6 Special Guest Stars at Spring Training

Garth Brooks warming up for batting.
Garth Brooks warming up for batting.
MIKE FIALA, Getty Images

The casual fan generally needs a program to keep track of all the players at a spring training baseball game. After all, it's not every day that Billy Crystal bats leadoff for the Yankees. While the practice of allowing distinguished guests to participate against professionals irks some traditionalists, here are the stories of six celebrities who have suited up at spring training games over the years.

1. Billy Crystal

Crystal celebrated his 60th birthday by batting leadoff for his beloved New York Yankees in a 2008 spring training game against the Pirates. Crystal, an avid baseball fan who directed 61*, received a huge ovation as he strolled to the plate for his first and only at-bat. "I asked him if he'd been getting any rookie hazing," Pirates catcher Ryan Doumit told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "He didn't say anything. He looked like he was about ready to throw up from the nerves." Crystal didn't throw up, but he did strike out. The actor took the first pitch from Pirates pitcher Paul Maholm up and outside for a ball and then dribbled a foul wide of first base. Maholm put a little extra on his next two pitches, but both of them missed the plate. With a 3-1 count, Crystal swung and missed at the next two pitches. "Both were [cut fastballs]," he said. "I was mad at myself for swinging." Crystal and Maholm exchanged signed baseballs after the game.

2. Tom Selleck

spring-training-2 Selleck, who wore a Detroit Tigers cap in his title role on the classic television series Magnum, P.I., donned his favorite team's entire uniform for one spring training at-bat in 1991. Selleck, a Detroit native, spent a lot of time with the Tigers in Lakeland, Fla., that spring while preparing for his starring role in the 1992 film Mr. Baseball. Selleck pinch hit for Rob Deer with two outs in the eighth inning of Detroit's 6-4 loss to the Reds and struck out against Tim Layana, despite reports that Cincinnati catcher Jeff Reed was tipping pitches. "My knees were shaking a little bit," Selleck said after the game. Layana, who won a World Series as a member of the 1990 Reds "Nasty Boys" bullpen, appeared in 78 games over three seasons before injuries led him to retire. He died in a car crash in 1999.

3. Bruce Hornsby

hornsby Hornsby met major league pitcher Mark Langston at a concert in 1987 and the two became friends. Hornsby invited Langston to join a chorus that provided background finger-snapping on his A Night on the Town album, and Langston invited Hornsby to take batting practice with the California Angels before a game in Baltimore in 1991. Hornsby appeared as a pinch runner for the Angels during a spring training game against the Mariners in 1997. "He keeps saying how he's going to get me out on stage," said Langston, who went to see Hornsby perform the day after Hornsby's spring training debut. "No, he's not. I'll disappear real fast."

4. Garth Brooks

spring-training-brooksBrooks was a multi-sport athlete in high school and received a track scholarship to Oklahoma State, where he threw the javelin, before deciding to focus full-time on his music career. A big baseball fan, Brooks was invited to the San Diego Padres' spring training camp in 1998 and appeared as a pinch runner, almost getting picked off twice. The Padres welcomed Brooks back to spring training in 1999. The team benefited from the publicity, while Brooks used the experience to raise awareness about his Touch "˜Em All Foundation for underprivileged kids. "There's no chance of him being on the major-league club, but we're excited to have him because I think he's going to bring a lot of enthusiasm and hard work into camp, because that's how he goes about his business," Padres manager Bruce Bochy said.

Bochy was right—there was no chance of Brooks making the team. He finished the spring 1-for-22 with one RBI. "Nike came to ask me to not wear their stuff," Brooks joked. Brooks has also made spring appearances with the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals, most recently in 2004.

5. Kevin Costner

costner-spring-trainingIn 2002, Costner played for Single-A San Bernardino in a spring training exhibition game against the Seattle Mariners. Costner, whose baseball-heavy filmography includes Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, and For the Love of the Game, went 0-for-3 and committed an error at shortstop. In the final inning of the Mariners' 12-4 win, Costner was summoned to pitch. Mariners manager Lou Piniella, who later told reporters that "Costner looked tempting," inserted himself as a pinch hitter. Costner's first pitch was up and in, sending Piniella sprawling to the dirt. "We try to tell our players not to charge the mound, and I've got to set the example," said Piniella, who drew a walk.

6. Tom Verducci

spring-training-6While his celebrity pales in comparison to the others on this list, Sports Illustrated's senior baseball writer spent five days as a player for the Toronto Blue Jays during spring training in 2005. In his only at-bat, Verducci popped out to first base against Chad Gaudin in an intrasquad game.

