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The Game Behind The Game: The 64th Annual Artists & Writers Game

Originally Posted: September 18, 2012

Christopher London, Esq.

The Writers Team 2012 (Photo: Christopher London)

The 64th annual Artists Writers Game held on its rain date, August 25th in Herrick Park in East Hampton raised $92,000 for local charities. The beneficiaries were The Retreat, a domestic violence advocacy group that runs a shelter on the East End, Phoenix House, which runs a rehabilitation center for young adults in Wainscott and has outpatient services in East Hampton, as well as the East End Hospice, and East Hampton Day Care Learning Center. The Writers, in rather dramatic fashion, held back a charging Artists' squad that seemingly never ran out of gas, in a 12-11 extra innings squeaker. This year's victory would not have been possible but for the miraculous glove work of writer-director, Jay Di Pietro of the play turned film, "Peter & Vandy" who was awarded the game MVP for his handy work in the field as well as at the plate. DiPietro, the Writers' cleanup hitter, with two outs and the score tied at 9-9 in the bottom of the eighth, reached back over the fence in left-center to rob Artists slugger Eddie McCarthy of what would have been his second three-run bomb of the day. Instead of sending the Writers home crying in their Brooklyn Beer, he revitalized the Writers as they tacked a few more runs together in extra innings. The all around solid play of Mike Lupica who pitched all 10 innings, Brett Shevack who mimicked Brooks Robinson at third base, David Baer- the vacuum cleaner at shortstop, and the steady drives off the bats of Sag Harbor resident and screen writer Bill Collage and Richard Weise, including Collage's final drive which was the one point differential.

Former President Bill Clinton dropped by to watch the game. (Photo: Christopher London)

In a year where the stars seemed aligned for the Artists squad, led by Leif Hope and Manhattan Architect Ronnette Riley, their new addition menschy Mark Feurstein, star of "Royal Pains," perhaps because of first year jitters was not able to produce at a level to compensate for some of the Artists' missing parts to help them surge past a determined Writers squad which who took a 26-18-1 lead in modern times. Feurstein's soulful every man character, warmth and sincerity added to the spirit of the game. Perhaps he might spend more time in the batting cages or working under the tutelage of batsman Bill Strong, Jeffrey Meizlik, local artist Eric Ernst or some of the Artists key stars like Josh Charles, Alec Baldwin and Greg Bello who were missing due to the game's rescheduling from its original August 18th date because of rain. One truism of the post modern era is that few can out manage the crafty Ken Auletta, who's most recently published book was "Googled: The End of the World As We Know It," knows a thing or two about how to close out an opponent. Auletta, put it all in perspective:

"Every Saturday for more than three decades we play softball in Sag Harbor. Only one Saturday each Summer do we play in the Artist & Writers softball game. I've played in the annual game for about thirty years, half of them as captain of the Writer's team. We kid each year about wanting to thrash the Artists, about how they cheat by smuggling in football players and house painters who can slug a ball four hundred feet. But we're united in a belief that no matter how sometimes foolish we look on the field, we're luring fans to contribute to worthwhile local charities, we're helping fortify a sense of community on the East End, and we're laughing with, not at, each other. After the game, which are usually nail-bitingly close, we repair to a pub together to tip a glass and to wait to learn how much money we raised for our favorite local charities."

The Artists Team 2012. (Photo: Christopher London)

The game was called with precision by the distinctive voice of Juliet Papa of 1010 WINS. Her most memorable call, however, and the one which garnered the loudest applause that literally brought the game to a halt, was her announcement of the arrival to Herrick Park of a certain gentleman who umpired a game back when he was Arkansas Governor, former President Bill Clinton. Clinton looking fighting trim, was immediately mobbed like a rock star, smiling he patiently greeted and shook the hands of many fans, players and admirers amidst cries of "we love you Bill," before departing with his son in law Mark Mezvinsky. After the game the Artists & Writers retreated to Race Lane Restaurant in East Hampton where copious quantities of Brooklyn Beer were consumed, good cheer and talks of next year lit the room before the crowd scattered off. As I sat there at the bar with Juliet Papa reminiscing about the day, my mind wandered off, even as I was in the midst of conversation, as I thought about this slice of Americana, which is one of my favorite things about the Hamptons.

