My first sports fantasy was a rather simple one: riding television's Mr. Ed, I would win the Kentucky Derby and, instead of stopping at the winner's circle, we would gallop directly to RFK Stadium. There my horse would deliver me from the bullpen in the ninth inning so that I could strike out Horace Clarke with the bases loaded to preserve the Washington Senators' 3-2 victory over the New York Yankees.
In that spirit, the funky folks at NBC Sports will bring us on May 25 a special in which six viewers will experience their sports fantasies on "SportsWorld." In late March, NBC asked viewers to submit their fantasies to the show's host, Len Berman. The network got 25,000 responses.
Among the fantasies Berman and producer David Hoffman chose were a match point against Chris Evert Lloyd, a fan batting against the Los Angeles Dodgers, another fan announcing an inning with longtime broadcaster Harry Caray and a Cincinnati Bengals follower attending one of their minicamps.
The real story, perhaps, lies in the fantasies NBC won't do. Don't look now, folks, but somewhere among your neighbors, there exists a strange, surrealistic mentality. A sampling: From Torrington, Conn.: "Fantasy: to play a game of chess using professional wrestlers as the 36 pieces on a life-size chessboard." From St. Paul, Minn.: "I would like to give Bud Grant full rein in criticizing NFL officiating by secretly paying his fines for one season." From Stamford, Conn.: "I have always been a very big admirer of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Bob Welch. My dream is to be in the batter's box and be hit by a pitch thrown by Welch."
Perhaps the most poignant letter came from the daughter of former Baltimore Colts running back Don McCauley. Krystie McCauley, a third- grader in Huntington, N.Y., asked that her father "run with the football threw (sic) all those big other guys and I could hold onto the back of his shirt so I could see what it is like."
Krystie wrote, "This might be (my only chance) for me to see what it was really like for him down on the field." And if her father scores a touchdown, Krystie asks if her 6-year-old sister Brooke could spike the football.
For a decade, sportscaster Jim McKay has worked the Kentucky Derby and Preakness for ABC. Saturday at Pimlico, McKay will have an added concern -- one of his own horses, 4-year-old Imprevu, running in the City of Baltimore Handicap just before the Preakness.
In 1980, McKay and his wife Margaret bought a filly for $10,000. Now they own nine racehorses at their 40-acre farm in Monkton, Md., 25 miles north of Baltimore.
"We're from Maryland originally. We were away 35 years," McKay said, "and my wife kept saying, 'We should establish some roots in Maryland.' Margaret started looking for a horse. I think she got us into the horse business just so we could come back to Maryland."
McKay slowly has eased back his ABC schedule to spend more time with family and farm.
"For 20 years, I was away from home 45 weekends a year," said McKay, longtime host of "Wide World of Sports." "In my last contract four years ago, we had it scaled down to 25 weekends by this year. I'll be down to 20 weekends in the next couple of years."
It took four years for McKay and his wife to get a winner, but now the racing game fascinates him more than ever. "Heck, I never thought I could get excited about a barn, but there we were last week, admiring our new barn," he said.
What really would captivate McKay is a Triple Crown horse. He allows himself to fantasize about it on occasion. "It's important to realize the odds. It's like catching lightning in a bottle. But it does happen -- look at Dennis Diaz."
The folks at NBC Sports know a good fight when they see one. Apparently, that goes for a bad fight, too.
Credit NBC for last week's intriguing Kenny Baysmore- Roger Mayweather lightweight fight and tomorrow's Rocky Lockridge-Wilfredo Gomez lightweight title bout.
But Monday night, NBC will bring us another Larry Holmes mismatch. The network that featured Holmes' title defenses against Lucien Rodriguez, Scott Frank and Marvis Frazier will bring us Holmes against Carl (The Truth) Williams. Is Williams worthy of a title shot? According to my reports, Williams was spotted recently boxing his own shadow, and he was losing.
NBC can be partially excused because of the interest in Holmes. While he does not have Muhammad Ali's or Sugar Ray Leonard's marquee value, Holmes, especially in his pursuit of Rocky Marciano's all-time unbeaten mark, draws a crowd. NBC originally had wanted Holmes against light heavyweight champion Michael Spinks, a legitimate prime-time fight. Instead, we'll get, as NBC bills it, "Larry Holmes Faces The Truth." And in this case, the truth can hurt only the viewer.