Anytime Sounders FC forward Lamar Neagle can get involved in a competition, he is among the first to be counted in.
When there is the added incentive of supporting a great cause in his hometown, then it becomes a no-brainer.
That was the case for many of the celebrities at the United Way’s All-Star Celebrity Softball Classic on Saturday afternoon at Safeco Field. Mariners legends Jay Buhner and Dan Wilson captained two sides made up of many local celebrities and event sponsors in a six-inning softball game raising money for the United Way’s efforts to end youth homelessness.
Neagle was on Buhner’s team, which also featured former Seattle Supersonics and UW Huskies forward Detlef Schrempf, Sonics guard Slick Watts and award-winning author Sherman Alexie.
“It’s crazy,” Neagle beamed before the game. “I grew up watching these guys. Now I’m one of the athletes doing an event with them … it’s crazy.”
On the other side of the field, Wilson’s team featured Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate, NBA Hall of Fame inductee Gary Payton and Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament.
“I just found out that the United Way in Seattle is the biggest branch in the country. That just made me really proud of our community and the people that contribute to that,” said Ament. “The fact that we can raise over a million dollars today is pretty incredible – and we’re doing something really fun.”
Added Tate, who played collegiate baseball at Notre Dame and was twice drafted by Major League Baseball teams.
“I was in the locker room when I was approached about it. I’m an ex-baseball player so I was excited to play, then I found out the cause and I’m definitely a huge supporter," said Tate. "It gives them the necessities to succeed in life and I’m happy to be here and be a part of this.”
For Neagle, the trip to Safeco was also odd, as he has grown used to playing just across the street at CenturyLink Field.
“It’s funny to be on the other side of the road. Everything’s a little foreign,” laughed Neagle, who said he went to a local park on Friday to get some batting practice in with some friends to help prepare for the game. “It’s one of the best experiences I’ve had the privilege to be a part of.”
And the game itself was more than enough entertainment for the crowd.
On the strength of a Tate grand slam, Wilson’s team raced to an 18-3 lead. In the fifth inning, Buhner’s team got that lead down to 18-5, then rallied for 12 runs in the sixth when Neagle stepped to the plate. With the bases loaded in the fourth inning, Neagle flew out to rightfield. When he came to the plate in the sixth, he was just looking to keep the inning alive, smashing a line drive up the middle that was snared by the pitcher as he sprawled to the ground to avoid getting hit, ending the game with a final score of 18-17.
In total, over 7,000 fans crossed the turnstiles at Safeco Field, raising over 1.2 million dollars for the United Way.
“We have a great community. People care,” said Schrempf, whose own Detlef Schrempf Foundation raises millions of dollars every year. “People come out and support a lot of good causes.”
Payton, who flew up from Oakland for the event agreed, “Everytime I get a call to contribute in Seattle, it’s always a pleasure for me to do it.”
After the game, Neagle kept the smile pasted to his face as he walked around and shook hands with the many who graced his television screen as a child. It was, without a doubt, a moment he’ll remember.
Photo courtesy: www.phototainment.com.