Joe Haden to Return to Classic Park

The Captains may not be home on Saturday, June 6, but Classic Park will still be full of eager fans watching professional athletes. Even though they’ll have a bat and a ball, however, these athletes aren’t professional baseball players. No, on June 6 fans will  be treated to a different performance on the field as Joe Haden hosts his second annual Joe Haden and Friends Celebrity Softball Tournament.

Haden, a cornerback for the Cleveland Browns, will be joined  by a number of other professional football players, both his teammates and his friends from around the league, as they partake in a friendly softball competition and home run derby in Eastlake, Ohio. Haden started this tradition last year, though is ready to take the event to the next level this season.

“I got involved last minute [last year], so I didn’t have enough time to reach out to my guys and tell my friends that I was having [the softball game],” Haden said. “This year, I’m going to make it better. If I put my name on something, I want it to be special.”

“Last year was a unique situation,” Jermaine Herod of CV Marketing, and the main promoter of Haden’s event, said. “Joe was amazing stepping in last minute and helping us out the way he did. He did everything we could ever ask him to do. This year, we said, ‘We’re going to make this one a lot better.’”

“We had more time and we actually planned it out,” Herod continued. “I think it’s going to be something great for the whole community. This community loves [Haden].”

Last year, Haden’s softball lineup consisted of a handful of his fellow football buddies, including teammates Buster Skrine and Brian Hoyer, local media (think FoxSports Ohio and 92.3 personalities), and some other well-known names, such as DJ Steph Floss. This year, however, with more time to prepare, Haden has been able to secure a full roster of NFL names from around the country.

This year’s list includes teammates Johnny Manziel, Phil Taylor, Justin Gilbert, and Donte Whitner, as well as well-known names such as Dez Bryant, Kam Chancellor, Randall Cobb, Larry Fitzgerald, A.J. Green, Colin Kaepernick, LeSean McCoy, Maurkice Pouncey, Mike Pouncey, Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and T.J. Ward.

“I had a little bit more time to reach out to my guys,” Haden said. “It’s about being able to hit up my guys and know that they respect me to take part in this. I’m sending A.J. Green a text message: ‘Hey A.J., I’ve got a game June 6,’ and he’s like, ‘I’m there.’ Then it’s like, alright, we’re going to set up a flight and get you out here. I really appreciate every one of my guys who comes out here and I’m doing the same thing for them, going out to their softball or kickball games.”

“From the moment the game was over last year, we began the talk about how he can make this year a lot better, and he did a really good job,” Herod said of Haden. “He just looked at us and said, ‘Of course I’ll do it,’ and he came 110 percent with the names.”

Also attending this year is football great and Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders.

“He had a football camp that he held at his house in Dallas,” Haden said. “I went out there and he said, ‘Joe, if you ever need anything, just tell me and I’ll be there for you.’ I said, “Deion, I actually have a game on June 6, if you’d like to come,’ and he said, ‘I’m there.’”

“He’s my favorite player ever,” Haden said. “He’s who I aspire to be as a cornerback and just being able to hit him up and him coming, it’s special.”

Herod also said that a number of local charities will benefit from the softball game. Captains Vice President and General Manager Brad Seymour filled in the details of the game’s charitable aspects.

“The presenting sponsor is Lake Health,” Seymour said. “One of the beneficiaries is the Lake Health Foundation, which benefits groups here in the Lake County area and beyond.”

Seymour said that there will be a jersey auction during the game, in which the players’ game-worn jerseys will be auctioned off to fans to raise money for the beneficiaries, which also include Captains Charities, the Captains 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, and the Special Olympics, with which Haden has strong involvement, becoming the first NFL player to be named a Global Ambassador to the organization.

“Obviously, this truly is going to be a community event,” Seymour said. “That’s the genesis of it, that’s the exciting part.”

The only snafu in the planning could come from another community event being held that day — the Cleveland Browns Fan Fest, which will be held at the Cleveland Convention Center also on June 6. Haden, however, doesn’t see that as a problem.

“[The Browns] had their thing scheduled, and it’s earlier in the day so we’ll be able to do a bit of both,” Haden said. “My teammates support me in this, and it’s not too far away. We’re doing it on the same day, in the same area. You go to the Browns Fan Fest and then you come out here and have a good time with us. I think that Browns fans will have a great day being able to support Cleveland, the community, and two good events.”

Although not originally from the area, it’s clear that Cleveland has earned a special place in Haden’s heart beyond just being the city in which he plays football.

“It’s the blue collar town and how much they appreciate everything,” Haden said when asked what is has been about the city of Cleveland that has captured his interest so strongly. “They just really want to win, they really support you. As long as you show passion, as long as you care about what you’re doing, they support you with everything that they have and that’s what I love. That just makes me feel like we’re in it together. That’s where I feel like Cleveland is my second home.

“I want to bring something to Cleveland that they haven’t seen before.”

The Joe Haden and Friends Softball Game will be held on Saturday, June 6, at 6 p.m. Tickets can be found on the Captains’ website. VIP packages sold out in 48 hours, and all remaining tickets are $25.

Photo: Lake County Captains

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