Verducci's cover story appeared 45 years after legendary sportswriter George Plimpton pitched to a lineup of National League sluggers at the 1960 All-Star Game, an experience Plimpton chronicled in Out of My League.

Which Fictional Character Are You? This Online Quiz Might Give You an Eerily Accurate Answer

Peter Dinklage's Tyrion Lannister is the unofficial king of witty side comments. Are you, too?
Peter Dinklage's Tyrion Lannister is the unofficial king of witty side comments. Are you, too?
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

While watching a TV show or movie, you might find yourself trying to draw parallels between you and a certain character you’d want to be. If you’re like many viewers, it’s probably one of the heroic ones—the handsome private investigator with a tortured past and an unerring moral compass or the fearless queen who builds her kingdom from nothing and defends it to the death, etc.

But which character would you actually be? Openpsychometrics.org, a site that develops personality tests, has a new online quiz that might give you an uncannily accurate answer. You’ll be confronted with a series of 28 questions that ask you to pinpoint where you fall between two traits on a percentage-based spectrum. For example, if you’re more playful than serious, slide the bar toward the word playful until you’ve reached your desired ratio. The ratio could be anything from 51 percent playful and 49 percent serious, to a full 100 percent playful and not a single iota of seriousness at all. Other spectrums include artistic versus scientific, dominant versus submissive, spiritual versus skeptical, and more.

Once you’ve completed the quiz, you’ll find out which fictional character your personality most closely matches from a database of around 500 television and film characters. To pinpoint the personalities of the characters themselves, the quiz creators asked survey participants to rate them on a series of traits, and those collective results are then compared to your own self-ratings.

If you scroll down below your top result, you’ll see an option to show your full match list, which will give you a much more comprehensive picture of what kind of character you’d be. My top two results—which, ironically, were the same as Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy’s—were The West Wing’s C.J. Cregg and Joey Lucas, suggesting that we both have a no-nonsense attitude, a perfectionist streak, and an apparent aptitude for national politics that (at least in our cases) will likely go unfulfilled.

The fictional twin of managing editor Jenn Wood, on the other hand, is Game of Thrones’s Tyrion Lannister, unofficial king of witty side comments and all-around fan favorite. This was not surprising. As runner-up, Jenn got her personal hero, Elizabeth Bennet, which, in her words “makes me feel better about myself.” (Jenn has Pride and Prejudice-themed “writing gloves,” which seems important to mention.)

Take the quiz here to find out just how much you have in common with your own personal (fictional) hero.

10 Citizen Science Projects That Need Your Help

A citizen scientist takes a photo of scarlet mushrooms.
A citizen scientist takes a photo of scarlet mushrooms.
lovelypeace/iStock via Getty Images

Channel your inner Nikola Tesla or Marie Curie by participating in actual scientific research, either out and about or without even leaving your couch. These projects unleash the power of the public to be places that researchers can’t be and to spread the workload when data start piling up. They really can’t do it without you.

1. Catalog photos of Earth's cities at night.

Photo from space of a city at night
Identify cities from the photos taken from the International Space Station.
Chris Hadfield, NASA // Public Domain

Cities at Night—a study by Complutense University of Madrid—asks people to catalog images of the Earth at night taken from the International Space Station, part of the millions of images in the Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth database. The current project, Lost at Night, needs people to identify cities within images of 310-mile circles on Earth. Hundreds of volunteers have classified thousands of images already, but classification by multiple individuals ensures greater accuracy. In fact, the project will determine the optimum number of people needed. The primary goal is an open atlas of publicly available nighttime images. Just log on to the image database to help.

2. Follow fish using high-tech tags.

You’ll have to go fishing—an outdoor activity you can do by yourself!—for this assignment. Volunteer to tag fish for the American Littoral Society, whose citizen scientists have tagged more than 640,000 fish since the program began in 1965. You can tag the fish you catch and release, or report tagged fish to the organization. The data is sent to the National Marine Fisheries Service Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, where it helps scientists track the populations and movements of coastal species like striped bass, flounder, and bluefish. To get started, become a member of the American Littoral Society, which comes with a packet of tagging gear and instructions.

