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I Lost On (Sports) Jeopardy, Baby (A Day At The Empire Fair in Springfield, Mo)
Last Fall we took a trip to Tulsa, Oklahoma to the Tulsa State Fair. I had been there multiple times as a (much) younger man but had not attended in many years. My family had never been so I took great pleasure in introducing them to the wonders of that special place.
This week is the Empire Fair in Springfield, Mo. My wife had been to the Empire Fair as a child but I had never been there so we had thoughts on attending this year anyway, but these thoughts coalesced into solidity when I received a call last week. You see, I had taken an online Sports Jeopardy test in an attempt to participate in a local television Sports Jeopardy contest and during the timeframe of the calls that were supposed to let you know if you would be a participant or not I had received no call.
Then a few days later I received a call: turns out someone had dropped out and the caller wanted to know if I was still interested. Let me think a moment.
I received instructions as to where to pick up free tickets to the fair, a free parking voucher and a time: I would enter the world of Sports Jeopardy at 2:00 PM Saturday. My wife and I set out to form our plans for the day to arrive early, watch a couple of rounds which took place prior to mine and enjoy other items of interest at the fair before I stepped onstage. I did not have any aspirations of winning, simply to have fun and make the most of the experience.
We headed out on the short trip to the Empire Fairgrounds just off I-44 in Springfield, Mo. Upon arrival we found our parking location (surprisingly on the blacktopped parking lot next to the E-Plex, not far away in the grassy area) and strolled along the barely open midway, by booths and trailers from which delicious smells and incredible aromas wafted on the slight breeze. The sun was bright, not a cloud in the sky, my wife was beside me: Life is good!
We wandered around from venue to venue, looking at displays of items created by local 4H groups, FFA chapters and Cub Scout, Boy Scout, Brownie and Girl Scout troops. Items ranged from vegetables grown by members, to various hay types and bales, pictures taken, drawings, creations and such, all wonderful in their imagination, style, and creativity.
We found ourselves in a livestock barn which contained a petting zoo with the normal petting zoo denizens (goats, sheep and such) as well as some not normally seen such as kangaroos, a zebra, an alpaca and even a porcupine. We fed the animals, petted those who desired it and all too soon found ourselves at the exit. From there, we noticed some more animals, larger animals. Far, far larger animals.
The Clydesdales! I had seen them one time before many years ago. My wife had seen them several times but it had been many years for her as well. I had forgotten how majestic they were. And big! They are huge! All over six feet tall at the withers and well over a ton each, with the largest standing 6'4" and weighing 2,300 pounds. Each hoof was easily the size of a dinner plate or larger. The feathering on their lower legs was silky smooth and white as can be. As they stood there it was as if they knew they were gorgeous. Heads high, looking down on everyone around their little areas and with a look in their eyes that told others "Hey, I KNOW I'm looking good today." in no uncertain terms.
Empire Fairground next to Dickerson Park Zoo
It was time for Sports Jeopardy, sponsored by the O-Zone in Springfield as well as two television stations, KY3 and KSPR33. We found our way to the E-Plex and checked in. I went over my strategy again in my mind of never punching the button unless I knew the answer thereby making sure I could gain points but not lose them. It seemed a good strategy to me and I stayed with it. I then received my good luck charm for the day. Caleb had his leather wristband on and gave it to me to wear "for good luck". At 2:00 they called my group of three up and we began by being introduced to the small crowd, mainly family and friends, fellow competitors there to see the competition and various other people waiting in line to drive the NASCAR simulator adjacent to our stage. Brian on my left worked in Joplin and had been up all night, no sleep for over twenty-four hours; Bill on my right was slightly older than I but seemed quite competent. We were instructed as to the game, how to use the button and off we went. I started slowly but gained ground during the first round. At some time during the Double Jeopardy round I hit my stride and answered several questions in a row a few times and late in the round found me pulling ahead until I was in pretty good shape.
Then came Final Jeopardy, a wager, and a win. My 21,500 to Brian's 18,000 and Bill's 6,800 points. I was shocked! I had made it to the Semi Final round!
Between rounds I gave the wristband back to Caleb to wear and infuse with more good luck for round two. He took it and put it back on with that understanding. It brought me good luck once; would it again?
Round Two found me pitted against two other winners so I knew it was going to be more difficult than Round One. And boy, was it ever. Zach on my left was a young man who had dominated his round, and John on my right was a gentleman my age but as I had not seen him play I did not know anything about him. We had gone to get a bite to eat during his win so I knew nothing about how he won. Again, we were introduced to a slightly larger crowd, re-instructed on the game and off we went.
Caleb had placed the leather wristband back on my left wrist for round two. He had worn it during the down time between rounds and it was filled with good luck once more, he said. I thanked him and away we went.
