Celebrity softball game makes people go "who?" and "ahh" at Dodd Stadium
Norwich — Celebrity is a funny thing. A musician or athlete can mean the world to one person, but make someone in another generation or part of the country say ‘Who?’
There was a celebrity for everyone Sunday at Dodd Stadium, when both stars and lesser-known dignitaries took to the field to play in an annual softball game hosted by R&B singer Jeffrey Osborne, a Providence native.
Selina James and Monique Scott were nearly in hysterics standing behind home plate trying to get the attention of Johnny Gill, the former frontman of R&B band New Edition.
They came to Norwich on Sunday to try to meet him, and watched with their cell phones ready as Gill warmed up for the game, comedian Chris Tucker danced to a Michael Jackson song nearby and singer and Providence native Perry Lee Tavares mingled with former Major League Baseball players.
When yelling Gill’s name didn’t work, Scott asked a woman on the field to remind the singer’s manager that he had once serenaded her at a concert. It worked — Gill started making his way over from home plate.
James grabbed her cell phone and, panicked, jabbed at it to open the camera function.
“Take a picture! Take a picture!” she said, her voice getting higher. The women giggled and chatted with Gill, posing for selfies and occasionally making quiet sounds of excitement. Higher in the stands, the women’s teenage sons were sitting with their friends, most of them looking silently at their cell phones.
The boys had already met the New England Patriots players and other professional athletes playing in the game, and probably had never heard of Gill, James said.
“They’re like, ‘Who are these people?’” she said. James said she had played “Let’s Chill,” which she remembered as one of Gill’s songs, at her wedding.
“It’s about getting married and settling down,” she said.
The song was recorded by the 1980s band Guy, but that didn’t lessen James’ enthusiasm.
“I’m loving it,” she said. “I’m having a great time.”
Connecticut Tigers announcer Ed Weyant called the players onto the field, to varying levels of enthusiasm from the crowd. Osborne has hosted the event, a weekend-long charity fundraiser, for five years in Rhode Island. This year he brought the celebrities to Connecticut instead for the softball game, a comedy show featuring Tucker and Cedric the Entertainer at Foxwoods Resort Casino, and then a golf tournament Monday at the Lake of Isles golf course.
In addition to the celebrities, local names like Mashantucket Pequot chairman Rodney Butler filled the roster alongside Rhode Island businesspeople and news anchors.
Money raised at the events goes to public school music and arts programs and social services in Rhode Island, and this year the organization added the Boys & Girls Club of Hartford to its list of beneficiaries.
With Weyant announcing, and color commentary from Tucker, the game began.
Sitting at the top of the stands with his grandson, Norwich resident Ken Plant said he recognized “about 50 percent” of the names on the field. Many of the most well-known luminaries — Smokey Robinson and Boston Celtics player Paul Pierce — didn’t make it to Norwich for the game, but that didn’t make it less fun. Plant’s grandson, Nick Haugland, shyly held up a baseball signed by former sportscaster Willie Maye.
Bob McCormick sat in the stands during the 5th inning, joining a small group of people hoping to attract Tucker’s attention by calling out the comedian’s name repeatedly.
“I think everyone’s out there yelling for Chris,” he said. McCormick wasn’t there to see anyone in particular, just hoping to get a picture or an autograph from someone famous.
“I’m just a collector,” he said. “You don’t get to see things in Connecticut like this that often.”
Babs Searce and Gloria Ward, from the Roxbury and Jamaica Plain neighborhoods of Boston, danced in the stands throughout the game, cheering for the batter regardless of their team and clapping along to the music. Ward said Searce had invited her to the game two days beforehand and the two friends decided to make a trip out of it. Until they got there, Ward said she was expecting a concert.
“Honestly I came to see Smokey Robinson, but he’s not here,” she said.
With a Tigers game scheduled to begin at 4:00, the game ended with one last hit from former Red Sox pitcher Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd and a final score of 19-11 just after 2 p.m.
The players, buoyed by the blaring pop music and the applause, took the field for a group photo.
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