3. Spy on penguins in Antarctica.

Penguins on an ice floe
Keeping tabs on penguins is one way a citizen scientist can lend a hand.
axily/iStock via Getty Images

Here's another project for those stuck indoors. Penguins are threatened by climate change, fisheries, and direct human disturbance, yet scientists have little data on the birds. To fill in the gaps, 50 cameras throughout the Southern Ocean and Antarctic Peninsula take images of colonies of gentoo, chinstrap, Adélie, and king penguins year-round. You can help the University of Oxford-based research team by sorting through thousands of images to identify and mark individual adult penguins, chicks, and eggs. You'll be pinpointing seasonal and geographic variations in populations that may represent changes to the Antarctic ecosystem. Marking other animals in the images helps researchers figure out which ones are hanging around penguin colonies. Discuss a specific image or the project with the science team and other volunteers in an online forum.

4. Battle an invasive marine species.

Like to dive or snorkel? Make it count by reporting lionfish sightings or captures to the Reef Environmental Education Foundation's Volunteer Reef Survey Project. Lionfish, which are native to the Indo-Pacific, were first sighted in the South Atlantic in 1985 and were likely released by private aquarium owners. Since then, they have spread throughout the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico and caused native fish populations to decline by up to 80 percent. Scientists say this invasion may be one of the century’s greatest threats to warm temperate and tropical Atlantic reefs. You can also join a lionfish derby to catch and kill some of the tasty fish so scientists can analyze their biology.

5. Count birds from your backyard.

Bluebirds at a bird feeder
Bluebirds dine on mealworms at a bird feeder.
MelodyanneM/iStock via Getty Images

North American birds are in trouble. Recent studies predict dramatic declines in the populations of migratory birds due to climate change—and much of the data that went into these studies came from citizen scientists who monitored species without leaving home. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Birds Canada launches Project FeederWatch in the winter months; you simply put out a bird feeder and report the number and species of birds that visit it. Citizen scientists can also join the Cornell Lab's NestWatch—you find a nest, monitor it every three or four days, and report your data. And every February, the Audubon Society runs the Great Backyard Bird Count, in which participants submit data to produce a real-time snapshot of bird populations across North America. Any time of the year, birdwatchers can submit lists of the birds they see on eBird, a huge database of sightings that informs public policy, conservation efforts, and other initiatives.

6. Photograph plants for climate change research.

The Appalachian Mountain Club's Mountain Watch program asks hikers to document alpine and forest plants for ecological research. By taking photos of flowers and fruiting plants along woodland trails and uploading them to the iNaturalist app, participants provide data about the times and places that plants bloom. Scientists then compile the information in an online database and analyze it for trends that could indicate changing climates.

7. Comb through ships' logbooks for weather data.

Old handwritten letters
Practice your handwriting-deciphering skills on the Old Weather project.
scisettialfio/iStock via Getty Images

Ships’ logs from mid-19th century American sailing vessels contain detailed weather observations. Citizen scientists can help transcribe observations from whaling vessels for the Old Weather project; scientists will use the information to learn more about past environmental conditions and create better climate models for future projections. Historians will also use the data to track past ship movements and tell the stories of the people on board.

8. Make American history documents and science notes accessible to more people.

The Smithsonian Libraries are stuffed with original history and science documents that have lain in drawers for decades. Help open up "America's attic" to the public by organizing and transcribing digital versions of handwritten field notebooks, diaries, logbooks, specimen labels, photo albums, and other materials. You'll join thousands of other volunteers to investigate documents like the Sally K. Ride Papers, the collection of the Freedmen's Bureau (which helped former slaves following the Civil War), and field studies of insects by the Irish naturalist Arthur Stelfox.

9. Investigate historical crimes in Australia.

Drawing of a convict ship to Australia
A drawing of a 19th-century convict ship destined for Australia.
Photos.com/iStock via Getty Images

If you're obsessed with true crime, you'll love this project. Volunteer to investigate and transcribe criminal records from 19th- and 20th-century Australia, which was founded as a British penal colony. Alana Piper, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Australian Centre for Public History at the University of Technology Sydney, will use the transcriptions to construct the "life histories and offending patterns of Australian criminals" from the 1850s to the 1940s. More than 40,000 subjects have been completed so far.

10. Map the unique features of Mars's South Pole.

Travel to Mars—without the hassle of zero gravity or space-vegetable farming—through Planet Four, a citizen science project that is currently tasked with identifying features on Mars's dynamic South Pole. Volunteers examine photos from the HiRISE camera on NASA's Mars Reconaissance Orbiter and pick out "fans" or "blotches" in the landscape of seasonal carbon dioxide ice. Scientists believe these structures indicate wind speed and direction on the Martian surface and offers clues about the evolution of the Red Planet's climate.

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