By Rory Carroll
MALIBU, Calif. (Reuters) - Major League Baseball's best and Hollywood's brightest teamed up to raise money for families affected by wildfires, mass shootings and other tragedies in California with a softball game in picturesque Malibu on Sunday.
At an oceanside college campus, California Strong co-founder Christian Yelich said he was committed to helping victims of catastrophes like the Nov. 2018 shooting at the Borderline Bar & Grill in his hometown of Thousand Oaks, which claimed 12 lives.
"It's important to support the communities that support you," the Milwaukee Brewers star outfielder and 2018 National League Most Valuable Player told Reuters before the game.
"We understand that it may not be in the news cycle as often anymore, since we're about a year removed, but people are still dealing with the aftermath," he said.
"We want people to know we haven't forgotten about them."
During a pre-game ceremony the players handed out checks to a family who lost their father in last year's tragic Santa Cruz boat fire, a family whose home was destroyed by October's Porter Ranch fire, and the owner of the Borderline Bar & Grill.
An emotional moment came when Carli Skaggs, wife of late Los Angeles Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs, threw out a ceremonial first pitch before a crowd of 2,500 fans on a sun-soaked afternoon.
"I was just trying to imitate Tyler's windup," said Skaggs, whose husband died last year at age 27 after an accidental overdose of pain medications. "I hope I made him proud."
The charity was born when Yelich and teammate Ryan Braun announced its creation in a cell phone video filmed at Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff's Calabasas home after fires tore through the region.
The founders said they were dedicated to growing the upstart charity over the long term.
Last season's NL MVP, Los Angeles Dodgers slugger Cody Bellinger, said the charity spread by word of mouth among California-born athletes and those who call the state home now.
"Christian hit me up about it so I said, why not?" Bellinger said.
"I wanted to give back and this is sick," Bellinger said of the event, which raised over $500,000 and featured actors Rob Lowe and Tiffany Haddish, model Camille Kostek and former NBA star Robert Horry on the diamond at Pepperdine University.
"It feels great," he said.
Team Braun defeated Team Yelich 12-4 in a laid back, six-inning affair that was more concerned with entertaining the fans and remembering those whose lives were changed in an instant.
(Reporting by Rory Carroll; Editing by Bill Berkrot)