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
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
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
Brooks 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
In 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
While 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.