MINNEAPOLIS -- In the dozens of celebrity softball games she's pitched, like the one she played at Target Field on Sunday night, former U.S. Olympic pitcher Jennie Finch will inevitably get asked to fire her famous rising fastball in toward a hitter. It makes for good theater with the fans who call for it, and because she usually grants the request spontaneously, Finch is able to surprise (or perhaps terrify) hitters used to seeing pitches lobbed to them.
In the All-Star Legends and Celebrity Softball Game on Sunday, though, Finch said she experienced something for the first time: A hitter actually asked her to dial up the heat.
That hitter would be Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who began ribbing Finch during a Sunday afternoon batting practice session. Peterson only played a handful of baseball games as a kid, he said, and hadn't played in 15 years. If he'd taken any swings since then, he surmised, they might have come when the Minnesota Twins sent him a bat as a gift.
But when he dug in for his second at-bat of the night, he again told Finch not to take it easy on him.
She didn't. She blew the first fastball by Peterson, whose Herculean hack caught only air, and fired two more to the 2012 NFL MVP. What happened next was a matter of some dispute -- Peterson got credit for two foul balls, he said "it's possible" he made contact with one, and Finch contended he didn't connect with any of them. "No -- he's full of it!" she cried with mock indignation when told what Peterson said.
That Peterson even wanted the challenge, though, impressed the gold medal-winning pitcher, who once struck out 24 major leaguers in an episode of "This Week in Baseball."
"I mean, I'm pretty confident -- I expect them to strike out," Finch said. "But he was ready -- he was digging in there. Normally, I catch them off guard."
When Finch brought the speed back down, Peterson grounded out for the second time in the game. He hit a hard grounder to third in the first inning, but rapper Nelly -- wh0's become a regular in the All-Star weekend exhibition and won MVP honors with two home runs -- actually made a slick play to throw Peterson out.
Batting second and playing center field for the American League team, Peterson soon wound up where most defensively-challenged outfielders do: first base. He tried to make a leaping catch in the second inning, but dropped the ball.
"I just missed that one," he said.
Peterson said he enjoyed the experience -- which had him on a team with Minnesota Wild forward Zach Parise and retired slugger Jim Thome, among others -- and got a raucous ovation from the Target Field crowd when he was introduced before the game. His swings and misses against Finch also drew the biggest laughs of the night.
"I said, 'Don't take it easy on me. I want you to come with a fastball,' " Peterson said. "She said, 'What else?' I said, 'Changeup.' Initially, I thought she was going to continue to throw them underhand, but she saw I was serious."
Said Finch: "He kept saying, 'You've got to bring it. You've got to bring it.' So, I brought it."
You'll have the opportunity to judge for yourself whether Peterson made any contact in his at-bat; the game airs on Monday night after the Home Run Derby on ESPN.