"My goal is to have a lot of fun and hit the ball as hard as I can," Hammer said during his all-out batting practice. "I've been coming to Angel Stadium -- the 'Big A' -- since 1972, so I'm really excited about it. I grew up watching some of these guys."
He watched them up close. As the story goes, a kid named Stanley Burrell -- he wouldn't be known as MC Hammer for years -- was dancing in the parking lot at the Oakland Coliseum in 1972 when A's owner Charlie Finley walked by. Impressed, Finley hired Burrell as a batboy.
"True story," Hammer said.
That '72 Oakland club included Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers, and later Rickey Henderson would make his way to the A's. On Sunday, Hammer was a teammate of all three for the annual no-frowns-allowed softball exhibition that caps Taco Bell All-Star Sunday.
There were Hall of Famers in that Oakland duo, plus Ernie Banks, Gary Carter, Paul Molitor, Ozzie Smith and Dave Winfield. There were Los Angeles legends Salmon, Fred Lynn and Chuck Finley of the Angels and Steve Garvey of the Dodgers. Even Bo Jackson suited up, returning to the scene of his memorable leadoff home run in the 1989 All-Star Game at Angel Stadium.
Then there was the other talent. Actors John Hamm (of the award-winning Mad Men) and James Denton (of Desperate Housewives fame), comedian Andy Richter and gold medal-winning softball star Jennie Finch were among the veterans of the event.
Celebrity newcomers included supermodel Marissa Miller, celebrity chef Guy Fieri and actor Michael Clarke Duncan, perhaps best known for his starring role in the film adaptation of The Green Mile. Duncan, though, didn't win the size prize. That went to Quinton Aaron, star of the Oscar-nominated film, The Blind Side.
Richter's advice for the rookies?
"Get ready to be embarrassed," he cracked. "Because if you're ready to be embarrassed, and you are embarrassed, then it's not a surprise. And if you're not embarrassed, then you've got gravy. Just expect the worst."
That's what Fieri did. He can take the heat in the kitchen, but wasn't quite as confident in the batting cage, with Mike Piazza taking cuts over his shoulder.
"Let's just put this together. I'm going to get out there and Ricky Henderson is going to hit at me. Nice!" he said. "That's fantastic. But I'm a fan of the game, so this is awesome. We're meeting the greats, and we get to play ball with them."
"You have to have fun with it," said Hamm, a lifelong Cardinals fan who skipped his Sunday baseball league to play softball at Angel Stadium instead. "What an honor to be here."
The game itself turned into a preview of Monday's State Farm Home Run Derby. Henderson hit two, one leading off the game -- fitting from the man who has the most leadoff home runs in Major League history -- and then a go-ahead blast in the third inning. Salmon hit two of his own, and Lynn also went deep, giving the Angels fans something to cheer about. They also stood and cheered for Jackson, who conjured memories of his homer in the '89 All-Star Game with a long drive off Finch in the bottom of the third inning.
So what if Finch didn't have her best stuff? She atoned by hitting a homer of her own, a three-run shot in the third inning that gave her team a 6-5 lead. It marked a bit of history, the first home run by a woman in this event. Singer/songwriter David Nail hit a solo homer for the National Leaguers and Piazza gave them a late glimmer of hope, driving in three runs with a two-out homer in the bottom of the last inning.
If that wasn't enough long ball, everybody stuck around for an impromptu home run derby after the final out. Salmon won that, too, hitting five homers that sailed far over the drawn-in fences and three that landed on the real stadium warning track.
Was there any pressure for the pros to show the celebrity contingent how it's done?
"There isn't any pressure," Jackson said. "This is for the fans. This is very fun-oriented, to where we just want to come out to perform and entertain the fans."