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So much for sumo
It’s a crushing blow when you learn that an institution you hold sacred is nothing but a sham. For some, it was the tooth fairy. For others, it was the wizard of Oz or a balanced federal budget or chiropractors. For me, it was between-innings sumo wrestling.
If you can’t trust the integrity of a contest in which a couple guys assault each other in inflatable suits equipped with colorful diapers, what’s left to believe in anymore?
My faith was shattered last weekend in Illinois, a place where governors go to prison and blissful assumptions go to die. I was on an annual baseball-themed road trip with friends, which took us to Normal, home of the Corn Belters. Because a crew of seven rowdy fellas tends to stand out in a crowd - especially a Saturday-night assemblage that could’ve fit comfortably in either dugout - the team’s staff asked if we might volunteer two combatants for a between-innings bout of sumo wrestling.
Because we are always eager to help out, especially when doing so may involve public humiliation for our friends, we eagerly volunteered the two youngest of the group. After an inning or so, Jon and Kyle were tapped to suit up. From our seats behind home plate - like I said, this crew likes to keep a low profile -- we spotted them in the home dugout, clad in inflatable suits and literally sweating their wrestling debut on an 80-degree night.
Despite their dehydration, the boys battled with aplomb. Jon won the first round of the best-of-three bout, flattening Kyle and punctuating his win with a jaunty dance. Kyle got his revenge in Round 2, tossing Jon to the mat. But in the third round, Kyle lunged and was cast to the mat, handing Jon the match. We cheered wildly, unaware that upon the boys’ return we’d never look at between-innings entertainment the same way again.
First, we learned that they received absolutely nothing for their efforts, other than headaches from being slammed to the ground in chonmage helmets that offer about as much protection as the insurance we got on our rental van. No game tickets, no T-shirt, no chance to pinch-hit in the bottom of the eighth.
But even more disturbingly, we learned most of the contest was rigged. The fellas were instructed to split the first two rounds, to build maximum drama and anticipation, and then compete in earnest in the third round. It was as if Toto had pulled back a curtain: I realized ALL of these minor-league sumo matches must be rigged the same way. I was crestfallen, and began to wonder what else is fixed. Was one team in the three-legged race around the bases ordered to take a dive? Was the 12-year-old girl who sang the national anthem lip synching? Were the hot dogs made of spam?
Fakery in wrestling is nothing new, of course. Even as a kid watching professional wrestling, it didn’t take long to realize the bad guys lost every match to good guys who mounted dramatic comebacks. The script for “Wrestlemania” was the same as every “Rocky” movie.
But professional wrestling was clearly entertainment not to be taken seriously. The rigging of seemingly legitimate amateur sumo matches felt more sinister. It was a fix akin to 1950s TV game shows or the 1919 World Series or the NBA draft.
Knowing what I now know, I can never again get excited about sumo bouts between innings. Pay no attention to the men in the inflatable suits: They are a humbug. And think twice about just how loudly you should cheer for that 12-year-old mouthing the words to “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Submit your favorite between-innings baseball moments to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow columnist Ben Bromley on Twitter at ben_bromley. A former Lillie Suburban Newspapers editor, he now writes for the Baraboo News Republic.