07/12/09 11:20 PM ET
Clouds give way to stars for softball game
Hollywood well-represented for annual All-Star exhibition
By Doug Miller / MLB.com
This gritty group of gamers came to play.
It was the Taco Bell All-Star Legends & Celebrity Softball Game, after all, the game in which Hollywood's heavyweights take swings and flash leather alongside Major League royalty, all in the spirit of good times.
And before the 80th Midsummer Classic is played on the same field on Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET, these players wanted to leave their mark.
"This is the best," said St. Louis native Nelly, the hip-hop star and actor who hit a two-run home run, made a diving catch in center field, saw his team win the game, 10-8, and took home the game's co-MVP award along with former college basketball coach Bob Knight. "This is what you dream about."
Dreams came true for scores of St. Louis fans when one of their idols, Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith, sprinted out to his position in the first inning for the National League and pulled off his signature backflip.
And moments later, playing for the American League, Olympic medal-winning gymnast Shawn Johnson did Ozzie a few better, doing a decent portion of a floor exercise while heading to first base following a walk.
The end result was a comeback win for the NL, which also was powered by a two-run homer by former Cardinals stolen-base expert Vince Coleman.
The AL got homers from comedian Andy Richter, former big league All-Star Fred Lynn and Hall of Fame reliever Rollie Fingers.
As for the celebrity players in the game, almost everyone had a baseball story or two to tell.
Billy Bob Thornton, the Oscar-decorated actor and writer -- and drummer and lead singer for the Boxmasters -- drove in a run.
Thornton grew up playing baseball in Arkansas and has always loved the Cardinals. He has become friendly with manager Tony La Russa and occasionally hangs around the Busch Stadium clubhouse with Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter.
"I don't consider myself one of those annoying actors with a million demands on-set, but I do have one," Thornton said. "I always have to have satellite TV and the baseball package in my trailer so I can watch the Cardinals."
Thornton also played in this game in Detroit in 2005 and had pleasant memories from that day, when he "singled twice off Jennie Finch and had to apologize for turning a double play on Ozzie Smith."
Annie Wersching never apologized while chasing down a band of domestic terrorists as FBI agent Renee Walker on TV's "24."
On Sunday, she played catcher in the game, thrilled to be back in her hometown of St. Louis, where she played junior high softball for a team called the Lucky Sluggers.
A devout Cardinals fan who was wearing Albert Pujols' No. 5, Wersching said she would "go with Skip" Schumaker as her favorite Card.
"It's such a thrill to be playing in this game," Wersching said. "I almost can't believe I'm in it. It would be amazing just to come and see this."
R&B superstar Ginuwine was a bit confused, wearing a Yankees logo on his game jersey and a Cardinals cap. Or maybe he wasn't confused one bit.
"I have no loyalty at all," he said.
Jenna Fischer of TV's "The Office" and various hit comedy movies -- such as "Blades of Glory" and "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story" -- got a huge ovation from the crowd. She said she grew up in St. Louis loving the Cardinals and couldn't believe her luck on Sunday night.
"I'm sitting on the bench with Whitey Herzog and Ozzie Smith, and that's pretty awesome," Fischer said.
Fischer admitted that as a little girl, she wrote a poem for the 1982 Cardinals and "got to read it on KMOX." She also said she cringed whenever Smith did the backflip -- and that included Sunday.
"It always makes me worry," Fischer said. "I wouldn't want him to do it before the games because I didn't want him to get hurt before he had to go out and play."
Well, nobody was hurt Sunday. In fact, everyone seemed to be living it up on an unseasonably cool night.
Singer Ashanti impressively legged out an infield single in her first at-bat, then did a little dance on the bag.
And the one-liners flowed throughout the innings.
Knight, he of more than 900 wins and a famous temper, didn't waste time, "arguing" an early call with the umpire.
"You can't expect officials to be correct all the time," Knight said. "But this time, he did a great job making the right call."
Hall of Famer Dave Winfield was suffering from a bum knee, so he got the crowd involved, pulling pinch-runners out of the stands.
In the end, Nelly and Knight summed up the feel-good mood of the evening while accepting their trophy together.
"Coach Bob Knight, he can handle himself over there at first base," said Nelly.
Knight returned the favor, saying of Nelly, "He made that first play, and I said, 'That guy knows what he's doing out there.'"
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.