Everyone in attendance at the 71st annual Artists and Writers Charity Softball Game — from the players on the field, some of whom were celebrities, to those in the crowd — were shocked to see former President Bill Clinton make his way onto the field at Herrick Park in East Hampton on Saturday afternoon.
The 42nd president, surrounded by Secret Service agents, showed up just before the first pitch at 3 p.m., and he said he very fondly remembered his first visit to the game 31 years ago, when he was the governor of Arkansas. While he declined to share ceremonial first pitch duties — he left that job to Justice Patricia M. DiMango of the television show “Hot Bench” — or even take a few cuts, President Clinton did stick around for a bit and called balls and strikes for the first two innings before making his way out.
The presidential visit was one of many highlights of the game, which benefits four local charities including The Eleanor Whitmore Early Childhood Center, Phoenix House Academy, The Retreat and East End Hospice.
After some back and forth throughout the early innings, the artists pulled away late, scoring four runs in the eighth inning to eventually win, 10-8. They were led by their big boppers, Montauk resident Brian Pfund and Chris Wragge, each of whom slammed a pair of home runs. Wragge, the CBS 2 news anchor, was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.
It was the first year that Benito Vila took over as the game’s president from Leif Hope, who was still very much visible on Saturday, cheering and coaching his winning artists’ team over Vila’s writers.
All in all, it was another successful turnout, said Vila, who admitted he didn’t know President Clinton was coming to the game until about 11:30 a.m. that day.
“Bill Clinton showing up was great — unexpected. He had a small strike zone,” Vila joked. “So glad he stayed to umpire, because he could have just done the walk-through. But he really wanted to be a part of the game.
“It was just really great. The community really turned out for us today so it was really terrific,” he added.
After President Clinton left, Dan Rattiner of Dan’s Papers took over umpiring duties, followed by East Hampton resident and former high school varsity coach Claude Beudert, who had to battle throughout the day with author and columnist Mike Lupica, among other players.
“Those guys set the table for me to succeed,” Beudert said of Clinton and Rattiner. “The lead off guy gets on, second guy gets on, makes my job a lot easier.
“It was a good time,” he added. “Just chit-chatting with the guys, it’s my favorite part of being involved in the game. It was really a treat for me.”
Wragge won MVP honors for the first time in his four years playing the game.
“The charities that actually benefit from this are first and foremost, but for the crowd, to be able to give them a good show, to make it worth their while to be out here, they were great,” he said. “You can tell I’ve lost my voice a little bit because I was yelling so much for my guys. We were coached beautifully, and we got great fan support and great play from our players today.
“Nice to beat these guys. This is the first time in the four years that I’ve played that we’ve beaten them, so it was nice to put the boots to Lupica and the rest of the guys.”
While the game is trying to infuse some new blood — it had its first ever Instagram influencer, Sean O’Donnell, and MTV’s Catfish co-creator Nev Shulman, participating, among others — the everlasting spirit of the game was still present, with many of the players having been involved for 30 years now.
“It’s the camaraderie of the game,” that keeps pulling people back year after year, Vila said. “The artists’ catcher [architect Ed Hollander] was hugging batters as they came up. Some of us, we only see each other once a year, and this is where we have commonality and we cheer each other on here. It’s a lot of fun.”