Bill Nye hit a softball better than Shaq, Olympic Gold Medalist let others wear her medals and other things you might not have heard that occurred during MLB All-Star Week

The 89th Major League Baseball All-Star Game is behind us. The event has morphed from a one-evening game to almost a week-long smorgasbord of activities seemingly dominated by celebrities, star players and selfies — celebrities and players taking selfies of each other, fans taking selfies with celebrities and players, fans taking selfies of selfies of celebrities and players.

Don’t get me wrong, I like to rub shoulders with VIPs and elite athletes as much as the next person. But the more I do it, the less clear the reason becomes.

If you’re a baseball fan, you probably know that the American League won its sixth consecutive All-Star Game over the National League, 8–6, in a contest that featured a record ten home runs. And you might know that Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper won the Home Run Derby in dramatic fashion in front of his home crowd, which rocked Nationals Park louder than at any time since maybe Max Scherzer’s 20-strikeout game in 2016 or Jayson Werth’s walk-off homer to win a 2012 playoff game.

Now for a few things you might not have heard:

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Bill Nye the Science Guy, at bat above, hit a single during the All-Star Celebrity Softball Game. Shaq popped up to the catcher. [Shay photo]
  • 62-year-old Bill Nye the Science Guy and 61-year-old ESPN analyst Tim Kurkjian hit a slow-pitch softball better than 46-year-old NBA Hall of Famer Shaq.

During the Celebrity Softball Game on Sunday, it was not surprising to see participants like wrestler Miz, Skins cornerback Josh Norman and Wizards guard John Wall do well with two hits apiece. It was slightly surprising to witness seniors and Nats fans Nye and Kurkjian make solid contact. At least they didn’t pull a Jose Canseco and let a pop-up bounce off their heads, as MLB Hall of Famer Andre Dawson did.
The dramatic bat of the night belonged to Shaq, who served as DJ until he switched places with actor Jamie Foxx. After vowing to hit a home run and calling his shot like Babe Ruth, the big guy hit only air on two swings, then popped up weakly to catcher/rapper Wale. In fairness to Shaq, he didn’t practice as much as the other participants and he made more contact hitting an actual baseball in a 2009 exhibition against Albert Pujols.
As one guy tweeted, “Celebrity softball is a legend killer.”

