Celebs have their day on the field
All-Star Legends and Celebrity Softball Game played Sunday
DETROIT -- The Taco Bell All-Star Legends and Celebrity Softball game had a twist this year -- the team captains, ESPN's Harold Reynolds and Kenny Mayne, gathered the players together and picked the teams right on the field.
It was kind of like how we used to pick teams as kids on the playground, whether it was basketball, football, baseball ... but this time, Mayne and Reynolds had to make some tough decisions, considering it was hard to decide who were the best athletes. Should they go with a Hall of Fame player, such as Dave Winfield, Ozzie Smith or Rollie Fingers, or do they pick USA Softball studs such as Jennie Finch or Lovieanne Jung?
Let's face it, most people were, at some point, the last one selected on these pickup teams as kids. So as the softball participants were preparing for this game on Sunday at Comerica Park, one had to wonder if there was any "please pick me" anxiety.
"They've got people like Jennie Finch here, so I'm probably not high on the list," said James Denton, the hunky plumber from the hit television series 'Desperate Housewives.' "But I'm fairly confident. I'm a decent player. We're just going to have fun and try not to embarrass ourselves."
It was a sentiment echoed among all participants.
When the teams were picked, Reynolds surveyed his choices and shook his head in mock frustration.
"They can't catch," Reynolds said. "We're done."
Not so. Reynolds' American Leaguers won, 9-7, much to the delight of the 39,646 fans who root for their hometown AL Tigers.
Plumber by day, baseball fan for life: Just a couple of weeks ago, Denton was at Minute Maid Park in Houston, serving as the celebrity umpire for a charity softball game between the Astros and Rangers wives.
And now, he's playing in the All-Star celebrity softball game. And don't be surprised if you see him in a baseball stadium near you in the not so distant future. Turns out, Denton, a Dodgers season-ticket holder, is a baseball nut. He's trying to get to as many Major League ballparks in his spare time as possible, and he's doing a pretty good job of it.
Of course, he had some help getting the word out.
"I mentioned it on 'Oprah' that I was a big baseball fan," he said. "Never underestimate the power of Oprah. The phone started ringing immediately. I got calls from 10-12 clubs. It's really a thrill for me."
Best darned outfielder, period: Leann Tweeden is a regular participant of the Legends and Celebrity game, and even though it's all in good fun, she also wants to win.
Of course, she's got a little bit at stake. Tweeden, a personality on "The Best Damn Sports Show Period," eventually has to face here co-hosts in the studio. And these aren't your every day coworkers -- they are also former professional athletes who played their sport at the highest level: Rob Dibble (baseball), John Salley (basketball) and Rodney Peete (football).
"If I lose, they'll rip me a little bit," Tweeden surmised. "If we win, it's all good. I just want to go home a winner."
Unfortunately for Tweeden, she was on the National League team, which lost by two runs.
Billy Bob steals show: One Hollywood heavyweight who attracted plenty of attention at Comerica Park was Billy Bob Thornton, who is currently promoting his movie, a remake of "The Bad News Bears."
Thornton is a huge baseball fan with a lifelong allegiance to the St. Louis Cardinals. Needless to say, last October was a little rough for him.
"But, if you're going to get beat in the Series, since Boston hadn't won it since 1918, it's not as bad," he said. "If it had been the Yankees, I would have been really [hacked] off."
Thornton said thinking about Detroit sends chills down his spine. Being at Comerica is like taking him right back to 1968.
"One of the worst years of my life," he said. "The Tigers beat the Cardinals in the World Series. Mickey Lolich won three games. I was a little kid, and I was devastated."
Asked how his game is these days, Thornton offered a modest shrug.
"I'm 49 years old," he said. "I used to be pretty good. We'll see. I was a pitcher growing up, and slow pitch softball doesn't really do it for me. You can't really throw your junk. I might have to play second base today."
Believe it or not, Finch wasn't sure how her game was going to go, either.
"I'm not very good at slow pitch," she said. "It's a much different game than fast pitch. I played in a NASCAR [celebrity game] last week with Richard Petty, and I was terrible. I may be able to field some ground balls, but on the offensive side? Not sure."
Finch wasn't far off the mark. She popped to short in her first at-bat.
It's a pride thing: The overwhelming goal among the Hollywood types was to play without embarrassing themselves.
"I'm a little nervous, I've got to tell you," said Larry Joe Campbell of 'The World According to Jim.' "I used to play some slow pitch back in the day and I wasn't very good then, either. But you've got to have fun. If you can't have fun in this surrounding, you really shouldn't be playing."
"You don't want to make a fool of yourself in front of the crowd," said Jon Lovitz, star of the hit baseball movie 'A League of Their Own.' "But the ballplayers are so nice. They'll help you out. You're out there and they'll say, Jon, move over to your left.' Just to be on the field around these guys is so exciting."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.