The hometown stars kicked off Big Slick Celebrity Weekend with a group hug for Kansas City.
“It’s honest-to-goodness Kansas City integrity, honesty and goodness,” said actor and comedian Jason Sudeikis, explaining the success of the annual fundraiser for the Cancer Center at Children’s Mercy, now in its seventh year.
Sudeikis, who grew up in Overland Park, and his fellow hosts — Paul Rudd, Rob Riggle, Eric Stonestreet and David Koechner — began the event with a news conference at Children’s Mercy on Friday morning, all dressed in matching Charlie Hustle KC T-shirts.
“When I come home to Kansas City, I feel like I’m getting a big hug,” said Stonestreet, of Kansas City, Kan.
“You’re going to see a lot of emotions this week,” said Riggle, of Overland Park. “I’ll probably cry several times this weekend.”
Later in the day, they reconvened with famous guests at Kauffman Stadium for their celebrity softball game before the Royals took on the Detroit Tigers. As the heat index topped 100 degrees, Big Slick, which used to be a charity poker tournament, took on a different meaning: Everyone at The K was dripping with sweat.
“In this heat, I’d like to think I’m as hot as James Marsden,” Koechner joked, referring to the heartthrob actor and Big Slick guest.
“American Idol” winner David Cook of Blue Springs must have felt even hotter: He was playing left field in a “Star Wars” Chewbacca mask. Still, the mask didn’t stop him from hitting a home run for his team and taking time to toss some cold water bottles to fans in the stands.
Meanwhile, Stonestreet took the time to shout up to one adorable family: “Throw me your baby!”
In the end, after little more than a half hour of play, the “blue team” won 8-6. That figures since, in addition to Cook, Rudd, Riggle and Stonestreet, their lineup included Chiefs players Travis Kelce and Dustin Colquitt and a ringer: former Royals pitching great Bret Saberhagen.
Not that they were necessarily good sports. Colquitt was hit by a pitch, and the players saw it as a good excuse for a bench-clearing “brawl” around the pitcher’s mound. All in good fun.
The mood was different at Children’s Mercy that morning, when pediatrician in chief Michael Artman said that each year the hospital diagnoses 180 children with cancer. That means every other day a new family gets bad news about a child. Big Slick is “more important these days than it’s ever been before,” he said.
“You know (the hosts) for what they do,” Artman said. “But here at the hospital we know them for not what they do but who they are. We see them as caring, compassionate, committed individuals who want to use their gifts and their talents to pay back and give back to their community.”
The hosts reminisced about previous Big Slick fundraisers, which have raised more than $3 million.
“There’s a mix of things that have happened here that we’ve all experienced on both fronts,” Riggle said. “There’s been some kids here that we’ve met that are no longer with us and there’s been some kids here that are still with us and surviving and doing great. And because we get to experience that, those are the things that always resonate with me and stay with me.”
This year, the hosts became immortalized in the halls of the hospital with a mural by artist Scribe (Donald Ross), featuring little furry creatures gleefully bowling in their annual Big Slick tournament.
“That was really touching, and we really feel a part of it, like we’re making a difference,” said Koechner, who grew up in Tipton, Mo., but is an honorary Kansas Citian because his wife, Leigh, is from Overland Park.
After the news conference came the real reason for all the fun and games: the patients and their families, who got to mingle with the hosts and some of their guests, who included actors Adam Scott, Samm Levine and Haley Joel Osment.
They posed for selfies, stacked Jenga blocks, colored with crayons — one child drew Sudeikis’ “Angry Birds Movie” character — played Connect 4 and talked about the Royals in the World Series.
More celebrities, including Marsden and fellow actors James van der Beek and Jeffrey Dean Morgan, mingled with patients and their families in hospital rooms.
Rudd, of Overland Park, said the most moving part of the weekend is always the parents of patients.
“We’re really honored to get to know these families who have children here and get to know some of the kids,” the “Ant-Man” star said. “I know I’ve met a lot of people, and to be able to have a personal connection with the hospital and the people that are here is amazing. It makes this event very personal.”
Big Slick will continue on Saturday with a bowling tournament and red carpet arrival in the morning and an auction at night.
The Star’s Jennifer Aldrich contributed to this report.
And here’s how the day unfolded on Twitter:
Big Slick Saturday
The celebrity bowling tournament Saturday morning at Pinstripes and the auction that evening at the Arvest Bank Theatre at the Midland are sold out. But you can still attend the bowling tourney’s red carpet arrival, which starts at 9:45 a.m. outside Pinstripes, at 135th Street and Nall Avenue in Overland Park’s Prairiefire shopping center. Find more information about events and how to donate at bigslickkc.com.