Going back to the 1970s, when fans witnessed some heated charity softball games between teams coached by Country Music Hall of Famers Barbara Mandrell and Conway Twitty during what was then called Fan Fair, many artists have relished getting to showcase their athletic prowess in front of the public.
Though the week is now called the CMA Music Festival, many of Nashville’s finest got a chance to play ball for a good cause once again.
City of Hope held their annual game at First Tennessee Park on Saturday (June 9) pitting the iHeart team against the Opry. iHeart’s Bobby Bones said before the game that it was something he looked forward to each year.
“It’s my sixth year, and every year I am happy to be here,” Bones told Billboard. “It’s such a wonderful cause. But I’m always happy when it’s over and I’m not hurt. I’ve seen some pretty terrible injuries — Billy Ray Cyrus, Lauren Alaina — so I come to win, come for a good cause, but always leave happy that I’m not injured.”
Bones did sound like he was missing one of his old friends a bit when he was asked who was one of the best trash-talkers he has faced.
“Pete Fisher — when he was running the Opry,” he shared. “He was pretty good. We had to stick it to him a few times. But, now as everyone has gotten older, the trash talking has shifted to more like, ‘Man, look at this. I’m going to have a pulled hamstring when this is over.’ It’s a different tone. It’s cool, because these are a lot of people that you don’t get to play ball with. That’s a lot of fun.”
Some players on the field got a chance to re-live their past glories, such as newcomer Adam Doleac, who once competed at a pretty high level on the diamond.
“I’ve got a little bit of experience in my past,” he said. “I played in the College World Series back in 2009 for Southern Miss. Unfortunately, that was the last time that I played. So, there will be a little more rust than I would like.”
Warner Brothers recording artist Tegan Marie didn’t have to reach back too far for her memories at play — or at cheering her team on.
“I played softball for about three years with my school,” she said. “Right now, I’m actually coaching my little brother’s baseball team, so I know how to play!”
Guest announcers Naomi Judd, Jeannie Seely, Tim Rushlow and Charlie Monk were joined by iHeart Media radio personality and Master of Ceremonies, Gator Harrison, who called the play-by-play.
Though the game was played for fun (with the Opry team prevailing in extra innings for a 6-5 win), there were some emotional moments on the field. Warner Brothers exec and City of Hope patient and acute myeloid leukemia survivor Brian Lambert met his life-saving donor for the first time.
Leading off the festivities with a stirring performance of the National Anthem was Big Machine’s Trent Harmon. Though he didn’t play on Saturday, being at the ballpark brought back the memories — and a tie he has to the City of Hope organization.
“I spent a lot of hours in the backyard throwing a baseball with my Pops,” he said. “His mother is a two-time breast cancer survivor, so if I were playing — that’s who I’d be doing it in honor of.”
CMA Fest week was very special for the Mississippi native, as he found that many of the attendees were picking up copies of his debut disc, You Got ‘Em All, which was just released a few weeks ago.
“I’ve had a lot of cool experiences where people have shown up with the album in their hand, and they have wanted me to sign it,” he said. “That was something that I never thought would happen.”