WASHINGTON, D.C. — John Wall wasn’t sure what position he would play in the All-Star Celebrities and Legends Softball Game in Washington, D.C., on Sunday, but the Raleigh native and star point guard for the Washington Wizards knew where he wouldn’t be.
“They’ve got us switching between all different positions,” Wall said. “First base, shortstop, left field. No pitching though. I’ll pass on that.”
In 2011, Wall got the chance to throw out the first pitch at a Washington Nationals game, on the same field where he’d be playing softball. The result was viral video gold and one of the worst first pitches in recent history.
The ball went sharply to the left immediately after leaving his hand, bouncing about 20 feet in front of the mound. The Nationals player tabbed to catch the pitch had to leap away from the plate to track down the ball as boos and laughter came from the crowd.
Wall has an explanation, however.
“That year, they had me pitching on the grass (in front of the mound) to practice. Then I got out there, and they said, ‘Go throw it from the mound.’ I said, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa! That’s a lot different.’”
Wall was also quick to point out that his second attempt at a first pitch, at a Nats game two years later, went much better, making it over the plate in the air.
“So I came back and redeemed myself and proved it,” he said.
He didn’t get the chance to show his softball throwing skills in the game, and his only embarrassing moment was a dropped pop fly.
Wall was much better at the plate, however, going 2-for-3 with a triple in the game. He wasn’t able to meet his pregame goal, however.
“I’m going to steal all the bases,” he announced.
Game organizers put a pin in that plan, however. Stealing was forbidden.
“They said we can’t slide,” Wall said.
Wall also spoke about the Wizards, who added former Duke player Austin Rivers and former Hornet Dwight Howard among their offseason deals.
“I like our additions,” he said. “We’ve added a veteran presence. I think if everybody stays healthy, we’ve got an opportunity for something special. But everybody’s got to stay healthy and play together.”
He has no concerns over the mercurial Howard, who was traded by the Hornets to Brooklyn and waived immediately before signing with Washington.
“He averages a double-double — 16 and 12,” Wall said. “If he can do that for us, that’s fine for me. We need somebody down there that can block shots. Everyone says he’s had all these other problems that he’s been dealing with, but as long as he’s helping our team win, doing the right thing, playing the right way, I’m fine with it.”
One of Wall’s Celebrity Game teammates was another Washington sports star with North Carolina connections: Redskins cornerback Josh Norman, who starred at that position for several years for the Panthers before leaving as a free agent.
Norman was excited for the chance to suit up in a different sport, one that he’s had a long history playing.
“This was the first sport I actually played, to be honest,” Norman said. “It brings back memories every time you have that bat in your hand. It’s like riding a bike.”
Norman attempted to play high school baseball, but his career quickly nosedived.
“I stunk it up pretty bad,” he said. “I had anxiety when I got to high school. Before that, though, in Little League, I thought I was like Ken Griffey Jr. stepping up to the plate.”
Norman’s Little League confidence seemed to be back for the softball game.
“I’m going to see if I can drive one up out of here,” Norman said, later amending his prediction to “five home runs” in the game.
After a stint in the batting cages, Norman was a little more reserved. “I’m going to go out there and make contact,” he said. “I got a few tips from the baseball greats. I’m going to try to do a little something with it.”
Norman got two singles in the game, scoring twice.
There were several other notable names on Norman and Wall’s team, including rapper Wale and retired baseball Hall of Famers Tim Raines and Andre Dawson.
But when asked which celebrity he was most excited about, Norman didn’t hesitate.
“Bill Nye!” he said of TV’s Science Guy. “I grew up watching him. His locker is right beside mine. I’m trying so hard not to fanboy on him right now.”