By Jennifer Corr
The players of this softball game do not often hold many similarities, varying in age, careers and backgrounds. But all of those differences are set aside each year to play ball and raise money for local charities.
The East Hampton Artists and Writers Charity Softball Game will be played for the 71st year at Herrick Park this Saturday, August 17, and while the event has become an East Hampton institution over the past several decades, there were some new twists added in the “offseason.”
For the first time in its storied history, the game will be partnering with Guild Hall, the Center for the Visual and Performing Arts in East Hampton, a partnership, the game’s press release stated, that has allowed it to contribute its “development and marketing expertise” and its connections to new players, such as the former music director of Saturday Night Live and guitarist, G.E. Smith.
“This is a game where you can find a Rudy Giuliani and Carl Bernstein on the field,” said the game’s president, Benito Vila.
This is Mr. Vila’s first year as president, securing the partnership with Guild Hall. The former president, artist Leif Hope, retired from the position. He still serves on the board.
Though this year is a time of change for the game, there is no difference in the variety of players. There are already journalists, authors, musicians, producers, and an Instagram influencer, among others, signed up to play, with their T-shirts and hats coming in the mail. Vila, a writer himself, has been playing on the writers’ team since 2005. The rosters are often not complete until the day of the game, as many show up the day of to play, but Vila said if a celebrity shows up expecting to get some playing time, they won’t say no.
“If Jay-Z wants to play, we’re not going to turn him away,” he said. “If Beyoncé wants to play, we’d love to have her. She just won’t have a T-shirt.”
That’s unless someone like Beyoncé would purchase one at the day of the event. T-shirts, hats, food, other apparel and local treats, such as Sag Harbor’s Joe and Liza Ice Cream, will all be on sale with proceeds supporting the beneficiaries of the event, which this year includes the Eleanor Whitmore Early Childhood Center, the Phoenix House Academy, The Retreat and East End Hospice.
“In the end, we’re all on the same side,” Vila said. “We’re doing this for charity.”
Joining Vila on the writers’ team are veterans of the charity game, New Yorker writer Ken Auletta and sportswriter and novelist Mike Lupica. Fox News correspondent Rick Leventhall and former CEO of CNN and The Aspen Institute and former managing editor of Time, Walter Isaacson, are also expected to take the field for the writers.
The artists’ team will continue to be led by Mr. Hope and architect Ronnette Riley. Artists team members will include the aforementioned G.E. Smith and the executive director of the NYC Ballet, Jonathan Stafford.
The National Anthem at the start of the game will be led by the Choral Society of the Hamptons, and the seventh-inning stretch is expected to be jam-packed. Mr. Smith will be leading the players and the crowd in the singing of “Take Me Out To The Ball Game.” Caroline Doctorow, the daughter of the late novelist E.L. Doctorow, most notably known for his novel “Ragtime,” will be singing “This Land Is Your Land” during the seventh-inning stretch, as well. E.L. Doctorow, according to Vila, had played in the game in the past.
Former Detroit Tiger player Steve Litras, television executive Ed Bleir and Dan’s Papers founder Dan Rattiner will be the umpires for the game.
There will be some new blood this year as well. Instagram influencer and model Sean O’ Donnell and photographer and musician Chloe Gifkins will be on the artists team, with Vice News reporter and executive producer of Netflix’s “Fyre” Gabriella Bluestone returning to be on the writers team.
Bluestone is also a member of the game’s board.
“I’m very excited to play again this summer and presumably destroy the artists for yet another year,” she said. “All jokes aside, it’s always a bit surreal to take the field. I practically grew up out east and the game, which started 70 years ago as a backyard pickup game between Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, has always held a special place in Hamptons lore.”
Who will play when and where is determined during batting practice, and with different ages and levels of athleticism, comes decisions to even the playing field.
“We’ll balance it out,” Vila said. “You can’t put 20-year-olds on the field while there are 70-year-olds hitting. That’s what we’re looking for during batting practice. We’re trying to balance out the field so that people are in a position to succeed.”
Those who are better suited for running than others will also be placed behind home plate while another is batting, that way both get the chance to play. “You want the game to be lively,” Vila said. “When you swing a bat, that first step you take is an explosive step where older people can pull a hamstring. We’ll line up a younger player behind home plate so that the older player can swing and the younger player can run.”
Another “lively” element of the game is the pranks that are played every year. In the past, a turnip has been substituted for the baseball, leading to an explosion of the vegetable on the field when a batter makes contact.
“The artists are typically better than the writers at pulling pranks,” Vila admitted. “I have a couple tricks up my sleeve that I’m not going to reveal.”
The game has certainly evolved through its 71 years. The game’s treasurer, David Brandman, said “some artists got together to play ball, then some writers started to join them. They were playing it in a backyard in Springs when they first started. It turned into this.”
The game, which started in 1948, was originally played by artists like Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock and Joan Mitchell. Everyone would bring a dish and something to drink, according to the game’s website. Writers Barney Rosset of Grove Press and art critic Harold Rosenberg eventually joined. As the game grew in the 1960s and 1970s, it expanded to actors, musicians, publishers and politicians, including Bill Clinton, who served as the umpire when he was the governor of Arkansas.
Batting practice will begin at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday leading up to the singing of the National Anthem at 3 p.m. followed shortly by first pitch. There is no admission fee but a minimum $10 donation is suggested. All donations and proceeds will benefit local charities.
“It’s a great time for everyone involved, except maybe the turnip,” Bluestone joked.