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6 Special Guest Stars at Spring Training

The casual fan generally needs a program to keep track of all the players at a spring training baseball game. After all, it's not every day that Billy Crystal bats leadoff for the Yankees. While the practice of allowing distinguished guests to participate against professionals irks some traditionalists, here are the stories of six celebrities who have suited up at spring training games over the years.

1. Billy Crystal

Crystal celebrated his 60th birthday by batting leadoff for his beloved New York Yankees in a 2008 spring training game against the Pirates. Crystal, an avid baseball fan who directed 61*, received a huge ovation as he strolled to the plate for his first and only at-bat. "I asked him if he'd been getting any rookie hazing," Pirates catcher Ryan Doumit told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "He didn't say anything. He looked like he was about ready to throw up from the nerves." Crystal didn't throw up, but he did strike out. The actor took the first pitch from Pirates pitcher Paul Maholm up and outside for a ball and then dribbled a foul wide of first base. Maholm put a little extra on his next two pitches, but both of them missed the plate. With a 3-1 count, Crystal swung and missed at the next two pitches. "Both were [cut fastballs]," he said. "I was mad at myself for swinging." Crystal and Maholm exchanged signed baseballs after the game.

2. Tom Selleck

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Selleck, who wore a Detroit Tigers cap in his title role on the classic television series Magnum, P.I., donned his favorite team's entire uniform for one spring training at-bat in 1991. Selleck, a Detroit native, spent a lot of time with the Tigers in Lakeland, Fla., that spring while preparing for his starring role in the 1992 film Mr. Baseball. Selleck pinch hit for Rob Deer with two outs in the eighth inning of Detroit's 6-4 loss to the Reds and struck out against Tim Layana, despite reports that Cincinnati catcher Jeff Reed was tipping pitches. "My knees were shaking a little bit," Selleck said after the game. Layana, who won a World Series as a member of the 1990 Reds "Nasty Boys" bullpen, appeared in 78 games over three seasons before injuries led him to retire. He died in a car crash in 1999.

3. Bruce Hornsby

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Hornsby met major league pitcher Mark Langston at a concert in 1987 and the two became friends. Hornsby invited Langston to join a chorus that provided background finger-snapping on his A Night on the Town album, and Langston invited Hornsby to take batting practice with the California Angels before a game in Baltimore in 1991. Hornsby appeared as a pinch runner for the Angels during a spring training game against the Mariners in 1997. "He keeps saying how he's going to get me out on stage," said Langston, who went to see Hornsby perform the day after Hornsby's spring training debut. "No, he's not. I'll disappear real fast."

4. Garth Brooks

spring-training-brooksBrooks was a multi-sport athlete in high school and received a track scholarship to Oklahoma State, where he threw the javelin, before deciding to focus full-time on his music career. A big baseball fan, Brooks was invited to the San Diego Padres' spring training camp in 1998 and appeared as a pinch runner, almost getting picked off twice. The Padres welcomed Brooks back to spring training in 1999. The team benefited from the publicity, while Brooks used the experience to raise awareness about his Touch "˜Em All Foundation for underprivileged kids. "There's no chance of him being on the major-league club, but we're excited to have him because I think he's going to bring a lot of enthusiasm and hard work into camp, because that's how he goes about his business," Padres manager Bruce Bochy said.

Bochy was right—there was no chance of Brooks making the team. He finished the spring 1-for-22 with one RBI. "Nike came to ask me to not wear their stuff," Brooks joked. Brooks has also made spring appearances with the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals, most recently in 2004.

5. Kevin Costner

costner-spring-trainingIn 2002, Costner played for Single-A San Bernardino in a spring training exhibition game against the Seattle Mariners. Costner, whose baseball-heavy filmography includes Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, and For the Love of the Game, went 0-for-3 and committed an error at shortstop. In the final inning of the Mariners' 12-4 win, Costner was summoned to pitch. Mariners manager Lou Piniella, who later told reporters that "Costner looked tempting," inserted himself as a pinch hitter. Costner's first pitch was up and in, sending Piniella sprawling to the dirt. "We try to tell our players not to charge the mound, and I've got to set the example," said Piniella, who drew a walk.

