Reds beat writer enters 'Stache Dash at GABP

Despite valiant effort, Mark Sheldon dusted by Olympic hopeful sprinter

June 16th, 2019

CINCINNATI -- What was I thinking?

One day several weeks ago, I was shooting my mouth off that I could take on the challenge of the 'Stache Dash. Then I was actually asked by the Reds if I wanted to put up or shut up. I put up on Sunday at Great American Ball Park.

I should have shut up. I was absolutely annihilated by “The ‘Stache,” aka former Univ. of Cincinnati sprinter Alex Bloom.

The 'Stache Dash is held on the warning track during select home games. It starts near the right-field foul pole and finishes near the left-field foul pole. It pits a regular person in a one-on-one race against a trained sprinter. The patsy contestant gets about a 20-yard head start. When the club decided to do the races this season, director of sponsorship development David Collins reached out to the Univ. of Cincinnati's associate track coach Chris Wineberg. He suggested three recent graduates: Bloom, Alex Greene and Halen Witcher. NCAA rules prevent current student-athletes from being involved.

“I think honestly it’s kind of a dream job to have a race kind of stacked in your favor where you’re the hero and you catch someone from behind. It’s like a dream come true for a college runner,” said Wineberg, who is married to former sprinter and 2008 Beijing Olympic gold medalist Mary Wineberg.

“I like the perks, too,” said Greene. “I don’t think I’ve paid for a Reds game yet, and I’ve been to a decent amount.”

Held in conjunction with the Reds’ 150th anniversary season, the sprinter dons an 1869 period uniform styled from the original Cincinnati Red Stockings while wearing a mustache befitting that era of baseball’s first professional franchise.

“I don’t even notice it,” Bloom said of the mustache.

“One time, my mustache fell off. It revealed the true identity of the ‘Stache’,” Greene said.

I was a distance runner in high school -- cross country and track -- and picked up running again about seven years ago. I’ve run two marathons and a bunch of half-marathons and 10K’s. But I’ve never fancied myself as a sprinter, especially after I saw Bloom warming up. I slightly impressed him a little by stretching and doing a little warm-up running myself.

“Nobody warms up for this race,” Bloom said. “I’m running and warming up in the tunnel and they’re just standing there.”

When I got to the Reds' bullpen just ahead of the race start, relievers like Amir Garrett and Jared Hughes came up and offered encouragement, but also a challenge not to stink. Garrett also gave me a cup of water.

As evidenced by the video, I am still not a sprinter and I let the bullpen down by stinking, big time. A long rain delay left the track a little muddy. Slipping and falling face first into the mud loomed as a possibility. But even pristine conditions wouldn’t have helped me. My three goals were: Don’t get injured, don’t fall down and still be leading by the time I got to the visitors' bullpen in center field.

Hey, two out of three ain’t bad.

Bloom blew by me a few feet before there and breezed to the finish. At the very end, he was kind enough to taunt me a little in good humor. Incidentally, he is still in training as he prepares for the U.S. Olympic Trials with hopes of qualifying for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

Combined, the 'Stache sprinters have lost three times in 15 races. But not Bloom, yet.

“Recently, I’ve had people cheering for me, saying, ‘Let’s go ‘Stache, don’t let anyone beat you.’ The pitchers have caught on that I haven’t lost yet,” Bloom said. “They’re all for it.”

Holding the finish line tape was Mary Wineberg, wearing her gold medal from the women's 4x400 meter relay. Everyone gave me some nice encouragement for finishing and trying my best.

Once back in the press box, I got the best compliment I could ever receive -- applause. After all, there’s usually no cheering in the press box.