NEW YORK -- Every year, Major League Baseball rounds up as many former players as possible who once played for the team hosting the All-Star Game for a special exhibition.
The Taco Bell Legends and Celebrity Softball Game has been a staple of All-Star Sunday for years, but with the game being played at the New York Mets' ballpark this time around, the possibilities were endless as to which former Mets may show up for this fan-friendly six-inning matchup between legendary baseball players and Hollywood types.
The casting call didn't disappoint, with four unforgettable players from Mets past highlighting the roster. Two from the 1986 World Series team -- Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden -- joined John Franco and another fan favorite, Mike Piazza, to lead the National League to an 8-5 win over the American League team.
One more Mets great who wasn't there was nonetheless recognized as well. Gary Carter, who passed away in February 2012, was saluted prior to the game with a video tribute highlighting his brighter moments during both his career and also as a willing participant in this softball exhibition almost every year for about a decade.
Gooden, who has been retired from the big leagues since 2000, enjoyed catching up with old teammates and opponents, noting that players are connected forever once they win a World Series together.
"We're not only brothers, but we're teammates for life," he said. "We see each other now, we introduce each other and we say, 'This is my teammate,' even though so much time has passed. Teammate? We're always teammates.
"You spend more time with those guys than your family during the season. Everybody puts their egos aside, and comes together. To accomplish that, it's a great feat and something you always cherish for life."
Bernie's fandom surfaces at Lopez appearance
NEW YORK -- When you picture someone being a little timid to approach a celebrity, it's probably unlikely Bernie Williams pops into mind.
Surely, a 16-year Yankees great with four World Series rings wouldn't have any trepidation about approaching an actor, no matter how famous, right?
Right. Sort of. Williams was somewhat sheepish when referring to actor/comedian George Lopez, a fellow Taco Bell Legends and Celebrity Softball Game participant on Sunday.
"I'm kind of a big fan of his," Williams said with a laugh. "It's interesting to come out and say 'Hi' to them, because you don't know what their reaction is going to be. I kind of relate it a little bit to people when they come over to players and try to get their attention. There's sort of a feeling of uncertainty, not knowing what's going to happen."
By all accounts, the Williams/Lopez meeting went off without a hitch.
From Henderson, quick praise for Hamilton
NEW YORK -- Google "Billy Hamilton" and you'll find a half-dozen articles asking, "Is Billy Hamilton the next Rickey Henderson?"
That's what happens when a top prospect with blazing speed is less than a year removed from swiping 155 bases, which is what Hamilton did for two Reds farm teams in 2012.
So it's only logical to ask Henderson, the all-time stolen base leader with 1,406 over a nearly 25-year career, about Hamilton, who may just be the next Henderson.
"I'm looking forward to him being the next guy to do a lot of things on the basepaths," Henderson said, adding that when he saw Hamilton play at Class A, he dubbed him as the "ideal basestealing guy."
"He doesn't have any fear," Henderson said. "He's willing to take a challenge. He's not afraid to get thrown out."
Fearlessness isn't something that can be taught, but it can be emphasized, as it was when Lou Brock talked to Henderson about the art of stealing many moons ago.
"He said, 'You know, don't be afraid of what you're doing out there,'" Henderson said. "'Don't get down on yourself when they throw you out, because you've got to get back up. You get better each and every time.' It helped me out. That's what I try to teach: 'Don't be afraid.' You get thrown out two, three times -- get back out and try again."
Dazzling crowd low priority in celebrity softball
NEW YORK -- Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers has probably played in every Taco Bell Legends and Celebrity Softball Game since its inception, citing mostly fun and camaraderie as the reasons why he comes back every year.
Once he's in the game, however, the motivation shifts to simply making sure he doesn't hurt himself. It's the mantra of just about everyone out there. Well, that, and don't embarrass yourself.
"You just don't want to be the goat," Fingers said. "You don't want to be the guy that dropped the ball playing first base with the winning run on third. You're going to want to try to do well."
And stay out of danger.
"Those balls are hard and they come at you pretty quick," Fingers said. "A lot of these guys that haven't played ball before are in for a rude awakening if they have something hit at them."
As for the pressure to perform, Fingers said there isn't much of that.
"If people are expecting dazzling things," he said, "I haven't dazzled anyone for a while."
Boomer displays confidence in his team
NEW YORK -- A self-proclaimed lifelong Mets fan, former NFL great and Long Island native Boomer Esiason was ecstatic to be playing for the National League team in the Taco Bell Legends and Celebrity Softball Game and guaranteed a home team win before first pitch on Sunday.
"We've got all the Mets on my side -- Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, John Franco, Mike Piazza ... how can we lose in this building?" Esiason said. "It's just not going to happen."
Truth be told, Esiason was feeling pretty good about his own chances to contribute to the effort as well.
"I was a very good baseball player in high school, and I've been playing softball for many years now," he said. "I put the uniform on and I feel like it belongs on me. That's how good I feel today."