6. Tom Verducci

spring-training-6While his celebrity pales in comparison to the others on this list, Sports Illustrated's senior baseball writer spent five days as a player for the Toronto Blue Jays during spring training in 2005. In his only at-bat, Verducci popped out to first base against Chad Gaudin in an intrasquad game.

Verducci's cover story appeared 45 years after legendary sportswriter George Plimpton pitched to a lineup of National League sluggers at the 1960 All-Star Game, an experience Plimpton chronicled in Out of My League.

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13 Fascinating Facts About Nina Simone
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Nina Simone, who would’ve celebrated her 85th birthday today, was known for using her musical platform to speak out. “I think women play a major part in opening the doors for better understanding around the world,” the “Strange Fruit” songstress once said. Though she chose to keep her personal life shrouded in secrecy, these facts grant VIP access into a life well-lived and the music that still lives on.

1. NINA SIMONE WAS HER STAGE NAME.

The singer was born as Eunice Waymon on February 21, 1933. But by age 21, the North Carolina native was going by a different name at her nightly Atlantic City gig: Nina Simone. She hoped that adopting a different name would keep her mother from finding out about her performances. “Nina” was her boyfriend’s nickname for her at the time. “Simone” was inspired by Simone Signoret, an actress that the singer admired.

2. SHE HAD HUMBLE BEGINNINGS.


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There's a reason that much of the singer's music had gospel-like sounds. Simone—the daughter of a Methodist minister and a handyman—was raised in the church and started playing the piano by ear at age 3. She got her start in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina, where she played gospel hymns and classical music at Old St. Luke’s CME, the church where her mother ministered. After Simone died on April 21, 2003, she was memorialized at the same sanctuary.

3. SHE WAS BOOK SMART...

Simone, who graduated valedictorian of her high school class, studied at the prestigious Julliard School of Music for a brief period of time before applying to Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. Unfortunately, Simone was denied admission. For years, she maintained that her race was the reason behind the rejection. But a Curtis faculty member, Vladimir Sokoloff, has gone on record to say that her skin color wasn’t a factor. “It had nothing to do with her…background,” he said in 1992. But Simone ended up getting the last laugh: Two days before her death, the school awarded her an honorary degree.

4. ... WITH DEGREES TO PROVE IT.

Simone—who preferred to be called “doctor Nina Simone”—was also awarded two other honorary degrees, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Malcolm X College.

5. HER CAREER WAS ROOTED IN ACTIVISM.

A photo of Nina Simone circa 1969

Gerrit de Bruin

At the age of 12, Simone refused to play at a church revival because her parents had to sit at the back of the hall. From then on, Simone used her art to take a stand. Many of her songs in the '60s, including “Mississippi Goddamn,” “Why (The King of Love Is Dead),” and “Young, Gifted and Black,” addressed the rampant racial injustices of that era.

Unfortunately, her activism wasn't always welcome. Her popularity diminished; venues didn’t invite her to perform, and radio stations didn’t play her songs. But she pressed on—even after the Civil Rights Movement. In 1997, Simone told Interview Magazine that she addressed her songs to the third world. In her own words: “I’m a real rebel with a cause.”

6. ONE OF HER MOST FAMOUS SONGS WAS BANNED.

Mississippi Goddam,” her 1964 anthem, only took her 20 minutes to an hour to write, according to legend—but it made an impact that still stands the test of time. When she wrote it, Simone had been fed up with the country’s racial unrest. Medger Evers, a Mississippi-born civil rights activist, was assassinated in his home state in 1963. That same year, the Ku Klux Klan bombed a Birmingham Baptist church and as a result, four young black girls were killed. Simone took to her notebook and piano to express her sentiments.

“Alabama's gotten me so upset/Tennessee made me lose my rest/And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam,” she sang.

Some say that the song was banned in Southern radio stations because “goddam” was in the title. But others argue that the subject matter is what caused the stations to return the records cracked in half.

