What started as a series of text messages has grown into a star-studded event overlooking the Pacific Ocean on Sunday, when National League MVP Award winner Christian Yelich and some famous friends will gather for a good cause.
Yelich is one of the organizers of the California Strong Celebrity Softball Game at Pepperdine University to raise funds for Californians impacted by dual tragedies in the fall — the Oct. 7 shooting at a bar in Thousand Oaks, Calif., followed by wildfires, including the Woolsey Fire, which burned swaths of Los Angeles and Ventura Counties.
The fire displaced Yelich, his 2018 Brewers teammates Ryan Braun and Mike Moustakas, and Mike Attanasio, the son of the team’s owner. In the aftermath, the quartet started a text chain to share what little information was available about their homes. It quickly morphed into a brainstorming session about raising funds to help others rebuild.
“We were talking about, ‘Hey, we need to do something to help. We need to give back,'” Yelich said. “We didn’t know exactly what that was going to be or how we were going to do it.”
The result was their “California Strong” campaign in conjunction with the YMCA of Southeast Ventura County. The men started a fundraising campaign, which had netted nearly $450,000 in donations as of this week. They sold T-shirts and other memorabilia over the holidays to raise more funds, and they organized a charity auction.
On Sunday, they will gather with other sports and entertainment celebrities for a softball game at Pepperdine, where Braun and Moustakas have worked out in the winter. Other Major League players slated to appear include Justin Turner and Joc Pederson of the Dodgers, Eric Hosmer of the Padres, Tyler Skaggs of the Angels and Jack Flaherty of the Cardinals. Two NFL quarterbacks will be there: Yelich’s good friend, Baker Mayfield of the Browns, and L.A. Rams quarterback Jared Goff, who will be fresh off his team’s Saturday night playoff game against the Cowboys. Actor Jamie Foxx is also participating in the event.
Braun’s Malibu neighbor, NBA Hall of Famer Reggie Miller, will take part, as will celebrities including Adam Sandler, Rainn Wilson, Rob Riggle, Patrick Schwarzenegger and Charlie Sheen.
General admission and VIP tickets are available for purchase by visiting www.ca-strong.com.
All proceeds from the game will go directly to victims, organizers say.
“We got so lucky,” said Attanasio, who saw video of the fire approaching his home. “The hillside across the street was burning, but somehow the wind didn’t blow the embers across the street. We were really fortunate.
“Ryan and Christian were right there [in the immediate wake of the fires] and were saying how awful it was, and how many people had been displaced. Their thought immediately was, ‘How can we help?'”
Attanasio, a graduate of MIT, took a leading role in helping the players partner with the YMCA, which had the fundraising infrastructure in place to get the most help to residents in need.
“We thought it was more important to take the time to set something up that was built for the long run,” Attanasio said. “I think if we had launched a little sooner, we could have raised a little more awareness at the start. But we really wanted to do it the right way and have something with staying power. … We’ve got a great process for assessing application for relief funds.
“If something else happens, which is inevitable in this state, we will be ready immediately to provide relief, and the guys will use their platforms to raise awareness. We’ll be ready. It’s a really great long-term solution for these tragic events and anything that happens in the future.”
The plan, Attanasio said, was to distribute the first relief checks at Sunday’s event.
Here’s everything you need to know about the California Strong celebrity softball game! We’re just one week away from this fun event! Get your tickets here: https://t.co/2TKbFJUWU7 pic.twitter.com/8sncfnm9BD
— California Strong (@CAstrongfund) January 7, 2019
“We’re going to have to practice here a little bit,” Yelich said Wednesday on MLB Network’s “Intentional Talk,” just before the players took some swings at Easton’s hitting facility. “There’s going to be high expectations, and it’s not going to go well for everybody. There’s definitely going to be some swings and misses from Major Leaguers out there, guaranteed.”
If there is any embarrassment, it’s for a good cause.
“There’s been a lot of great people who have come out and wanted to support it, and we’re really excited for Sunday,” Yelich said. “It’s great to see the support. We started this thing, but everybody has gotten behind it and really taken it upon themselves to help people out in a time of need. It’s great to see, and a credit to the community and people from all over the country.”