The city of Nashville hosted and celebrated the Country Music Association Festival last weekend, and the Nashville Predators got in on the act. Defenseman Seth Jones traded in his stick for a bat at First Tennessee Park on Saturday, all for a good cause.
For 25 years, the Annual Celebrity Softball Game has been a part of CMA Fest. The friendly softball match between Team iHeart Radio and Team Grand Ole Opry pitted several artists such as Bret Michaels, Bucky Covington, Phil Vassar, Charles Esten and more alongside Jones, Preds broadcaster Stu Grimson, plus Preds fan and Country Music Hall of Famer Vince Gill. But it wasn’t about the celebrities, it was about the cause.
The game benefits City of Hope, which is an independent, biomedical research institution committed to researching, treating and preventing cancer. This year, the game honored City of Hope patient and Leukemia survivor Stephen Bess, who was able to meet the stem cell donor that saved his life, on the pitching mound.
“It’s really neat to do something that all of us don't normally do on a day-to-day basis,” Stoney Creek Records artist Lindsay Ell said. “We all have our jobs and careers and we're usually zigzagging across the country and doing whatever our schedules make us do, so the fact that we can take a minute and be like, ‘No, this morning is for City of Hope,’ [is great]. We are going to raise money for such a great cause, and we're going to donate our time and just have some fun at the ballpark.”
This was Gill’s 24th year playing in the game, Grimson’s second, while Jones was the newcomer of the group.
"It’s my first time, and I was happy to get the invite,” Jones said. “We're here for a good cause and City of Hope is a very reputable organization. I look up and down the roster and there’s a lot of names that I know and a lot of faces that I'm excited to meet.
“It’s me, Stu and Vince and we're kind of representing the Preds as a group and hopefully we don't embarrass ourselves on the field,” Jones laughed. “I’ve got to focus up right now and not embarrass the Preds organization.”
Hundreds of fans attended to watch the stars take the field and more than $200,000 was raised for City of Hope.
"It's a lot of fun,” Grimson said. “It's an event I really look forward to. City of Hope does a terrific job putting this together. It’s so well staffed and everybody's efficient and really well-organized, so it’s a great event in and of itself.”
Not only was it Jones’ debut at the game, it was Ell’s first experience as well. While she was excited to meet the other country artists, she was anxious to meet some of the Preds too.
"Of course I'm a Preds fan,” Ell said. “I grew up coming from Calgary, so I grew up being a Flames fan, but coming from a hockey town, moving to such a hockey town, it's just total emergence. You can't not be a Predators fan.”
Predators fans Daryl Wherry and Janice McClard attended the softball game in hope of watching a friendly competition and having the Predators representatives sign memorabilia.
"I can't wait to see Vince Gill,” Wherry said. “He's the biggest Preds fan in Nashville. He's always accessible, always nice, and he'll never turn down a fan for an autograph or picture. He sits amongst the fans at games, he's not afraid to go places and he's always cordial and hospitable to the fans at the hockey games."
While Team iHeart Radio came out on top over Team Grand Ole Opry in a walk-off winning hit from Michaels for a 6-5 final, the real winners were Bess and City of Hope.
“The Preds are an important part of this community now,” Grimson said. “Anytime you can be a part of making a difference in battling a tragic and very unfortunate disease like cancer, I’m happy to be a part of that. It's a great cause, one that Seth and myself are able to just jump in on, on behalf of our employer to make a difference.”