7. SHE NEVER HAD A NUMBER ONE HIT.

Nina Simone released over 40 albums during her decades-spanning career including studio albums, live versions, and compilations, and scored 15 Grammy nominations. But her highest-charting (and her first) hit, “I Loves You, Porgy,” peaked at #2 on the U.S. R&B charts in 1959. Still, her music would go on to influence legendary singers like Roberta Flack and Aretha Franklin.

8. SHE USED HER STYLE TO MAKE A STATEMENT.

Head wraps, bold jewelry, and floor-skimming sheaths were all part of Simone’s stylish rotation. In 1967, she wore the same black crochet fishnet jumpsuit with flesh-colored lining for the entire year. Not only did it give off the illusion of her being naked, but “I wanted people to remember me looking a certain way,” she said. “It made it easier for me.”

9. SHE HAD MANY HOMES.

New York City, Liberia, Barbados, England, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands were all places that Simone called home. She died at her home in Southern France, and her ashes were scattered in several African countries.

10. SHE HAD A FAMOUS INNER CIRCLE.

During the late '60s, Simone and her second husband Andrew Stroud lived next to Malcolm X and his family in Mount Vernon, New York. He wasn't her only famous pal. Simone was very close with playwright Lorraine Hansberry. After Hansberry’s death, Simone penned “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” in her honor, a tribute to Hansberry's play of the same title. Simone even struck up a brief friendship with David Bowie in the mid-1970s, who called her every night for a month to offer his advice and support.

11. YOU CAN STILL VISIT SIMONE IN HER HOMETOWN.

Photo of Nina Simone
Amazing Nina Documentary Film, LLC, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

In 2010, an 8-foot sculpture of Eunice Waymon was erected in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina. Her likeness stands tall in Nina Simone Plaza, where she’s seated and playing an eternal song on a keyboard that floats in midair. Her daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, gave sculptor Zenos Frudakis some of Simone’s ashes to weld into the sculpture’s bronze heart. "It's not something very often done, but I thought it was part of the idea of bringing her home," Frudakis said.

12. YOU'VE PROBABLY HEARD HER MUSIC IN RECENT HITS.

Rihanna sang a few verses of Simone’s “Do What You Gotta Do” on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo. He’s clearly a superfan: “Blood on the Leaves” and his duet with Jay Z, “New Day,” feature Simone samples as well, along with Lil’ Wayne’s “Dontgetit,” Common’s “Misunderstood” and a host of other tracks.

13. HER MUSIC IS STILL BEING PERFORMED.

Nina Revisited… A Tribute to Nina Simone was released along with the Netflix documentary in 2015. On the album, Lauryn Hill, Jazmine Sullivan, Usher, Alice Smith, and more paid tribute to the legend by performing covers of 16 of her most famous tracks.

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Animals
Watch the First-Ever Footage of a Baby Dumbo Octopus
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Dumbo octopuses are named for the elephant-ear-like fins they use to navigate the deep sea, but until recently, when and how they developed those floppy appendages were a mystery. Now, for the first time, researchers have caught a newborn Dumbo octopus on tape. As reported in the journal Current Biology, they discovered that the creatures are equipped with the fins from the moment they hatch.

Study co-author Tim Shank, a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, spotted the octopus in 2005. During a research expedition in the North Atlantic, one of the remotely operated vehicles he was working with collected several coral branches with something strange attached to them. It looked like a bunch of sandy-colored golf balls at first, but then he realized it was an egg sac.

He and his fellow researchers eventually classified the hatchling that emerged as a member of the genus Grimpoteuthis. In other words, it was a Dumbo octopus, though they couldn't determine the exact species. But you wouldn't need a biology degree to spot its resemblance to Disney's famous elephant, as you can see in the video below.

The octopus hatched with a set of functional fins that allowed it to swim around and hunt right away, and an MRI scan revealed fully-developed internal organs and a complex nervous system. As the researchers wrote in their study, Dumbo octopuses enter the world as "competent juveniles" ready to jump straight into adult life.

Grimpoteuthis spends its life in the deep ocean, which makes it difficult to study. Scientists hope the newly-reported findings will make it easier to identify Grimpoteuthis eggs and hatchlings for future research.

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