ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals' Albert Pujols will tee off on Thursday night in his second home-run contest of the summer. This time he faces NBA All-Star Shaquille O'Neal at T.R. Hughes Ballpark in O'Fallon, Mo., after participating last month in baseball's Home Run Derby at Busch Stadium.
O'Neal is filming the match for "Shaq Vs.," the new television reality series that pits the basketball icon against some of the nation's top athletes.
Tickets for Thursday night's match are long gone, though some enterprising fans are selling seats on eBay for $100 or more.
O'Neal is no baseball novice. The self-proclaimed "T-ball all-star" played first base in high school.
"When I was little I was known as Shaq-ie Robinson," O'Neal said Wednesday at a news conference. "I had the world's biggest strike zone, so my hitting average was just terrible."
To even the playing field, the fences will be moved in for O'Neal ("200 yards," he joked), who will use a 37-ounce bat. Pujols uses a 34.5-ounce bat. Cardinals first-base coach Dave McKay will serve as pitcher. Pujols has not shared the secrets of his swing, and O'Neal doesn't want his advice anyway.
"I'm going to beat you fair and square, baby," O'Neal said.
That was it for trash-talking from Shaq, who can 'dis' like he dunks.
"I don't think it's wise to talk smack to a man who always has a bat in his hand," O'Neal said.
O'Neal also has challenged Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps, boxing legend Oscar De La Hoya, tennis star Serena Williams and beach volleyball champs Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh. The premiere, set for 8 p.m. Tuesday on ABC, features O'Neal and Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Pujols' episode airs Sept. 1.
O'Neal, who recently joined the Cleveland Cavaliers, must want to keep his options open in case this basketball thing doesn't work out. O'Neal, 37, has studied law enforcement, released several rap albums and "acted" in television and movies.
For "Shaq Vs.," O'Neal practices with the pros before each match.
"I study up on them and look at their training techniques and try to do what they do," O'Neal said. "It's the ultimate cross-training for me. I've been in the league 17 years, and I get tired of going to the gym. I represent the athletes, but I also represent the guys who sit on the couch and say, 'I could do that."'
It's not as easy as it looks, Pujols said.
"I saw him taking some hacks," the slugger said. "Obviously he needs to work a little bit more."