Man vs. Impossible Prepares To Tackle Next Challenge: Baseball
Mark Kirsch has pulled airplanes, tanks, trains and semi-trucks as part of his Man vs. Impossible series.
For his next challenge, he’s chosen baseball.
Kirsch, whose incredible feats of strength have propelled him to international fame, will try out for the independent Savannah Bananas later this month. The 41-year-old Tacoma, Wash. resident has never played organized baseball at any level, including Little League, but hopes to make it his latest example of achieving what most would deem impossible.
“I kind of went from pulling 500,000 pound aircraft … and I think I’ve got to do something impossible or just about as impossible as that,” Kirsch said. “So I’m like, 'You know what? Let's do baseball.' It's a lifelong passion, but I never got to fully push that envelope.”
Kirsch has performed across the country pulling various vehicles weighing 25,000 pounds or more since 2008, primarily at various Air Force bases to benefit veterans and local children’s hospitals. His first foray into professional baseball came in 2017 when the Charleston RiverDogs, then the Low-A affiliate of the Yankees, invited him to throw out the first pitch after he performed at the Joint Base Charleston Air Expo. He progressively made more appearances at baseball stadiums each year and spent every day of the 2021 season at a minor league game, from Opening Day through the conclusion of the Arizona Fall League.
Even though he never played, Kirsch's passion for the game stretches back to his earliest years. He performed in Strongman competitions throughout his 20s but was turned off by the rampant steroid use in the sport. When it came time to transition to the next stage of his career, baseball served as an apt metaphor for what he wanted to achieve.
“I spent years building strength, and I needed a stage, like I needed a baseball field for strength,” Kirsch said. “So I kind of looked at it from that same type of mindset. Where are my stadiums? Where's my Yankee Stadium? I realized it's United States Air Force bases.
“Some of these events had 200,000 people and you're sitting there like in the bottom of the ninth, your act comes up after the Thunderbirds and before the Blue Angels, you’ve got to sit there and on cue, that pitch comes, and literally you’ve got to pull an aircraft that could be 100,000 to 500,000 pounds. So that's some pressure. That type of environment, I usually step up. Like, I physically couldn't do it without a crowd or with nobody there. Once it's like you cross the white lines—on our military bases they're yellow—it's kind of that same confidence.”
Kirsch turned his eyes toward playing after last season and spent the winter training at VeloTech Baseball in Redmond, Wash. In late January, he secured a tryout with the Bananas, a team known for its outside-of-the-box promotions and modified version of baseball called “Banana Ball.”
The Bananas will tour with a professional team from March through early May playing “Banana Ball.” From late May through July, the Bananas will play traditional baseball with college players as part of the Coastal Plain League. The professional team will resume play in mid August.
Most of the players trying out for the Bananas pro team are ex-minor and major leaguers who will need to prove their entertainment skills more than their baseball skills. Kirsch comes from the opposite end of the spectrum as a proven entertainer who needs to prove his baseball ability is up to par.
“The reality is, looking at the guys we have coming in, 40-plus players have already played pro ball,” Bananas owner Jesse Cole said. “We’ll have 15-20 guys throwing in the low-to-mid 90s. They all can compete at that level. The differentiator is how much fun, celebrations and showmanship they bring to the table.
“He definitely fits the criteria with his entertaining skills and I’ve had him send me videos of him hitting a baseball and it seems like he’s making progress and coming a long way. If he can show us he can compete from a baseball standpoint, he’ll be looking pretty good as far as an opportunity to make the team.”
To that end, Kirsch has spent the winter training to make the team as a corner outfielder. Being a former competitive athlete in peak physical condition provided a solid foundation to work from. He spent 4-5 days a week honing his swing at VeloTech, took live at-bats against former Padres minor league pitcher Josh Richardson and progressively found a swing and approach that worked for him. He recently posted an exit velocity of just under 110 mph and has demonstrated a growing knack driving balls to the opposite field.
“With obviously his natural strength he’s able to put a charge into the ball when he connects,” VeloTech hitting instructor Ben Hagen said. “The primary focus has just been putting barrel on ball. He is very good at making solid contact. He works a lot to the right-center gap. He’s a good oppo gap hitter and tries to maintain that approach at the plate, but he can definitely throw some power in there. For the most part he’s just focusing on contact and trying to hit the ball on a nice line and hit some frozen ropes.”
Of course, hitting at a facility or in live BPs is very different than hitting against professional pitchers in a live game. So is playing left and right field in actual games instead of practice settings. As a man in his 40s without any previous playing experience, Kirsch knows as well as anyone he faces long odds to make the team.
But Kirsch has made a living out of doing what most consider impossible. With his attempt to play professional baseball, he is aiming to do so one more time.
“My goal is to do whatever they need help win games,” Kirsch said. “So I'll be there for them, do whatever they need to do to promote. I'm committed to them.”