It was--as benefit softball games go--not a big draw for the Hollywood Allstars. Only some 50 people paid $5 a head to watch Mark Harmon--People magazine's "Sexiest Man Alive" a couple of years ago--and a handful of soap stars take on Burbank's Bluebirds at Valley Park.
This was a far cry from the 12,000 who showed up for the Allstars' previous game, which took place in August at Boston's Fenway Park.
The Allstars have been playing charity games for a decade. At Fenway, they were matched against a team of famous former athletes. At Valley Park two weeks ago, they were playing a team of local seniors (ages 55 to 62).
Why the big turnout in Boston and the paltry one in Burbank? Louis Odell of Burbank thinks that he knows. Bostonians, and most everybody east of Pasadena, are notoriously celebrity-starved and hungry for anything Hollywood, "but around here, we're pretty blase," said Odell, a retired newspaper carrier. It's hard to get excited over celebrities when on any given day you can always find one in the produce section at Ralphs, he says.
"We're too close to the Hollywood scene," Odell theorized.
Odell was sitting in the bleachers at Valley Park with a friend, waiting for the game to begin. He was there, as were most of the people, to support the Bluebirds.
The game served two purposes. First, proceeds helped send the Burbank-based team to the Seniors Slow-Pitch World Series in Greensboro, N. C. (where the team finished in a tie for fifth last weekend). Second, it gave the Bluebirds a pre-series warm-up.
So, unlike the Allstars, who goofed around before the game, the Bluebirds were taking it seriously. They all were top athletes in their day--a lot of them played minor league baseball--and the last thing they wanted was to get blown out by a bunch of actors . Their pregame drills were organized and snappy, and their manager, former minor leaguer Bill Burton, even laid blue shag carpeting on the dugout bench for them to sit on.
The Allstars seemed to take as much delight in needling their manager, Russ Gill, as in drilling practice balls off the high chain-link fence in left. "Hey, Russ, that rash disappear yet?" cracked Tony (Madman) Longo, a big, beefy character actor who looks like a grizzly on steroids.
Gill was trying to put together the lineup without Harmon. The word was that Harmon was in San Diego filming "Cold Heaven" and might be able to make it, but the odds were that he would opt to spend the day with wife Pam Dawber instead of traipsing to the San Fernando Valley to get dirty on a softball field. Gregory Harrison, another Allstars member, had already decided to skip the game to attend a function at the Music Center.
"I never know who's going to be available and who's going to be off working somewhere," Gill said.
But a few minutes before the game, Harmon made a dramatic entrance. Carrying his gear in a maroon gym bag, he walked into the park and hurriedly changed into his uniform. But he wasn't able to get in any practice and nearly missed the introductions. Announcer Joe Rico had to assure the crowd that Harmon would make an appearance on the field "once he puts his pants on."
As it turned out, the Allstars whipped the pants off the old guys, 19-6. The Bluebirds trailed by only 6-5 after four innings but withered under a relentless battering by stronger, younger arms and legs.
'Just Got Blitzed'
"Youth just killed us," said Burton, sports director of the Burbank Parks and Recreation Department. "We just got blitzed."
But not everybody was disappointed. Priscilla Reyes had traveled all the way from Carson to see her favorite soap star, Drake Hogestyn, who plays a cop named Roman on "Days of Our Lives." Reyes is coordinator of Hogestyn's fan club and when he hit a three-run homer in the seventh inning, she couldn't have been happier if Roman had nailed a homicidal maniac.
Harmon, who made a few acrobatic plays at shortstop, was the center of attention for the shutterbugs after the game, and he willingly posed with fans. Unlike celebs who play in the ShowBiz Softball League--where cameras and pens are barred and publicists roam the sidelines keeping the media away--the Allstars encourage interaction with their fans, and they don't have to beat the other team to sleep well that night.
"It may be better for what this team is all about if we lose rather than win," Harmon said. "But none of us goes out there to lose."
Even with only 50 witnesses.