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There’s a buzz building at the Home Plate Gate just outside of Nats Park. It’s humid. Hands are getting clammy and foreheads are slick with sweat. But no matter: It’s All-Star Sunday and the players participating in the six-inning Legends and Celebrity Softball Game are about to arrive for batting practice.
In a sea of celebrity—actors, athletes, anchors—there’s one man it seems everyone came to see: 62-year-old engineer turned science educator Bill Nye.
Adoring fans and a bay of media members wait near the batting cages with his name on all their tongues. Oscar-winning movie star Jamie Foxx is arriving shortly, as is Wizards star point guard John Wall. But people can’t wait to meet the man who taught some of their science classes in grade school, when the teacher would roll out the TV set and put on episodes of Bill Nye the Science Guy.
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This time, it wasn’t about Earth’s gravity or the difference between sedimentary and igneous rocks. This time, the son of D.C. was returning to play some ball. Advocating for science literacy and education and continuing the fight against human-caused climate change would have to wait a couple hours, though there’s an argument to be made that his very presence helps accomplish those parts of his mission. For this evening, at least, the science guy would become the softball guy.
Eventually he comes striding out and once fans see him, all that can be heard are high-pitched screams of “Bill!” He’s not wearing his trademark bow tie. Instead, he wears a full red Nationals uniform, his jersey adorned with the number 15. And he’s all humble smiles.
“I grew up in Washington, I was a Senators fan,” he says. “That’s why I used to be taller, but as a Senators fan we were beaten down. I kid because I love. I’m so excited that the Nationals are back in the city and I’m very excited to be at Nationals [P]ark. This is, in a sense, my home park.”
He’s never too far from science, even when it comes to baseball—the science cannot be separated from the science guy, after all. He invented a baseball retriever called the “Fango,” which he held as he spoke. It’s a bat with a pronged attachment that can pick up balls during practice.
Nye says he can’t hit, throw, catch, or run. His only goal was to try to hit to second base. “I’m the oldest guy on the field, I think,” he told a group of reporters. “Baseball, for people my age, is so much of growing up. And I remind you we can use it to talk about geopolitics.”
Now, he was yelling enthusiastically, “My home team, man, is the Nats! I can’t help it, it’s deep within us! Let’s play ball!”
Back on the subject of geopolitics, he had to get one last jab in about the state of today’s world before fleeing. “For president, we used to pick people with some experience. That was in the good old days.”
And with that, he gets pulled away by handlers for batting practice.
When it’s time for the game at 7:30 p.m., each player is announced when they take the field. Nye gets the longest and loudest applause by far. When it’s his turn at bat, the applause gets even louder. He strikes out, but no one cares. They keep cheering.
Bill Nye the Science Guy, which aired from 1993 to 1998 and won 19 Emmys, made kids excited about science, and made science itself completely accessible. It has had a profound impact on generations of children and the evidence of that was displayed on the stadium’s huge screen. A man, wearing a white t-shirt with Bill Nye’s face on it, is shown on the screen for a prolonged period of time. He’s clapping and shouting Nye’s name, as everyone in the stadium had, like in his famous show’s theme song—“Bill! Bill! Bill!”
In the 2017 documentary Bill Nye: Science Guy, Nye contemplates his choice not to have children. To his millions of viewers and fans, however, he is a beloved father of science education. That’s made clear as thousands cheer during his final turn at bat.
This time, he hits a grounder and makes it to first base. His teammate, rapper and D.C. native Wale, is ecstatic as he comes to first base to greet and congratulate him. The crowd is unhinged. They’re the biggest cheers of the night.
Photo by Ariana Vincent on Flickr, used under the Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 license.