LOS ANGELES >> Jon Hamm is going from a presenter to host of the ESPY Awards, a natural segue for the former three-sport prep athlete who is unabashed in his love for his hometown St. Louis Cardinals.
Hamm called himself a “pretty good” high school player, but is quick to note he was never a threat to make it in the professional ranks.
That’s why the 42-year-old actor best known as Don Draper on AMC’s “Mad Men” wants to keep the focus on the athletes when he hosts the annual show honoring the year’s best sports moments. It airs live on ESPN on July 17 from the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles.
“When you look at someone else who is excellent at what they do, you can’t help but be jealous,” Hamm said Thursday. “When you look at what David Freese did in the 2011 World Series, that’s performance at the highest level with all the chips on the table.”
Freese had two key hits in the late innings of Game 6 against Texas that year, helping the Cardinals force a Game 7, which they won.
“I don’t want to disrespect any Blues fans, but the Cardinals are No. 1 in my heart,” he said, adding that the Cardinals and NHL’s Blues are “1 and 1-A” in his rooting order.
At John Burroughs High in suburban St. Louis, Hamm was on the football, baseball and swimming teams, lettering in all three sports.
“I loved it. A lot of those guys I played on those teams with I’m still pretty good friends with,” he said. “It’s important for young kids to get out there and move around, especially in the kind of high-fructose environment we have these days.”
Hamm is hosting the ESPYs just as he wraps filming on the Disney movie “The Million Dollar Arm,” in which he plays a sports agent.
Hosting an awards show is not like hosting “Saturday Night Live,” he noted. “But I’ve never had a problem standing up in front of people making a fool of myself, and I’m sure that will happen at least once during the telecast.”
As someone who’s been nominated for his share of acting trophies, Hamm knows what it’s like to sit in the audience for an awards show.
“You kind of want it to go fast because there’s fun parties afterwards,” he said, noting that the best hosts “always kind of keep it moving, keep it light, and give you some laughs.”
Among the scheduled presenters are LeBron James, Ben Affleck, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Selena Gomez, Danica Patrick, Maria Sharapova, Jason Sudeikis, and Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Chrissy Teigen.