By Ron Clements
SAUGET, Ill. – Make no mistake, this was not a softball game for softball players. Sunday evening's Jeff Fisher Celebrity Softball Game at GCS Ballpark was comprised of professional football players attempting to play softball with spontaneous modifications to traditional softball rules.
When the fun and shenanigans of the eight-inning, charity game were over, the teams coached by Fisher and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer ended with a 22-22 tie. Fisher told the approximately 5,000 fans that if Schottenheimer's offense scores 22 points a game this season, the defensive-led Rams will win a lot of games.
"It was definitely fun," said defensive end Robert Quinn, who set a Rams franchise record with 19 sacks last season. "Coach Fisher has been doing this for awhile and it's for a great cause. We give the fans something to look forward to and that's a great feeling."
The third annual event benefits charities such as BackStoppers, Catch-A-Dream Foundation, The Jack and J.T. Snow Foundation, Mercy Ministries and The Wounded Warrior Project.
The game was followed by a 15-minute fireworks display. Before the game, linebacker James Laurinaitis won the Home Run Derby, edging country radio station personality Remy, of 93.7 The Bull, 2-1 in the finals.
The other derby participants were hip-hop artist Murphy Lee, wide receiver T.J. Moe, safety T.J. McDonald and linebacker Alec Ogletree. None of them hit a homer. Moe came the closest, but Ogletree was the most fun to watch. He bookended his 10 pitches with a pair of swings and misses, including two more in between, fouled several off and hit just two into play. But between each pitch, he was laughing at his softball woes.
"We play for the Rams, not the Yankees," Quinn quipped. "I think everybody knows it's not our job to hit a baseball. As long as we can tackle or drop somebody, I'm all right with it. We just came out here to have fun and hopefully we gave the fans a good show."
While Laurinaitis was the only Rams player to hit it over the wall – launching a pair of homers out of the stadium – during the Derby, wide receiver Austin Pettis was the first player to go yard during the game. His fourth-inning solo shot to left brought Fisher's Blue team within two of Schottenheimer's White team at 11-9. Ogletree's two-run blast an inning later to left to give his team a 14-9 advantage made up for his previous problems.
The Rams two first-round draft picks – Greg Robinson and Aaron Donald – both played in the game. Robinson, the 6-foot-5, 332 lineman from Auburn, was on the Blue team while Donald, a 6-1, 285-pound defensive tackle from Pitt, played on Schottenheimer's squad. The rest of the Rams rookie class, as well as offensive lineman Travis Bond, were in attendance to watch the game and sign autographs.
Schottenheimer's team started the game with a 3-0 deficit and two outs in the first. Janoris Jenkins led off the game with an infield single to Austin Pettis at shortstop, but Ogletree grounded out to end the inning. Rodger Saffold came up to bat only to flip it when he realized the first out of the first was also the final out, per Fisher's implemented rule.
Saffold led off the second with a ground-rule double and scored on Kenny Britt's ground-rule double to the right-field corner.
Pro Bowl punter Johnny Hekker got the Blue team's first hit with a one-out double in the second. He tagged up on Greg Robinson's fly ball to Aaron Donald in right-center and scored on Eugene Sims' ground ball that was mishandled by White team second baseman Isaiah Pead. Fisher's team added another phantom run during the final out.
Schottenheimer's club tied it at 5-5 in the top of the third thanks to a comedy of errors committed by Fisher's group. The Blue team started the bottom of the third with the bases loaded by three children. All three scored on infield grounders that resulted in just one out to give the Blue team an 8-5 lead.
Schottenheimer countered in the top of the fourth by putting a pair of Rams cheerleaders on second and third. Fisher then put Gateway Grizzlies mascot, Izzy, in to pitch to Saffold, who promptly hit a sharp grounder to first to score one run. The White team scored six times in the inning to grab an 11-8 advantage.
Once Pettis and Ogletree opened the long-ball launch party, backup quarterback Austin Davis hammered one off the GCS Ballpark left-field wall to make it a 14-10 White lead. Thanks to more errors and another awarded run, Fisher's team was able to trim the lead to 14-13 in the bottom of the fifth.
After Quinn scored in the bottom of the sixth to tie it, Moe broke the tie with a two-run blast to center field. Laurinaitis added an RBI double to bring in Chris Long. Schottenheimer's team added four more runs to hold a 20-14 lead during the seventh-inning stretch.
The Blue team cut it to 20-16 and then loaded the bases for Davis with one out. Davis smacked a two-run single to give Fisher's squad runners at the corners. Hekker followed with an RBI single to bring in Zac Stacy, who earlier took out part of the fence in center field while attempting to catch Moe's homer.
A Pettis single loaded the bases again for McDonald, whose sacrifice fly tied the game. That tie was broken in the top of the eighth on a two-run homer to right field by Britt, who did a pair of flips and a cartwheel down the third base line.
Stacy led off the bottom of the eighth with a double to the left-center gap and scored on a ground-rule double to right by Lee, whose 9-year-old son was put in as a pinch runner. Pettis then ripped a line drive up the middle that hit the boy in the head. Thankfully, he was OK and Stacy replaced him at second. Lee's son was named the game MVP.
With Pettis on first and Stacy at second, Hekker grounded into a fielder's choice, but a throwing error allowed the tying run to score.
Quinn said Sunday's game was a nice mental break from football, but organized team activities resume again this week.
"We didn't lose," Quinn said several minutes after Fisher said his team has still never lost the game. "I can go home knowing that I'm not a loser. That's a good way to go out."
More on this game and Gateway Grizzlies coverage at ronclements.blogspot.com