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:
- 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.”
- 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?
- 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.
- Foreign-born players continue to comprise more than one-third of All-Star rosters.
This year, there were 25 foreign-born players on the 72-member All-Star rosters, the second most in history behind 30 in 2016. The most were from Venezuela , followed by Puerto Rico  and the Dominican Republic . Rangers outfielder Shin-Soo Choo was the first Korean-born position player, while Indians catcher Yan Gomes was the first player from Brazil.
The Dominican Republic has had the most all-time, foreign-born All-Stars with 89, followed by Venezuela , Puerto Rico , Cuba , Canada , Japan  and Mexico . MLB played Canada’s national anthem before the All-Star Game, along with the United States, since there is a team in Canada. But if the league expands to Mexico and perhaps other nations, as Commissioner Robert Manfred suggested it could, will it play anthems from other countries?
“I would love to get [from 30] to 32 teams,” Manfred said. “There are a number of cities [in] Canada, Mexico and in the United States that want Major League Baseball. That’s a great thing for our sport.”
A side note: The U.S. team beat the World team in the All-Star Futures Game, 10–6, for its eighth win in the last nine years. That came despite two home runs by Cuban Yusniel Diaz, now with the Orioles as part of the Manny Machado trade. Taylor Trammell of California, which some are trying to make its own country, was the game MVP with a homer and triple.
For the record, I didn’t see any MAGA or Obama hats or shirts. But there were some religious nuts causing a scene right outside centerfield gate with large signs and bullhorns. Trump did not attend any of the All-Star activities, but he no doubt is taking credit for at least the last two U.S. Futures Game victories.
- 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.
- 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.
- The urban redevelopment promised by proponents of public financing around Nationals Park is happening.
When Nats Park was built a decade ago at a cost of about $700 million, some criticized the use of public funds, mostly through gross receipts and utility taxes on businesses and a special sales tax on stadium items. Opponents said that city taxpayers and businesses would foot most of the bill, while the Nats essentially would pay little and owners would see their franchise value rise through the roof.
Proponents argued that the new park would jumpstart development in neighborhoods that sorely needed it. Post columnist Thomas Boswell, among others, say that is exactly what has happened.
From the new condos, apartments and shops right outside the park to the redevelopment of Navy Yards to the east and DC Wharf waterfront to the west, the area is bustling with construction activity. A new 20,000-seat stadium for DC United just opened within walking distance of Nats Park.
Of course, the new housing will jack up rent for many who have lived there for years, forcing a lot of people to move. And their lives will be affected by the new traffic during games and events.
- 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.