It was a St. Patrick’s night of baseball as Hohokam Park hosted it’s only night game this spring. The third annual Fergie & Friends celebrity baseball game for charity was played last night on a gorgeous AZ evening. Who won or lost doesn’t really matter because the real winners were the charities who benefited from this event.
I should note, this was a “baseball” game played with real baseball’s and wood bats…not slo-pitch softball.
For the record Fergie and his talented Friends won the game easily, the final was 14-5 or 14-4 in the midst of post game high-fives I forgot to look at the scoreboard. Fergie’s team also ended a couple innings after scoring 3 runs even though they had less than three outs, otherwise the score would have been even more lopsided. With Fergie’s MLB stars and Hall of Famers vs us average Joe’s and local TV & Radio types, the game was never really going to be competitive.
For me playing in the Fergie game for the second year in a row was unreal, especially sharing a dugout with all these former MLB greats and Hall of Famers. In the locker before the game started, I learned our AZ team better come up to the plate swinging against the Fergie team. That was made clear by game umpire Major Allgood, who said, your strike zone is going to be “nose to toes”, and “dugout to dugout”…Not a confidence booster when you are looking out at Lee Arthur Smith or JR Richard on the mound.
Jogging in the outfield before the game I came across an area in center field littered with sun flower seed shells, obviously spit out by our 2010 Chicago Cubs. At that moment it hit me that I was going to be playing on the same lush outfield as Marlon Byrd, Alfonso Soriano, and Kosuke Fukudome had been stationed the day before…Talk about a dream come true.
This game was all for fun and a good cause but part of my problem is that I have a bit of Walter Mitty in me and I’m just dumb enough to think I can still play baseball at a decent level. That competitiveness would come into play early in the game.
Before the game started 91 years young Hall of Famer Bob Feller threw out the ceremonial pitch. Current Cubs first base coach Ivan De Jesus was our AZ team Manager for the evening, I ended up starting in LF and batting 7th.
Last year I was also in LF and in two innings didn’t get any fly balls hit my way so I was hoping for a little action…and I got it right away. In the first inning a hard liner was hit towards me, the Mitty and adrenaline kicked in and I went for it on a full sprint. The ball was about to hit the ground as approached it. I went low in a type of awkward sliding motion, the ball hit in my glove pocket, which hit my knee simultaneously causing the ball to come loose. They got a single out of it and I got a large knot on my knee…in hindsight I should have just played it as a clean single on the bounce. I did catch a decently hit fly ball to end the inning though.
In my first at-bat I came up against Fergie himself, I watched the first pitch go about 4 inches inside of the plate but umpire Major Osgood called it strike one. Seeing that, I knew if the next pitch was close I would be swinging. I hit a grounder past Fergie up the middle between the shortstop and 2nd baseman for a single. Our offensive inning finished with Hohokam organist Geroge Kiefer hitting a hard liner, unfortunately right at the third baseman, leaving me stranded at first.
After two innings I came out of the game as we had several people who hadn’t played yet. I got back in the game (rules are relaxed) at third base for the final inning but didn’t get any defensive action. We started a little rally in the final inning and had scored 2 runs when I came to the plate against Lee Smith with runners on second and third. I took the first pitch low for a ball and then saw a pretty big gap between the first and second basemen. I closed my stance a bit and planned to look opposite field. However Lee threw the ball inside, I was able to pull it between the third baseman and shortstop for an RBI single. I was left stranded again as a pop-out ended the game.
Playing in the game was amazing! Perhaps the best part was hearing the MLB guys swap stories. Like Bobby Dernier telling of a time when Big Dave Kingman hit a ball so hard that he was almost afraid to try and catch it. Lee Smith saying that Fergie needs to get a little “soul food” for the pregame meal. Pete LaCock and Jay Johnstone each giving me grief while I was at first base. One of them telling me I “better watch out or I’ll get picked off by a snap throw” from catcher Ozzie Virgil Jr., then saying “oh I think he recently had shoulder surgery, never mind”.
I also had the chance to talk with long time Wrigley Field PA Announcer and National Anthem singer Wayne Messmer and his lovely wife Kathleen before the game. The duo sang a rousing version God Bless America.
Physically I feel pretty good today other than the bruised knee, of course that wouldn’t keep me off the field if I had to play again tonight.
The whole Fergie & Friends evening was blast, it was a St. Patrick’s Day I’ll never forget.
Photos by John Antonoff
Hall of Famer Bob Feller before the game
Fergie still working it
My hit off Lee Smith, don’t let Rudy J see this swing
Howler helping the fleet-footed Jon Warden reach first
Bill Buckner at meet and greet