Eck, Pudge compete for 'awesomeness' title
Mane Man Challenge has stars battle in quirky events
KANSAS CITY -- "Give me that bat, this is the fun part."
After playing catch with Telemundo anchor Patsi Arias, retired slugger Ivan Rodriguez gave the reporter some pointers in the batting cages. He was later interrupted while saying goodbye.
"Hey! No hugging," fan Joe Kilo yelled from the audience. Rodriguez waved toward the FanFest crowd and invited Kilo into the cages to meet the reporter.
"He was jealous because I hugged the beautiful woman," Rodriguez said. "I told him 'If you want to hug her come in.' She [didn't] have a problem with that. We made his day."
Rodriguez and Dennis Eckersley made several more fans' days as they entertained a crowd at the Head and Shoulders batting-practice cages Monday afternoon. They were the stars on hand, and the crowd couldn't get enough.
"The funny thing is, I haven't played the game for some time now. I've been out of the game for 10 to 12 years. People forget you," Eckersley said. "They don't remember that you played. This Head and Shoulders thing kind of brings it back up."
Monday, Eckersley and Rodriguez gave out autographs and baseball tips to fans that hadn't forgotten. Baseball fan Chris Maurio said he's been a fan of Eckersley for years -- he even cherished the star's old furniture.
"One of my friends helped him move and wound up with Dennis Eckersley's futon and I slept on it," Maurio said. "I slept on a Hall of Fame futon. It was the coolest thing I've ever done."
The event was held as part of Head and Shoulders' Mane Man Challenge. The two retired stars, along with Yankees right fielder Nick Swisher, compete in unique contests to determine their "awesomeness." Whether it's chewing five pieces of bubblegum to see who can blow a bubble the quickest, or seeing who can stack bottles of shampoo the highest, their goal is simple. They want fans to vote for them online to elect one of them as the Mane Man.
Rodriguez says the challenges are no cake walk.
"The hardest part was when they asked me to eat five pieces of bread with no water," Rodriguez said. "I got a big ball in my throat and almost had trouble breathing."
Rodriguez may have powered through the bread, but Eckersley said there's another key element to the competition -- hair. It's a trademark for which he's famous, and he's not giving up the baton yet, even though Tim Lincecum is making a run for his title.
"It's ridiculous. It reminds me of myself when I was a kid. Back in the '70s everyone had long hair. He's bringing it back he's taking it to another level," Eckersley said.
"I've got the best moss in the game even though I don't play. That goes a long way, it's not that easy to keep the moss when you get to my age."
You don't have to tell that to Rodriguez. The 40 year-old catcher said his look is getting harder to maintain and he's not sure if facial hair counts. Regardless, he said the competition has been great for the fans.
"I enjoy [spending] time with the fans, it's something that I've done my whole career. I enjoy being with them." Rodriguez said.
Eckersley agreed, saying there's something special about a small-market fan base during All-Star Week.
"They've done a nice job. ... This is a perfect place because you know why you're here," Eckersley said. "The All-Star Game is going on in Kansas City. It's not like some other city where it just happens to be there. They take a lot of pride in having the [game] here."
Eckersley knows all about playing in smaller markets. After being drafted by Cleveland, he spent his first of six All-Star Games as a member of the club.
"Nowadays every game is on TV. You can see games every night," Eckersley said. "It wasn't like that then. I played for the Cleveland Indians. That was the only time I was on national TV. It just made it that much more exciting and it made it a memory I'll never forget."
Gary Cotton is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.