire, one giant leap for lawn services.

        “I never thought a ball could be hit out here,” Olsson said from his front-row red seat in left-center field. “I'm still shaking. Tomorrow, we're going to bring the glove.”

        Fans attending this weekend's series between the National League Central's ranking powers are advised to bring lots of leather. Jim Edmonds and McGwire each hit their 11th home run of the season Friday night, back-to-back, leading off the Cardinals' fourth inning. Ken Griffey Jr. responded with a sixth-inning laser beam into the right-field stands for the decisive blow of the Reds' 3-2 victory.

Love the long ball
        Home runs are supposedly losing their charm because they have become so commonplace in big-league baseball. Yet 42,126 people paid for the right to witness Friday's game — the first NL encounter between McGwire and Griffey. This compares to a Reds crowd of only 26,533 for the first Friday of last May.

        There is something about a clash of titans that brings out the thrill-seeker in all of us. Olsson is a 48-year-old trucker, bearded and brawny, and he went after McGwire's shot as if concerned it might shear off a few fingers.

        “Well, (gosh),” he said. “It's coming right over here.”

        Within minutes, Olsson was offered $225 for his souvenir. Another enterprising spectator sought the ball for an unspecified charity. Olsson, a transplanted St. Louisan who has settled in Blue Ash, decided to hold on to the ball, sensing its historic significance and the keen interest of his son, Eric.

Long distance
        It was no better than the 15th-longest shot McGwire has hit since baseball began calculating home run distances in 1992, but it was surely the longest struck in Cincinnati. It was also No.533 of McGwire's career, one short of Jimmie Foxx and ninth place on the all-time list.

        “Cinergy's been tough on me my whole career,” said Big Mac. “I'm just happy to get hits.”

        If home runs could be subdivided, McGwire's shot might have made for a dozen scorching singles. Reds left fielder Dmitri Young said the blow rated the rare adjective: “lathered.”

        “I kept looking at home plate and then looking at the ball,” Young said. “It didn't add up. When they said it went 473 feet, that didn't add up, either. We might need to get a human being-type tape measure instead of a calculator.”

        When McGwire returned to his position for the bottom of the fourth inning, Reds first base coach Dave Collins told him, “I couldn't have hit the ball that far from the fence with a fungo (bat).”

        Reds catcher Eddie Taubensee said nothing as McGwire crossed home plate. That doesn't mean he wasn't awed.

        “That's why he's a Hall of Famer, why he's the strongest guy out there,” Taubensee said later. “It's really not fair.”

        Tim Sullivan welcomes your e-mail at tsullivan@enquirer.com.

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