Batter Up

Manitou Springs, Colorado’s Great Fruitcake Toss.

Batter Up

Photo by Andra DuRee Martin, courtesy of Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce.

Marie Antoinette said, “Let them eat cake.” In Manitou Springs the local Chamber of Commerce encourages people to throw cake. Each January the community hosts its Great Fruitcake Toss, a strangely compelling spectacle in which participants fling fruitcakes through the air, competing in events that emphasize distance, accuracy, and showmanship. While the contest does nothing to improve the reputation of the much-maligned fruitcake, it has succeeded in attracting media attention to a town best known for its natural mineral springs and proximity to Pikes Peak.

The event is the brainchild of Michele Carvell, former director of the Chamber of Commerce, who conceived the Fruitcake Toss back in 1996 after she noticed that no one in her circle of friends wanted to eat the fruitcakes they received for Christmas. Carvell’s attitude was, “Instead of throwing them out, why don’t we take them down to the local park and throw them?” recalls Floyd O’Neil, coordinator for this year’s Toss.

While the idea was offbeat it did have a certain appeal, as all one needed to compete was a fruitcake and a strong arm. “Imagine being on a baseball diamond and trying to throw a fruitcake from center field to home plate without a bounce,” relates O’Neil, highlighting the similarity between the inaugural Fruitcake Toss and an outfielder’s throwing drill.

Over the years the Chamber has spiced things up by adding a variety of different events, and today just three of the eight categories involve throwing a fruitcake for distance. In the “Launch” competition, competitors are permitted to use a mechanical device—like a slingshot, golf club, or bow & fruitcake—to send the blocks of cake airborne. And in the “Targets” category, competitors earn points by hitting targets placed 75, 125 and 175 feet away. There’s even an event in which fruitcakes are shagged like fly balls, and competitors run to and fro attempting to catch them using baseball gloves, buckets, fishing nets and the like.

Comparisons to baseball don’t stop there as competitors are apparently tempted to doctor fruitcakes in much the same way batters cork their bats. The urge to cheat explains the need for a pair of “tech inspectors,” who, according to O’Neil, “probe the fruitcakes to make sure that no foreign objects—or at least nothing more foreign than what goes into a fruitcake—have been added. We haven’t had a violation in years, but we still do the inspection to keep everybody honest,” he offers, noting that participants have been known to add marbles and pebbles to the fruit and nut filled cakes.

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