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Celebrities, athletes raise money for coronavirus relief in virtual beer pong contest

the Ballina Cup bracket.
(Twitter / @theballinacup)

Trevor Bauer looks for his target, gets set and tosses the ball.

It cuts the air in an arc, a textbook 12-to-6 breaking ball.

But when it drops, it doesn’t pop into the glove of a catcher. The ping-pong ball catches the rim of a red plastic cup, rolls around the circumference and plops into the water below.

On the other side of the table in his Phoenix-area dining room, Bauer pumps his fists.

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“Ohhh!” the Cincinnati Reds pitcher yells.

The shot has all but sealed Bauer’s entry in the semifinals of the Ballina Cup, the name a condensed version of “ball in a cup.” He still has to wait for his foes, Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson and U.S. women’s national team soccer player Mallory Pugh, to attempt a rebuttal.

Bauer and his teammate, Scott Ohashi, huddle in front of a phone and watch them fail.

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Most athletic competitions can’t take place because of social distancing guidelines. Not this wacky brand of beer pong.

For nearly a week, athletes and celebrities across the country have simulated the popular house party game from the comfort of their homes. Their competitive natures have shone through. Tournament co-founder and hip-hop artist Mike Seander wore the Toronto Blue Jays jersey of his close friend Marcus Stroman, now a pitcher for the New York Mets, when they faced each other in a quarterfinal Wednesday night. Retired NFL star Rob Gronkowski recorded a pre-match hype video wearing a white tiger mask. In it, he told Swanson, his opening-round challenger, “You’re gonna get wiped out like a gator in the swamps.”

The tournament, co-founded by Seander and rapper Post Malone, began with 16 teams of celebrities Seander met through his musical career or time as a pitcher at Duke. The competitions are staged on Instagram’s live platform. Football players Travis Kelce and Johnny Manziel, and musicians Kane Brown, Machine Gun Kelly and Morgan Wallen were among the participants.

Seander, formerly the artist known as Mike Stud, floated the idea for the tournament on Twitter on March 21. The post has since attracted more than 4,500 likes. Barstool Sports, the controversial pop culture media outlet that has more than 2.2 million followers on Twitter, signed on to help them run it.

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The mission was simple: Play beer pong against an opponent on a public video chat and raise money for COVID-19 relief efforts.

Cincinnati Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer purposely signaled what he was going to throw during an at-bat against Dodgers outfielder Matt Beaty.

It wasn’t long before starved sports books caught on. Super Bowl champion receiver Danny Amendola was favored to win five-to-one. Cleveland Indians pitcher Mike Clevinger and Seander each entered with six-to-one odds. Amendola eased through his first two rounds but Clevinger did not advance.

More than 23,000 brackets were filled out online. No perfect ones remained after the quarterfinals.

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“We were dying at the odds,” Seander said from his home in Los Angeles. “No one has anything to go off of other than public image.”

Bauer, the Southern California native drafted out of UCLA in 2011, and Swanson each spent a few hours practicing before their tournament debuts. Bauer, best-known for his eccentricity and his scientific approach to pitching, studied the best angles to throw.

“I think I’m a plus-1200 underdog, which I thought was vastly underestimating my skills,” Bauer said.

A few weeks ago, ESPN dusted off its annual “The Ocho” gimmick several months ahead of schedule to air 24 hours of weird sports. Think marble racing, cherry pit spitting and a contest called dodge-juggle in which one competitor hurls rubber balls at jugglers.

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The opening round of virtual H-O-R-S-E games will air on ESPN beginning Sunday at 4 p.m., with players shooting from their home basketball courts.

A virtual beer pong tournament seems tame in comparison. It requires a table 7 or 8 feet long, upon which players set up 10 cups for each team and a camera operator. Participants take their turns shooting a ping-pong ball into a cup, then rush back to a phone to watch their opponents take aim.

And distract them with trash talk.

“Oh, she’s got the yips,” Bauer said after Pugh sailed multiple shots wide of a cup. “We’ve got the yips over there. We’ve got air balls galore.”

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Eager sports fans have lapped up the best-of-three rounds. Bauer and Swanson’s match drew a peak of about 3,100 out of their combined Instagram following of roughly 465,000. A crowd nearly twice as large watched Stroman, who is followed by nearly half a million accounts, challenge Seander, who has nearly 300,000 followers. At its peak, the match drew about 8,000 viewers. More than 7,700 watched Seander chug a celebratory Bud Light.

Thursday’s semifinal match between Bauer and the NELK Boys, famous for the pranks they record for 4.4 million subscribers on YouTube, drew a max of 41,000 viewers. Bauer lost in three games.

“I’m a big believer that sports are like our only true reality show,” Swanson said from his home in Atlanta. “So having something like this is filling that void people have right now. … I feel like this has been good for people to tune in and have some type of a little getaway from all the craziness right now.”

It’s more than just a bit of fun. Tournament buy-ins — each team paid at least $500 to participate — and donations from the public via crowdfunding apps, as well as proceeds from merchandise sales, have helped Seander raise money for people struggling with finances during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

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“It should be a good amount, for sure,” said Seander, who will face Amendola Friday night for a spot in the championship round. “I’m excited about that.”


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