Josh Norman was in a jovial mood and feeling confident as he addressed the media before Sunday’s All-Star Legends and Celebrity Softball Game at Nationals Park, and why shouldn’t he have been? The Redskins cornerback had watched his friend Paul Pogba and France capture the World Cup title only a few hours earlier, just as Norman predicted Les Bleus would at the beginning of the tournament, and besides, the start of the month-long grind that is training camp was mercifully still 10 days away.
“Don’t try to end my offseason yet, buddy,” Norman said with a laugh when a reporter asked about camp. “Richmond, Virginia. Are you looking forward to that? I’m not.”
Norman initially joked that he would hit five home runs in the six-inning exhibition that followed MLB’s Futures Game on All-Star Sunday before sharing a more modest goal.
“I’m going to go out there and make contact,” Norman said before stepping into the temporary batting cages installed by the Home Plate Gate. “I got a few tips from some of the baseball greats. I’m going to try to do a little something with it.”
Norman, who said he “stunk it up pretty bad” as a high school baseball player in South Carolina, didn’t embarrass himself Sunday, going 2-for-2 with a pair of runs scored. He pitched, made a nice defensive play covering first base on a slow roller to the right side and looked comfortable in the outfield.
“This was the first sport I actually played, to be honest with you,” Norman said. “It brings back memories. Every time you have the bat in your hand, it’s like riding a bike.”
Norman’s National League teammates included Wizards point guard John Wall, ESPN analyst Tim Kurkjian, D.C. rapper Wale, Hall of Famer Tim Raines and Olympic softball gold medalist Jennie Finch. Wall, whose most memorable moment at Nationals Park was his horrendous ceremonial first pitch in 2011, avoided the mound on Sunday, but his failure to catch a pop-up behind second base in the fourth inning allowed the American League to stretch its lead to 14-3.
Wall was a force at the plate, however. He tomahawked a pitch up the middle for a single in his first at-bat and later came around to score on an error. (For Wizards fans looking for reasons to be optimistic this offseason, there didn’t appear to be any hitch in Wall’s giddy-up as he rounded the bases.) After popping out to the catcher in his second at-bat, Wall hit a triple into the gap in the sixth as part of the National League’s seven-run rally that made the final score — 14-10 — respectable.
Before the game, Wall addressed the Wizards’ acquisition of veteran center Dwight Howard, which became official last Thursday.
“He averages a double-double, 16 and 12,” Wall said. “If he do that for us, that’s fine. Get somebody down there who can block shots. Everybody says he has all these other problems that he was dealing with. As long as he’s helping our team win, doing the right thing, playing the right way, I’m fine with it.”
Had Norman hit five home runs or Wall thrown an immaculate inning, neither feat would’ve qualified as the most preposterous performance of a delightfully bizarre game, which will be broadcast on ESPN following the conclusion of Monday’s Home Run Derby. That honor belongs to NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal, who spun tracks under his stage name, DJ Diesel, on an elevated stage beyond the center field wall while wearing a black Redskins T-shirt, and later entered the game. O’Neal received a standing ovation when he stepped to the plate to pinch hit for the American League in the fourth inning, only to strike out. He played the field with an enormous glove presented to him by Teddy, who celebrated with WWE superstar The Miz after winning the Presidents’ Race.
The loudest cheers of the night were reserved for Bill Nye the Science Guy, who entered the batting cages to chants of “Bill! Bill! Bill!” and received a standing ovation every time he came to the plate. Nye struck out in his first at-bat, but lofted a single into shallow right field in the third inning. Wall jumped off the bench to celebrate with Nye at first base. Norman said the star of “Bill Nye Saves the World” was the celebrity he was most looking forward to playing alongside.
Nye said Anthony Rendon will have to carry the Nationals if his favorite team is to turn things around in the second half of the season. Despite the difficulty defensive shifts have caused Bryce Harper this year, Nye is vehemently opposed to MLB passing a new rule that would limit shifts.
“In three years, these are major leaguers, they are professionals, they will learn to hit it to the other side,” Nye predicted. “If [Harper] doesn’t, he’ll be hitting .220 for the rest of his career, but I think he will. I think they’ll practice, they’ll look at video and they’ll learn to wait and hit it the other way.”
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