As Carl Bernstein looks on, Bill Collage of Sag Harbor connects. (Photo: Christopher London)

The game is itself a great East End tradition. I am not sure what is more fun, playing in it, or watching it up close and seeing the drama unfold. Tradition has it the night before the game there is a First Pitch Cocktail Party, an intimate gathering of players, family and long time friends of the game at the Sag Harbor home of Deb McEneaney one of the principal organizers of the game. This year was no different. It was a well catered affair. The First Lady of Meat, Suzanne Strassburger, CEO of Strassburger Meats, whose family enterprise has for generation been supplying New York's top steakhouses is the originator of Suzy Sirloin all natural meats, which you can now order at home, generously sponsored tasty provisions for this intimate gathering as well as game day itself. The poolside bartender served me a delicious cocktail as I shared a few laughs with Parasol Marketing marketing guru Andrea Werbel and took in the sounds of acoustic pop vocal group, The Frankel Sisters, whose steady performance throughout the evening was literally transcendent.

Nancy Atlas revitalized the crowed during the 7th inning stretch. (Photo: Christopher London)

On the day of the East Hampton Artists vs. Celebrity Softball Game, to this Manhattanite at least, Herrick Park feels like the Field of Dreams and East Hampton itself a little like rural hamlet like Grady that Dr. Benjamin Stone (me) has stumbled into on a detour. I had my pre-game breakfast at John Papas Cafe alone. I felt a bit out of place, until I heard the sweet ping of a softball against an aluminum bat and the smack of a ball hitting a glove. I became oblivious to the glamour, gloss and celebrities walking and shopping the tony shops lining Main Street of East Hampton. The sounds lead me to the sidelines at Herrick Field where after a few preliminary greetings and friendly nods, I began to observe a bunch of grown men and women, successful in their own right in varied endeavors off the field, preparing to compete with one another. I got in a few photos during batting practice. Over the course of the day, I watched them play with wild abandon, sprained ankles, pulled hamstrings, bruised shins and thighs are par for the course. Third baseman, father and branding guru Brett Shevack lunged full body in the air to snag a line drive so quickly that I was unable to capture it with a camera before Shevack has jumped up and dusted off his uniform and snapped the debeer Clincher softball around the horn. The scent of Suzy Sirlion, all natural sliders filled the air. As the inning ended a friendly, pretty girl in a Snapple t-shirt handed me a Snapple Diet Ice Tea to quench my thirst. I forget I have a cell phone, that friends are trying to reach me or that I have not slept more than 10 hours in the last four days. After the National Anthem was performed by singers from dozens of Houses of Worship on the East End, prior the commencement of the game, I lost track of time, was enthralled in capturing the game until, singer Nancy Atlas revitalized the crowed during the 7th inning stretch. I used that break to quickly grab some Joe & Liza's Ice Cream from Bay Burger.

The Writers team gets little coaching. (Photo: Christopher London)

This is not the WWF. The outcome is not pre-determined. It is hard fought between the lines. Each side it is giving its all during each of the nine innings of play, in an effort to win. Don't kid yourself that the "it's not who wins but how the game is played." Nobody who tied the laces on their cleats on that day was mailing it in. Maybe that is intimidating to some. In fact, I am sure it is. Yet, you cannot deny that here is something so zen about forgetting all of life's more serious issues for an afternoon and letting it all out between the lines. I once so badly wanted to play in this game, but now photographing, observing it and writing about it is sort of like coming up to bat in every inning and hitting a home run. And if you think this game doesn't matter or is irrelevant then ask the charities that get a check after the game if it matters or ask yourself why the former President Bill Clinton took a detour from his East Hampton stroll to walk by the game. One of my more indelible memories of the day is watching sculptor Jeffrey Meizlik, a man in his 60's who is still able to wield the bat with a rather deliberate precision and authority of a much younger man, spraying scalding line drives out of the reach of mortals. If you decide to check in next year, take a look at this bear of a gentleman, who has a wonderful heart, and who in his 60's can stroke it better than most men could have dreamed of in their teens and 20's. You will recognize him in his authentic Brooklyn Dodger cap.


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