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Displaced by the fires and appalled by the Thousand Oaks Borderline shooting, Malibu locals and Milwaukee Brewers Ryan Braun and Christian Yelich, Major League Baseball free agent Mike Moustakas and LA Rams quarterback Jared Goff brainstormed a way to help victims of the tragedies.
They never imagined their idea would blossom into the sold-out, star-studded California Strong celebrity softball game held Sunday, Jan. 13, at Pepperdine’s Eddy D. Field baseball stadium. The event, which Southeast Ventura County YMCA helped coordinate, pitted Team California and Team Strong against one another.
“I live in Malibu and, like many people, I was evacuated and did not know for days whether I had lost my home,” Braun told Malibu Surfside News. “This cause was particularly close to our hearts because we could see the devastation firsthand and we wanted to do what we could to help.”
Other MLB stars, including LA Dodgers players Justin Turner and Joc Pederson, joined TNT broadcaster Reggie Miller (a former Indiana Pacers basketball player), UFC heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell, Cleveland Browns football player Baker Mayfield, and Volleyball Olympic gold medalist Dain Blanton. Entertainers including Jamie Foxx, Adam Sandler, Brad Paisley, Charlie Sheen, Rob Riggle and Patrick Schwarzenegger joined in the event, too.
After an honor guard ceremony featuring the 146 Airlift Wings, Pia Toscano performed a resounding rendition of the national anthem. Then, the loudspeakers began to play upbeat tunes such as The Black Eyed Peas’ “Let’s Get it Started” and Smash Mouth’s “All Star.”
Nature cooperated and participants played six innings of humor-filled fun.
There were not a lot of base hits because there were too many outfielders. Way too many outfielders.
At the top of fourth inning, actor Jimmy Tatro (“The Guest Book”), who would later be named MVP, scored for Team California.
At the bottom of the fourth, Riggle scored for Team Strong, tying the game up at 1-1.
Team Strong took a 2-1 lead in the fifth when actor Rainn Wilson (“The Office”) got a piece of the ball, hitting it against the fence — no small feat when playing softball in a huge baseball stadium. Stats were quite impressive, with Team California having one run, five hits and one error and Team Strong scoring two runs, six hits and one error.
Between innings, participants played good old-fashioned games, including a frenetic scavenger hunt and “dizzy bat,” an endeavor where one twirls around a standing bat at breakneck speed, trying to outlast other participants.
Spectators also enjoyed flyovers by three World War II T-6 Texan Condors and gave a standing ovation to show appreciation for first responders and military members.
After several teammates hit impressive balls, actor Jaleel White (“Family Matters”) scored at the bottom of the fifth, crossing the plate after a few fielding errors that rendered the crowd in stitches.
With the game tied at 2-2, the crowd became animated.
Team Strong came on strong and after several teammates hit impressive balls, actress Jaina Lee Ortiz (“Rosewood”) crossed the plate, sealing the 3-2 victory for Team Strong.
Beyond the game
Coordinators said the softball game reached its $1 million fundraising goal.
At the event, California Strong presented $10,000 checks to five families affected by the Woolsey Fire, Camp Fire and Thousand Oaks shooting. One such check went to Brian Hynes, owner of the Borderline Bar & Grill.
Jeremy Seaman, one of the check recipients, shared that his family’s house on Kanan Dume Road burned.
“It is awesome to receive this help, and we are so thankful for it,” Seaman said.
Many of the players reflected on personal ties to Malibu, including Sheen, who grew up in Malibu.
“It was devastating to see houses on Point Dume that I’d been in all my life go up in flames and become entirely unrecognizable,” he said. “ ... I’m all in for anything we can do to provide relief for the stress experienced by those affected by the fires and it’s wonderful to give them even a moment of solace.”
Malibuite Brandon Jenner also reflected on the meaning of the event.
“I grew up in Malibu my whole life and I’ve seen a handful of fires, but none were so devastating as this one,” he said. “This event shows that the bigger the tragedy, the bigger the humanity; this community response is vast.”
Jamie Foxx summed up the purpose of the event.
“I’m here to support those who lost everything they’ve ever worked for in the fires, as well as the families who lost loved ones in the Thousand Oaks shooting, which was only seven minutes away from where I live,” Foxx said. “At times like these, we need all hands on deck.
“ ... This event has to be just the beginning of our supporting victims and, just as athletes make adjustments, people need to make adjustments so things like the shooting never happen again. We all need to press on as humans and recognize that this is the greatest place in the world and we want to keep it that way.”
“The coolest part of what we are doing is being able to use our platform as professional athletes to positively impact other people’s lives,” he told the Surfside. “We envision this as an inaugural event so that we can keep the momentum up and help Californians affected by all disasters.”
Sheen noted that a new tradition had been born.
“Based on the energy today and the phenomenal turnout, I think we’ve tapped into a very good thing,” he said.
Those looking to lend additional support to cause can visit www.ca-strong.com, where an auction is being held this week.