Country Stars Bat Around for Good Cause

Celebrity Softball Tournament to Air on CMT Saturday

In Trick Pony’s breakthrough hit “Pour Me,” singer Heidi Newfield begs for a shot of whiskey. However, shots of water were ordered for her at the 11th annual City of Hope Celebrity Softball Challenge on Thursday (June 14). Newfield’s co-ed softball opponents poured (and poured and poured…) full coolers of ice water over her head, dousing her from head to toe, during the good-natured pranks pulled between country stars on the field.

A full house of country music fans gathered at Nashville’s Greer Stadium to cheer on dozens of their favorite stars on the opening day of Fan Fair. Trick Pony were joined by Vince Gill, Billy Ray Cyrus, Gary Allan, Chely Wright, Brad Paisley, Montgomery Gentry, Sara Evans, Jamie O’Neal, Mark Wills, Terri Clark, Lila McCann, Chad Brock, Phil Vassar, Chris Cagle, Bryan White, The Wilkinsons, Chalee Tennison, Andy Griggs, Eric Heatherly, Tammy Cochran, David Kersh, Billy Dean, Craig Morgan, Sons of the Desert, Marshall Dyllon, Steve Holy, South 65, Tim Rushlow and others. Emcee Cledus T. Judd provided a comedic play-by-play, and Survivor II winner Tina Wesson umpired first base.

Donna Copeland and Wendy Griggs, avid Cyrus fans from Benton, Ky., arrived four hours early for the afternoon game to secure a prime autograph spot by the third base dugout. “This is our fifth or sixth year at the game,” said Copeland. “It’s always interesting to meet some of the artists and just have fun watching them play.” Her friend Griggs adds, “The game is always fun. It’s not exactly [proper] softball but it’s a lot of water throwing and a lot of entertainment.”

The musicians and singers make the best of their dubious athletic abilities to create a fun-filled afternoon where they interact with fans, clown around with their peers and help raise funds for the City of Hope National Medical Center’s treatment programs.

“I have been at the bar watching a ball game on TV,” Trick Pony bassist Ira Dean joked before the game. “So, I feel like I picked up a few pointers.” His first time suiting up for the Celebrity Challenge, Dean admits he hasn’t played much softball. “That’s why I play bass,” he quipped. “I can’t throw a ball. I can’t hit one. I can’t catch it. I had to pick up an instrument.”

Others displayed more talent for the game. Kersh hit a homerun and fans holding a large “Kershkins-N-Kershville” banner screamed with delight. Cagle drew loud applause for his two homeruns.

It’s mostly about silliness, though. Making light of her 1997 Celebrity Challenge misfortune when a ball smacked her in the face, Clark wore a hockey goalie helmet in right field for an inning.

Trick Pony guitarist Keith Burns pretended to be injured. Judd asked if a doctor was in the house and Cyrus walked onto the field in a lab coat dressed as Dr. Clint Cassidy, the character he portrays on his new PAX television series, Doc.

The contest divvies up the stars on teams of two competing Nashville country radio stations, WSM-FM and WSIX-FM. Both teams were armed with water guns and shaving cream pies to use against the competition and occasionally against their own teammates.

“We’re not very athletic,” Amanda Wilkinson admits, speaking for the Wilkinsons family trio that includes her father, Steve, and her brother, Tyler. “But this is a cool thing because Fan Fair gets really crazy with artists running around in all different directions. Here, we get to hang out with some of our friends. This is the one day of the week that we can be goofy and ridiculous and nobody cares.”

Dad agrees. “We see these guys on the road all the time at festivals and other places,” Steve Wilkinson says. “But here we get to come out and actually play. I don’t mean play music — just play. That’s what is fun. It appeals to the child in all of us.”

CMT taped the game for a special to air at 3 p.m. ET Saturday (June 16) as a part of its special Fan Fair week coverage. The telecast repeats at 11 p.m. ET Saturday; 5 p.m. ET Sunday (June 17); and 1 a.m. ET Monday (June 18). Giving play-by-play for CMT will be Nashville Sounds game announcer Chuck Valenches, with color commentary and help from CMT Most Wanted Live host Lance Smith.

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