Thursday, May 19, 2011

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: After turning medieval, Radford's rain delay goes viral

Jake Taylor's teammates call him "Big Donkey." Naturally, then, he would be the horse.

Mark Peterson typically is up for anything, and this opportunity was no exception. Grab an aluminum bat, put on catcher's gear and climb atop Taylor's shoulders?

Hey, why not?

The Radford University baseball players simply were seeking a creative way to kill some time during a rain delay Sunday. What they didn't realize was that High Point's players were bored out of their minds, too -- and were about to accept one of the most bizarre challenges you'll ever see on a diamond: an invitation to joust.

Up in the press box, Radford director of athletics multimedia services Patrick Reed instinctively grabbed his camera.

"I saw that things were happening," he said, having no clue what the nature of those things would be.

What Reed recorded over the next minute and four seconds has since become an Internet sensation. "College Baseball Rain Delay Jousting" got more than 270,000 views on YouTube in its first 48 hours alone. By Thursday, that number was closing in on 600,000.

The video took the requisite, LOL-laced laps on Facebook and Twitter. It got exposure on ESPN's "SportsCenter," "SportsNation" and "Pardon the Interruption."

"At least they had their chest protectors on," commentator Skip Bayless said on ESPN's "First Take."

(The video even made its way onto my wildly prestigious blog, where readers gave it a universal thumbs up.)

"The power of social media," Reed said with a touch of wonder.

It helps that the video is fabulous. The action -- coincidentally performed while "Mas Que Nada" by Sergio Mendes blares over the loudspeaker, providing a perfect soundtrack -- begins with Taylor "pawing" at the dirt by the Radford dugout as Peterson gets his balance.

"Might as well play the horse role as much as I could," said Taylor, a 6-foot-4, 230-pound freshman DH out of Maryland.

Give High Point credit here. Because somehow, without any explanation provided from Radford, Panthers catcher Kyle Mahoney and pitcher Corey Swickle knew exactly what was going on.

"I just threw my bat up in the air and yelled out, 'It's a joust!' " said Peterson, a junior pitcher. "And they quickly ran out and participated right with us."

As Mahoney got on Swickle's shoulders, the camera followed the Radford players, who slowly approached the home plate area. Nobody envisioned there would be any contact between the riders.

"I thought it was just going to be a friendly little joust," Taylor said. "I guess Mark had other ideas."

Actually, he didn't. Not initially. As the two horses started charging, Peterson was holding the bat in his right hand, expecting to made a clean pass.

Then he picked up on Mahoney's intentions.

"I think we were about 5 or 10 feet away from each other, and I saw his bat was pointed right at my chest, so I knew he was for real about it," Peterson said. "I just quickly switched [to the left hand] and got him square in the chest."

Down went Mahoney like a sack of fungo bats.

Fortunately, he bounced up quickly, unharmed and laughing. The four competitors exchanged handshakes and hugs, then Taylor and Peterson jogged toward the dugout with fists in the air.

The RU players have been inundated with text messages from family and friends who've seen the video. Given the success of the clip, the Highlanders -- the only known champions in the history of rain delay jousting -- anticipate having to defend their title at some point in the future.

"I hope so," Taylor said with a chuckle. "That'd be great if we get some challenges.

"Get a nice little tournament going, you know?"

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