Again, I started slowly, answering only those questions I knew for sure. The scores were tight throughout the first round and into Double Jeopardy. Then, I hit one of those special questions, you know, the one that allows you to bet on yourself? That's right: a Daily Double! The category was one I was confident in so I bet a good amount. The question was: Who defeated previously undefeated champion Mike Tyson and won the World Heavyweight Title in 1990?
I knew this! Buster....
Yeah, Buster................................... DOUGLAS!! I completed my answer just as the buzzer went off so I got the points. Whew! From there, I was in control until Final Jeopardy. I was ahead enough that I could play it somewhat safe and only wager 1,000 points. I knew that Zach was behind enough that he would have to bet large, but not so large as to let John sneak in if he didn't know the answer. And sure enough, that was what happened. Zach bet conservatively enough to close but not overtake me. Another win! 16,600 to 15,000! On to the Finals!!!
The finals took place at 6:00 PM with the added bonus of the Final Jeopardy question being televised live on not one but two local networks. No pressure. Right.
Zach was invited to be the third contestant as he was the non-winner who had the highest point total from the semis. The other finalist was Trenton, who we had watched early on. He had demolished his opponents in round one and round two by a wide margin. This was going to be tough.
A far larger crowd was before us as we made our way onto the stage for the contest. This time I answered the very first question, not something I had done in either round thus far. I recalled my father hitting a homerun leading off a fast pitch softball game years before and the coach saying "I wish you hadn't done that" indicating it was a sign of bad luck. And sure enough, they had lost that game. Well, hell.
From there I answered a few questions, enough to keep me in the game. I even led at one point in the first round but it was short lived. When catagories with answers for local sports celebrities, local mascots and local colleges came into play I was sunk. Being new to the area put me at a disadvantage and even questions I did know I wasn't quick enough on the trigger to be first in order to answer. Final Jeopardy found me far behind with only 4,400 points to Zack's 13,700 and Trenton's 13,200. My only chance was to A) bet nothing and hope they both bet large enough to cancel one another out and not know the answer or B) bet it all and hope they bet just enough for me to sneak ahead if both were stumped. Not a good outlook, knowing how they had done so far. Then the Final Jeopardy category was announced: the 2011 World Series. The last Series the Cardinals won, with David Freeze's heroics being at the center of the win. My heart sunk, as both of these competitors were Cardinal fans as evidenced by their hats and shirts. Ah, well.
I bet it all, feeling I had nothing to lose. The question came up and it was as follows: Who had the game tying hit that led to Freeze's game winning home run in the World Series 6. I went blank. Who normally batted ahead of Freeze that year? I couldn't remember. I thought of Yadier Molina as he was in that portion of the lineup but I just didn't know. Zack reacted in a positive manner so I knew he knew the answer and I realized at this point it didn't matter for me.
Lance Berkman. Drove in John Jay after Albert Pujols was intentionally walked. Zack knew; Trenton knew. I didn't. So, I came in last, third place. I congratulated Zack and made my way off the stage with Trenton. Youth had carried the day over Trenton's and mine age. I stood just off stage as they interviewed Zack and heard him tell the story of how he knew the answer because he remembered sitting with his parents in their living room watching the game. I reflected on how I remembered the game, having been at work that night and staying after everyone else had left as I was locking up the building for the night. The game was on a radio in the background and I timed my leaving to between innings and events. I drove home listening to the game and sat in the driveway until the end of another inning then ran inside the darkened house, switched on the TV and muted it while I watched those final few batters. I jumped for joy with my arms held high in silent celebration as Freeze stroked that final homerun to win the game, and force a Game 7. I realized that the hit by Berkman was one of those moments I had missed by closing up shop that night and though I heard about it later it slipped my mind when it counted. Then I applauded Zack once more before gathering my wife and son and making our way out of the building.
We didn't walk away a complete loser, however. I had a $15 Gift Card to Play It Again Sports, a gift of a free concrete at the local Andy's Custard, and a free t-shirt.
But the day didn't end there.
The Budweiser Clydesdales
As we walked out the front of the E-Plex we saw a crowd gathered to look at the Clydesdales in full harness. We stood and admired these wonderful creatures once more, snapped a few more pictures and made our way to our car. We loaded the car up, got in and pulled out only to be halted as we tried to leave the lot. As we sat there waiting we saw why we were halted. The Clydesdales were making their way from where we had seen them around to the rear of the complex to where the evening event was beginning. On this night there was to be a Monster Truck rally and the Clydesdales were to kick off the event. As they trotted by us, heads held high and looking beautiful a procession followed. Cars of various makes and models, all old and quite striking. A convertible Corvair and a Corvette were among others that slowly made their way right in front of us no more than a few feet away. We laughed and enjoyed this special little gift to end our day, closer than any inside the complex could hope to be. Then, it was over and we were driving home, recalling the days events and joys.