Dallas Mavericks

Dirk Nowitzki is just a big kid at heart

Dirk Nowitzki is one of the most beloved professional athletes in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.
Dirk Nowitzki is one of the most beloved professional athletes in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. AP

For those who didn’t know it already, Dirk Nowitzki is just a big kid at heart.

Oftentimes, the Dallas Mavericks’ 18-year veteran forward is seen picking up kids, taking photos with whoever is around, laughing and joking, and just having a loveable time being Dirk Nowitzki.

So, last year when Nowitzki was in his fourth season as the host of the Dirk Nowitzki Heroes Celebrity Baseball Game -- former Dallas Stars superstar Mike Modano hosted it the first 10 years -- the Mavericks’ franchise player had a brilliant idea. An idea that he reiterated again on Thursday.

"It’s been an incredible ride, so that’s why last year, kind of on the fly, I announced that as long as I’m still active and I’m playing (in the NBA), I want to keep doing this game because it’s been so much fun,’’ Nowitzki said. "Mike did it for 10 years and then he retired and he didn’t really quite want to do it any more, and then they kind of asked me if I wanted to take it over, and I didn’t really know what to expect.

"When Mike had it the first 10 years I never participated because I was always back in Germany at the time playing for my country, so I always missed it. I didn’t really know what to expect from this event, but like I said it’s been incredible, it’s been fun to see the fans come out.’’

And the fans have been coming out in droves to support this event, which benefits the children’s charities of the Dirk Nowitzki Foundation and the Heroes Foundation.

Another sellout crowd is expected for this year’s celebrity baseball game, which is tonight at 7 at Dr Pepper Ballpark.

"The fans have been great in supporting it,’’ Nowitzki said. "The (Dallas) Cowboys are sending like 17-18 players this year, which is incredible.

"The support has been phenomenal. I’m looking forward to a great outing again.’’

For Nowitzki, a charitable event of this nature is what he’s all about. When it comes to putting a smile on people’s faces, or reaching out and offering financial support, that’s at the root of what makes Nowitzki ticks.

All the more enjoyable for Nowitzki if it’s a community-oriented event.

"We learned that early that the Mavs have been a part of the community for a long, long time,’’ Nowitzki said. "I’ve learned from (former Mavericks players) A.C. Green, from Hot Rod Williams, from all these guys that’s been around the league for a long, long time that the community is something you take very, very seriously.

"They come out and support you every night, and it’s a responsibility that I learned very early on that’s important, and I’ve been enjoying it. Obviously I’m always trying to be myself -- I try to have fun with everybody.’’

Nowitzki said he’s even been humbled by the celebrities who have reached out and wanted to be a part of his celebrity baseball game. PGA great Jordan Spieth, for instance, will be a manger of one of the teams tonight.

"Even some guys are flying in, some of my teammates now are on vacation, they’re coming back just for that game,’’ Nowitzki said. "It means a lot to me, it means a lot to this game obviously.

"And that’s been a humbling experience to have so many people over the years supporting me, supporting this game, supporting the cause. And we’ve had some great names come through, and so it’s exciting and humbling for sure.’’

It’s also been a humbling experience for Nowitzki at the plate. Unlike his ability to work his magic and be a dominant force on the basketball court, nothing of the sort occurs when the 7-footer from Germany is swinging a baseball bat.

So, when Nowitzki was asked about the possibility of hitting a home run in tonight’s game, he couldn’t help but chuckle.

"I’d like to think that I can hit one, but it’s been a very humbling experience -- this game,’’ he said. "Before I first played, it looked so easy on TV.

"I thought for sure I could hit one out, and then I came for the first batting practice and I realized it’s going to be hard to get it out of the infield.’’

Nowitzki, though, isn’t just pining for a home run. He has his sights set on a much larger prize, something very personal that, in a way, he might as well compare to the 2007 Most Valuable Player award he won in 2007.

"I really want to be MVP of my (baseball) game one time, but it hasn’t looked like it the first few years, so the chances are slim to none,’’ Nowitzki said. "Especially with all the athletes we’ve got playing (tonight).

"And I wouldn’t really consider myself an athlete, so the chances are pretty slim.’’

Nowitzki turns 38 on June 19, and announced earlier this week that he plans to play two or three more years for the Mavericks. After that, he’ll likely hang up his sneakers and also pass the torch of this celebrity baseball game onto someone else.

At least he hopes someone will have the heart, soul and time to do all that it takes to put on a worthy event of this magnitude.

"I’m sure there’s some people that can take it, but you’ve got to have the time, you’ve got to have the will for it,’’ Nowitzki said. "It’ll be ashamed to let it go to waste, because like I said, it’s an incredible event.

"It’s a family-friendly event. So many kids always come out and enjoy the fireworks and all the hoopla around it, so it’s really a fun event.’’

Dwain Price can be heard every Wednesday from 3-4 p.m. on dfwiradio.com

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