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The Happy Folks Behind the Boys of Summer : Owners Profit From More Than Just Cash With Minor League Baseball Teams

June 16, 1986|GARY LIBMAN

Movie theater executive Bruce Corwin made 14 calls from his Beverly Hills home one recent night to learn how the Class A Palm Springs Angels baseball team was doing.

His wife Toni noticed lights blinking on a family phone and realized that her sons David, 16, and Danny, 13, were calling from upstairs for the same information her husband sought downstairs.

New Way of Life

For the Corwins, who recently bought a share of the minor league team, baseball has become a way of life.

Wearing a shiny white Angels jacket at the Palm Springs Angels Stadium recently, Bruce Corwin, president of Metropolitan Theatres Corp., led other owners in cheers, tossed scores of free bags of peanuts to fans and carried post-game hot dogs to hungry players in the locker room.

When he wasn't hobnobbing with players or mingling with fans at the 5,000-seat stadium, he sipped beer with other owners on a warm, breezy evening and watched his team play.

Many Angelenos, especially those from the Hollywood and the political communities, are finding the attractions of minor league baseball ownership irresistible this year. They are buying teams in small but increasing numbers.

This winter Corwin formed a group of 102 investors, including singer Tony Orlando and California Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp, who paid $230,000 for the California League team in Rohnert Park, north of San Francisco. Once they acquired the team, they moved it to Palm Springs and struck an agreement with the California Angels to furnish players.

While Corwin and his associates were purchasing the Palm Springs team, Geoff Cowan, a UCLA communications professor, and his wife Aileen Adams, city Fire Commission president, bought into the California League's Stockton Ports.

Stellar Owners

Their partners include Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner and his wife, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Diane Wayne, and Westside attorney and political insider Mickey Kantor and his wife, NBC news correspondent Heidi Schulman.

Singer Pia Zadora bought an interest in the Portland Beavers of the Pacific Coast League, and Kansas City Royals third baseman George Brett and his three brothers, all from the South Bay, purchased teams in Spokane and Richland, Wash., acquiring the latter from Brentwood attorney Dick Leavitt.

Thom Mount, 37, former president of worldwide film production for MCA Inc. and now head of his own Beverly Hills production company, owns parts of teams in Durham and Burlington, N.C., and Pulaski, Va., while Malibu businessman Van Schley invested in teams in Durham and Salt Lake City.

"It's gotten to be a chic kind of thing, the in thing," said Bill Schweppe, vice president of minor league operations for the Dodgers.

"It might have been popularized by Roger Kahn buying a franchise or a portion of it and writing a book about the experience, and it can indeed be an experience."

Kahn, author of the highly successful "The Boys of Summer," bought the Utica, N.Y., franchise in 1983 and described the excitement of his team's championship season in another well-received book, "Good Enough to Dream."

Corwin said his 101 partners willingly invested in total or partial $6,000 shares and that he had trouble limiting the group.

"Nobody asked for a budget, nobody asked for a profit projection," Corwin said. "They said, 'Where do I send the check and when's the opening game?' . . . I mean, it's been a real, mid-life avocation, a joy."

Many of the new owners played baseball in high school or college, coached their sons' or daughters' teams and were eager to associate with professional baseball.

Kantor, 47, a partner at Manatt, Phelps, Rothenberg, Tunney & Phillips, played college baseball at Vanderbilt University and competed in amateur softball until three years ago.

While his son Doug, 17, worked as a bat boy for a Stockton Ports game in Palm Springs recently, Kantor watched from the stands and said the "best thing" about buying a team was that "it gives me a chance to be associated with the game. Not just to see it but to drink it in again. To really make it part of your life. In my formative years it was such a part of my life and I miss it."

Kantor said that growing up in Nashville "I would play in any league or any game anyone would let me. . . . Anything with a bat and a ball I wanted to play."

While the owners enjoy themselves, their families also participate. At the Stockton-Palm Springs game, Kantor sat next to Reiner, 50, who had borrowed a glove before the game and trotted to a pitching mound down the left field line to catch his son, Tommy.

The boy, 8, wearing a white, pinstriped Ports uniform, told his father that he would throw a fastball. "And I mean a fastball!," he said.

'That's a Strike'

He wound up and whipped the ball over the plate. "That's a strike in any league," said his father, a former junior varsity third baseman at Hamilton High School

After a score of pitches, Tommy entered the Stockton dugout as a mascot for the game.

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