Saturday afternoon at the Hamster Ball Derby

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Rocky (right) and Liam square off in the practice rounds.

Honestly, I’m tired of talking about Deflategate. I’m tired of writing about Deflategate. True to form, the media beat it to death, and suddenly I don’t care if Tom Brady is suspended or appointed dictator of the United States. Just, please, stop talking about it.

Tired of talking about football, and depressed about the Red Sox—although their pitching is showing signs of life now—I started looking toward other sports to explore, and today I attended the 2015 Hamster Ball Derby, hosted by Petco, in Manchester, N.H.

Actually, my son insisted I take him and his hamster Rocky to compete in the tournament, so my objectivity, admittedly, is compromised here. One could accurately point out that I’m a Rocky-homer.

Or they could point out that Rocky, in fact, lives in my home.

We arrived at 1:30 p.m. a few minutes late. I wasn’t anticipating a big crowd. In the back of store, beside shelves stocked with cat litter, a small area was cordoned off, and four plastic lanes were set up for the hamsters to race each other in their plastic balls.

Commissioner Anthony of Petco was checking in the hamsters and assuring that the balls were all within the regulation size and specifications. My son and I had greased the hamster ball with some olive oil but didn’t consider it a competitive advantage. Hamsters all like their balls a little different. Besides, there was no mention of this as being illegal on the Petco website.

Rocky would be competing against three other hamsters. First, there was this beast of a rodent, predictably named Hammy. Hammy was the size of a small ham and his owner was a freckled boy with a bowl-cut. I quietly mentioned to Commissioner Anthony that I’d like to see Hammy tested for PED’s.

Commissioner Anthony assured me he would look into it.

Next, there was the hamster who, regardless of the results, already won the award for most eccentrically named, Rainbow Dash.

Finally, there was Liam. Liam’s owner was a middle-aged woman who worked at the airport, or so she told me, completely unprovoked. She came across as affable and sportsmanlike but I could tell, right away—despite the fact that her hamster was not remarkably named, like Rainbow Dash, or brutish, like Hammy—that Liam and his owner were for one thing and one thing only: the Big Blue Ribbon and the $50 hamster cage.

It is worth noting that three Robo Dwarf Hamsters entered the race; however, they simply couldn’t compete. Mint and Chip had the same owner, a ten-year old girl. A young Goth couple owned the third Robo Dwarf named Nosferatu. They showed up late, placed Nosferatu in its ball on the track, and when Nosferatu didn’t move—fuck my life, the rodent must’ve been thinking—the owners snagged Nosferatu and disappeared under a blanket of halogen lights.

The Robo Dwarf race, however, was like the CFL. No one watched it, and no one cared, and it was boring as hell. Mint won, as if it matters.

So it was time for the real show, and everyone in attendance—the kids and the airport worker, the parents like me (the owners, if you will) and Commissioner Anthony of Petco—prepared for what was to be a grueling afternoon of hamster ball derby.

The event didn’t fail to thrill. In the first round, each hamster ran three heats and the two hamsters with the best aggregate times advanced to the winners’ bracket. The other two went into a losers’ bracket with a chance to race the loser of the winners’ bracket for the championship.

Rocky—showing the heart of his namesake—finished in second place in the first round and advanced to the winners’ bracket with the big Russian, Hammy. But Hammy was winded. The PED’s made him strong, but they didn’t help his stamina. Rocky breezed by him in the winners’ bracket and into the championship round.

In the losers’ bracket, Liam shocked the world—or at least the corner of Petco beside the cat litter—by making quick work of Rainbow Dash, sending the latter home absolutely no different than it was when it arrived. Then Liam took the opportunity to jump on a winded Hammy and advanced through the losers’ bracket to face Rocky for all the glory.

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Owen Graziano and champion hamster Rocky revel in the glory.

To make a long story short—because, frankly, we’re talking about hamsters—Rocky jumped ahead with two great heats and ended up demolishing Liam for the title of 2015 Petco Hamster Ball Derby Champion.

As we were leaving, I heard the airport worker whispering to Commissioner Anthony of Petco. “That ball Rocky was using didn’t seem right to me,” she said.

“I’ll look into it,” Commissioner Anthony said.

But it doesn’t matter. Suspend Rocky for the next four races. We don’t care. You can never take away the thrill of victory and the pride of knowing that Rocky is the champion.

[Author’s note: Since writing this piece, it has come to my attention that Rainbow Dash is, in fact, the name of a My Little Pony™ character. Therefore, I withdraw the accolades I bestowed for the creativity and originality of the name and ask that Commissioner Anthony of Petco investigate the issue for plagiarism.]