I arrived to Richard Sherman’s Charity Softball Game about an hour before the gates opened. All thoughts of being too early we’re immediately gone as I pulled in to Tacoma’s Cheney Stadium’s parking lot.
There were 12th men and women decked out as if it were game day. Footballs were being thrown, autographed jerseys were worn, decorated fan cars were already there, and there was a line wrapping all the way around the stadium. It was clear the game was an important event to a lot of people.
As I found my way around the outfield to the first base entrance, I noticed a crowd gathering. A big, boxey limousine was slowly making it’s way to the front gate. No doubt there were players inside. Security quickly set up a barricade, and some players entered the stadium, including Bruce Irvin and Bobby Wagner. No doubt, the biggest cheer was when Russell Wilson came out.
Once word came that Wilson had arrived, even more fans rushed to see the young quarterback. He was closely followed by a security guard for the twenty yard walk from the limousine to the VIP entrance. After the players entered a few U.S. Veterens of Foreign Wars also exited the limousine. One man had an amputated leg, another had severe scaring on his face and wore a sweatshirt that read “Bomb Squad.”
The veterens were with the Seahawks because one of the two main charities that the game was raising money for was Homes for Heros (http://www.homesforheroes.com/). The other charity was the Richard Sherman Foundation (https://www.facebook.com/ShermanBlanketCoverage). The veterans all received a polite clap upon their entrance to the stadium.
After the hoopla died down, I met up with Diane (12thmanwriting staff writer), and we got our press passes and entered the stadium. About half of the over 7,000 fans (no official attendance) showed up early. Many of them sought autographs or better seats in the general admission areas.
The home run derby was the first scheduled event. About an hour before that started, several players warmed up on the field by playing catch. One fan heckled the event’s host, Richard Sherman while he was speaking simultaneously playing catch, and speaking with a reporter.
“Sherman, you throw like a girl.”
“Then a girl must throw very good.” Sherman answered back. In the male dominated world of professional sports, it was a refreshing answer.
During the warm-ups, I had a chance to speak briefly with Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner. First, I asked him what the Home for Heroes charity meant to him.
“As far as the veterans, you know, they go out there and risk their lives all the time. So, when you have an opportunity you have to do it because they’re out there risking their lives for you so you have to show them support.”
Next, I asked him about the upcoming season, “As far as the pressure with your sophomore season and the expectations for the upcoming season, is there anything different you’re doing you’re your preparation?”
“No pressure at all. Just another walk in the park.” Wagner made direct eye contact while answering all questions. He wore a face of confidence at all times, and dead panned all jokes.
“Who has the best swing on the team?”
“Well, a lot of people would say Russell Wilson because he knows how to play, but I’m going to say me.”
I threw in a non-sports related question. “Sir Mix-a-Lot or Macklemore, who would you take?”
“Macklemore. Everytime. I never met the other dude, I met Macklemore. I’m a loyal friend. If you was rapping against somebody I didn’t know, I’m picking you.”
“What are your goals at the plate today?”
“Outhit Earl (Thomas). I can’t let Earl hit more than I do.” Earl Thomas went on to out hit Wagner 3-0 in the home run derby. In the top of the fourth, Thomas added an inside the park home run. Wagner answered with a towering home run in the bottom half. Thomas later added a sacrifice fly and a few running catches in center. Wagner scored a couple more runs, and hit an RBI single.
Some of the players like Russell Wilson, and Lawyer Milloy looked more natural with their baseball mechanics. Others, like Kam Chancellor, and Doug Baldwin looked like they could use a few extra tosses.
Just before the field was cleared to begin the Home Run Derby, Seattle Supersonics legend Shawn Kemp answered some of questions.
“As a long time Seattle sports icon, what does it mean to you to come back and play with the Seattle Seahawks at this event?”
Kemp had a lot to say, “It’s always good man, I support these guys for whatever they do in the city and for the kids, and, it’s exciting. It reminds me back when I played also, when we were trying to do more than just one thing. You’re not just playing a professional sport, but you’re also standing for something strong which is where your character is. And I think it speaks a lot about Richard to put this event on so I definitely wanted to take part in it.”
“What keeps you staying in Seattle year after year?”
“Well first of all, my family and my kids. I’ve been fortunate to be married for a number of years. I think the northwest has always supported me in a good faith, and gave me a sense of foundation. And, even when things go opposite in your life, you tend to go back to where the foundation is strong, and that’s kind of what I wanted to do, just be a part of a community, not be a standout or anything, but just be part of a community that stands for something strong.”
This theme of community was apparent throughout the event. The fans showed up early, and in numbers. The players, some from rival teams having fun, and using their status as professional athletes to raise money for less advantaged people. Several local businesses sponsored events. Several fans took part in actions that funded the causes. And the smiles on the faces of the players, and fans all seemed quite genuine.
“Shawn, how are the Seahawks going to do this year?”
“The Seahawks are going to the Super Bowl.”
“Macklemore vs. Sir Mix-a-lot, who do you take?” He hesitated and stumbled over his words a bit before answering.
“I’m going to take Mix-a-lot, but I like Macklemore…Can’t we have them both?”
“ You’re personal goals at the plate?”
“My personal goal at the plate is to go to the fence…going out of the park.” He went on to loft a high pop up home run to deep center during the home run derby.
For both the home run derby and the game, the fences were brought in to a symmetrical 300ft. using a temporary fence. That was a 125ft. difference in deep center. Perhaps another ten or twenty feet would have helped the derby.
Officially, each player had seven pitches and five swings. However, some players like Russell Wilson, and Terrell Owens had a few extra. The Legion of Boom, led by Earl Thomas’ three home runs, won the team trophy. The five other teams didn’t come close.
Other than Earl Thomas, Golden Tate had the best individual performance. He belted his first two pitches over the right field wall and out of the ball park. He would also play excellent defense, and go on to win the MVP of the game.
The game itself was a seven inning affair that was as much exhibition as it was competition. Each team had about six outfielders take the field at the same time, and the batting orders were two times as long as an official score card. It was all in good fun.
Terrell Owens pitched a complete game, and added two home runs for the champion grey team. One home run came in the top of the fourth inning after one of the games most controversial moments. After T.O. caught a line drive, he threw it to Kam Chancellor at first in an attempt at a double play. Coach, Russell Wilson erupted, running out on to the field. He picked up first base and threw it in to foul territory.
Infamous replacement referre Lance Easley, from the Seahawks controversial Monday Night Football game, threw yellow flags and the crowd erupted. Wilson took a microphone before his team’s next at bat, and said that T.O. would hit a home run to get them back in the game. Sure enough, T.O. answered his coaches call with a line drive home run. A few batters later, Golden Tate did the same.
Between the top and the bottom of the fourth inning, Richard Sherman took the mic to talk about his charity organization’s mission to provide school supplies to youth.
“Everybody doesn’t start out on an even playing field and we’re just trying to even it out for more kids.”
At the end of the day, the final score was 20-20, and the game was decided by a home run derby playoff. Walter Thurmond hit the game winner, but it was clear that the big winners of the day were the charities, the 12th Man, and the great community that we have here as sports fans in the Pacific Northwest.