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Jennifer Lopez tried to hide behind a camera, at far right, in the Fox Sports booth. [Shay photo]
  • Fox Sports analysts drew a crowd, but J-Lo stole the show.
    Towards the end of the main game, the Fox Sports analyst crew attracted quite a crowd at its booth just behind the left field seats. Many fans yelled the names of Frank Thomas and David Ortiz, who called a few inside the booth to take selfies.
    But the crowd really expanded after Alex Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez showed up, rocking a tight, striped dress and heels that reportedly cost $800. The actress and singer drew more buzz and camera phones from the crowd than the athletes and analysts. She tried to duck behind a camera on the side, but there was little place to hide.
    Meanwhile, Astros infielder Alex Bregman, one of 32 first-time All-Stars, was the MVP for his home run in the tenth inning that broke a 5–5 tie. It was fitting that the game went into an extra inning since before that, the all-time series was tied not just in wins and losses at 43–43–2, but in total runs scored at 361.
    Some say that Mariners shortstop Jean Segura should have been named MVP since he not only hit a three-run homer than broke a 2–2 tie in the eighth inning, but had another hit and scored twice. Bregman’s homer was only his first hit of the night in three tries. #AllStarGameMVPgate, anyone?
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Bryce Harper dedicated a youth baseball complex a few hours before winning the Home Run Derby. [Fairfax County photo]
  • There was no HomeRunDerbygate.
    Some fans who wanted their team’s representatives to win the homer contest claimed that certain pitchers cheated by not waiting until balls hit foul or over the fence landed before tossing the next pitch. But the rules state that the next pitch can begin after a ball is caught on the field or hits the ground, or when a foul or homer leaves the field of play.
    An umpire behind home plate signals pitchers that they can throw the next pitch. Some Cubs fans claimed that Harper got more balls to hit in the final round against Kyle Schwarber due to quick pitches. But Schwarber actually swung at 44 pitches, hitting 18 homers, compared with Harper swinging at 38, hitting 19 homers.
    Opposing fans also chided Schwarber and Phillies player Rhys Hoskins for supposedly benefiting by quick pitches. But they neglected to fully check the rules and note the signals by the ump behind home plate. Sorry, there is no #HRDerbygate. I think.
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Lisa Fernandez, left, let people at FanFest wear one of her Olympic Gold Medals around their necks. [Shay photo]
  • Fans were given the chance to not only touch an Olympic Gold medal but wear one around their necks.
    A three-time Olympic Gold medalist and four-time All-American softball player at UCLA, Lisa Fernandez was nice enough to let people wear a medal around their necks as they posed with her by a large, autographed baseball. That made many fans’ days, some of whom forgot they wore the medal and started to walk off with it.
    Though growing up in California, Fernandez wore a Cubs jersey. Curious, especially since she continues to coach softball at UCLA in the heart of Dodgersland.
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Davey Johnson, former player and manager, was popular at FanFest. [Shay photo]
  • Davey Johnson was one of the most popular former or current players and managers to appear at All-Star FanFest.
    During the five-day extravaganza of baseball hands-on activities, exhibits and sessions with players and managers, few attracted more of a crowd than Johnson. Exceptions included Scherzer and Cal Ripken Jr.
    During a question-and-answer session with fans, the folksy Johnson — who not only led the Nats but won two World Series as an Orioles player and managed the Mets to a ring — opined on everything from changes in the game to the fickle nature of general managers and owners.
    Just four years after managing the Mets to a championship, he was fired. He was also shown the door after successful gigs with the Reds, Orioles and Nats and a less triumphant one with the Dodgers. His managerial record was an excellent .562, ranking him tenth all-time in winning percentage among skippers with at least 1,000 career victories. But winning sometimes didn’t matter as much as dealing with personalities, he said.
    “I’ve been everywhere,” Johnson said. “As a manager, I kept getting fired, and I kept going somewhere else.”
    In his new book, My Wild Ride in Baseball and Beyond, Johnson wrote that he privately didn’t agree with the Nationals’ controversial 2012 decision to shut down ace pitcher Stephen Strasburg before the playoffs, even though he publicly supported the move at the time. The Nats would have “gone to the World Series [in 2012] with Strasburg in the rotation during the playoffs,” Johnson wrote.
    The decision to limit Strasburg to only 160 innings that year after returning from Tommy John surgery was the doctors and GM Mike Rizzo’s, who wanted to save the ace for future playoff runs, he said. “I had taken care of pitchers my whole life,” Johnson wrote. “This was the best time of Strasburg’s career and he should be pitching.”
    So journeyman Edwin Jackson, who had been an All-Star in 2009 but was not on the level of Strasburg in 2012, became the team’s fourth pitcher against the Cardinals in the NLDS. Jackson bombed Game 3, which Washington lost by 8–0, then also gave up a run in relief in Game 5 when the team faced a shortage of arms. The Nats ended up blowing a 6–0 lead that game to get knocked out of the playoffs. Strasburg would continue to get hurt and the Nats continue to lose first-round playoff series, though the ace had a dominant Game 4 against the Cubs in 2017. That was negated by more poor pitching and controversial umpire calls in the deciding Game 5.
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Comedian Scott Rogowsky, in the Mets jersey, was among the few celebs to stop to greet fans near his bus after the game. [Shay photo]
  • Scott Rogowsky is a class act.
    Celebrities constantly get asked to pose for selfies or sign just about anything. While most are cool about obliging, it wears on even the most patient.
    After the Celebrity Softball Game, some celeb-seekers spotted the bus that many VIPs rode back to their hotel. A small crowd gathered about 100 feet from it behind a concrete blockade, with some yelling the names of those they recognized. Most were more than tired and anxious to leave, so they understandably ignored the yells. Among the few to venture over to the fans was comedian Rogowsky, the host of HQ Trivia who made the masterful pitches to Shaq. He patiently talked to the crowd and signed everything.
    The only downside was Rogowsky sported a Mets jersey. But still, you have to tip your hat to him.

Kevin Shay is a general assignment reporter for the Loudoun Tribune, among other publications. He has written for The Dallas Morning News, Washington Post’s Gazette and others.

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Written for 45+ newspapers/mags. Written some books — see https://www.amazon.com/Kevin-J.-Shay/e/B004BCQRTG. Visited 48 states, 30+ countries.

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