07/11/11 12:26 AM ET
Legends, celebs congregate for All-Star fun
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
The D-backs legend, serving as All-Star Ambassador for the host club this week, smacked a solo home run to right -- just out of the reach of a leaping Fred Lynn -- to help seal the deal for the National League in a 5-3 victory over the American League in the Taco Bell Legends & Celebrities Softball Game at Chase Field.
Then the familiar No. 20 put the exclamation mark on the whole day with another shot over the fence in a Home Run Challenge that is now a new tradition at the end of that game.
It all followed up that dramatic U.S. victory over the World team (managed by Gonzalez) in the XM All-Stars Futures Game. Arizona, you are off and running.
"We've been preparing for this for a while, and I think our organization and the city and the state has been very excited for this, and you could tell by the fan reaction here today," Gonzalez said. "Today was the kick-off party, and then comes the State Farm Home Run Derby, which will be exciting, and then it goes right into the All-Star Game."
The softball game is all about fun and lasting memories, and that is exactly what was delivered. Just ask Jordin Sparks, the 2007 "American Idol" winner from Glendale, Ariz., who gave her friend, Nick Jonas, a rather just dessert by helping the NL win.
It turns out that Jonas -- a Yankees fan and rabid ballplayer who wore No. 2 in tribute of Derek Jeter's 3,000th hit -- had declined Sparks' plea to join the Jonas Brothers' Road Dogs baseball team when all of them were touring recently.
"We're really good friends. He is so serious and so competitive," Sparks said. "At first, for me when we do things like this, it's all fun and games until we start playing. Then I get competitive. But I'm like, 'What am I doing? That was horrible. Jordin, why didn't you hit the ball? Why didn't you wait?'
"But when I was touring with him, I was like, 'Can I play?' He was like, 'No.' I said, 'OK, I'll go somewhere else.' This was nice. I'm really glad we beat his team."
Then came a big smile. You will see that smile again soon, because Sparks is going to sing the national anthem before the 82nd All-Star Game on Tuesday night on FOX.
ESPN reporter Erin Andrews (AL) and Jamie Denton from Desperate Housewives (NL) managed rosters this time, and as expected, it was a ball doing it.
"I have really just grown up," Andrews joked.
"I get to manage Ozzie Smith and Steve Garvey," Denton said. "It's tough, because I've got Mark Grace and Steve Garvey. One of the guys doing the programming said, 'Well, just start Grace, because it's Phoenix, and bench Garvey.' I'm like, 'Are you telling me to bench Steve Garvey? That's what I'm supposed to do?' Welcome to managing, right? No thanks."
One of the biggest ovations was reserved for Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who, as a baseball player, is a great football player. Asked how he is coping with the current NFL lockout, Fitzgerald said has no plans to take up baseball.
"We're doing fine," he said. "We're just biding our time, waiting for things to clear up. We're optimistic things are going to be resolved here in the next couple of weeks and get back to work."
There were highlights galore in this game. "Glee" actor Chord Overstreet made the play of the game, diving and tumbling to catch a Rickey Henderson liner -- and then coming up to throw to first to double up "Extra" reporter A.J. Calloway.
"I use to play travel baseball a lot," Overstreet said. "I ruptured my ACL my senior year of football, and I came back and I didn't get to throw or hit until the week before the season. First game I came back, the first swing I took, I hit a bomb over 360. Then I didn't hit hardly anything the rest of the season, but that's one of my fond memories.
"It's so fun. I'm a huge fan of all these guys, Hall of Famers and legends. Being on the same field is just an honor. I'm so blessed to be doing this."
One of the players on the AL team was Chris Pratt, an actor who plays the part of former A's player Scott Hatteberg in the upcoming movie "Moneyball," an adaptation of the bestselling book about A's general manager Billy Beane and his transformative system of sabermetric management. This was a glimpse of a face baseball fans are likely to get to know more when that movie hits box offices.
"Unlike a lot of other movies that have baseball, this is not necessarily a baseball movie, it's a character piece about Billy Beane as a GM," Pratt explained. "What's nice about this movie is that the director stayed really authentic to the sport, by casting primarily all ex-pros and guys from farm leagues. They're really throwing the ball and really hitting the ball. You've got guys hitting 90-mph fastballs on camera. These guys are players, they're not actors. Other than myself. Stephen Bishop, who plays David Justice as an extra, used to play in the pros as well.
"You're going to see Royce Clayton playing Miguel Tejada, which is kind of funny. It shows you a different side of baseball. You get to see it from the GM's perspective, which is something you don't really see a lot of. The people who like sabermetrics, the Bill James guys. It at least created a conversation that is pretty heated on both sides, whether you agree or disagree with it."
Jennie Finch, always the center of attention in this annual event, threw a signature windmill heater ... behind the back of Jonas.
Carlos Bocanegra, captain of the U.S. men's soccer team, went up for his first at-bat on the AL squad and Mike Piazza had placed a soccer ball in front of home plate. Then Finch ordered the whole NL team to come in, and together they all formed a free-shot wall.
"I told them they better be wearing cups," Bocanegra said later. "That was a funny gesture. I knew they were going to do something."
Finch then sent all the fielders back to their positions, and then pitched the soccer ball to Bocanegra. He kicked it high in the air to Smith at short. Then Bocanegra singled to left on a real pitch.
"It's awesome," said Finch, the University of Arizona alum who had a three-week old son "chillin'" back at the hotel. It was a home crowd for her.
"This is our backyard," she said, "and it's great to be back in the Phoenix area and to be an All-Star again. I'm soaking up the atmosphere."