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Play in the World Series and They Will Come

The Angels' trip to the Fall Classic attracts fair-weather celebrity fans.

October 17, 2002|Paul Brownfield | Times Staff Writer

No one has ever suggested that the Big A stands for A-list, in any Hollywood sense of the word.

In a sports market where celebrities and athletes commingle in open mutual admiration, the Anaheim Angels have been worlds away from L.A.'s big name scene. Think Nicholson with his sunglasses and Cheshire cat grin, courtside at the Lakers. Rickles and Sinatra at the Lasorda-era Dodger games.

Now, though, as the Angels head to the World Series, a host of celebrities are popping up in the stands (or suites) of Edison International Field. Yes, think Costner, Travolta, Hasselhoff.

Suddenly, there was Disney Chairman Michael Eisner hosting John Travolta in his corporate box over the weekend, in a magic kingdom of a ballpark lately dotted with celebrity eyewitnesses, including Reese Witherspoon (star of the hit Disney movie "Sweet Home Alabama"), Kevin Costner, Pierce Brosnan, David Hasselhoff, John Ritter, Rob Reiner and Dennis Quaid.

Fox, which is carrying the games, probably will use the series as an opportunity to showcase stars of Fox network shows, in effect product-placing its actors in the stands. Owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., Fox's assets reach into various media, from movies to TV to sports. Thus, in the game-within-the-game, News Corp., which is televising the World Series, will use a Disney product (the Angels) to promote its own, ancillary product, Fox shows.

The hubbub draws a shrug from one of the team's few Hollywood stalwarts. David Lander is a former member of the 1960s sketch comedy troupe the Credibility Gap who is better-known for his years as Squiggy on the ABC sitcom "Laverne & Shirley." He saw his first Angels game in 1967, and remembers a 1969 game against the Washington Senators when the start of play was held up so a helicopter carrying then-President Richard Nixon could land in center field.

"It's a fad. It's like anything," Lander said. "It's not just here. When the Mets won [the World Series] in '69, Jacqueline Kennedy was at a game."

Last weekend, as the Angels closed in on their first pennant, Hollywood glanced up at the winner down the road.

"Somebody called Friday and said, 'I have Jack Nicholson's tickets; you want them?' " said Marty Adelstein, a show business manager and partner at a new firm called Original, which also handles film and television production.

Adelstein, a sports fan with season tickets to the Lakers and Dodgers, went to the Angels-Twins games Friday and Saturday, sitting behind the first base dugout. He said he knew he was in Orange County as he listened to the people behind him discuss whether Republican Bill Simon Jr. has a chance to become governor.

More celebrities are expected when the World Series begins Saturday, including comedian Ray Romano, tennis star Pete Sampras, Costner and Reiner, said Tim Mead, the Angels vice president of communications.

The Angels' newfound cachet comes as Disney, which bought the then-California Angels from founding owner Gene Autry in 1996, appears to have given up on the Angels as a viable piece of its vast media empire. The company is openly trying to sell the team amid projected losses this season of several million dollars.

It's not clear who will be on Eisner's World Series guest list; a representative would only refer questions to the Angels' Mead.

"This is the year that we hope to build some of that [Hollywood] support," he said.

"We've had folks out here in the past," he added. "Charlie Sheen bought a section in the outfield, an enclosed section in the old Big A. Arsenio Hall's been a regular the last couple of years."

To ensure a respectable star quotient for its marquee events, Major League Baseball sets aside 10 or 20 celebrity tickets, divvied out on a "case-by-case basis," said Patrick Courtney, a league spokesman. In 1998, for instance, when the Yankees and San Diego Padres met in the World Series, Warner Bros. received a call from the league office asking if any stars of their TV shows wanted to head south for a game. They landed Anthony Edwards, the-then star of "ER," and Judd Nelson of the sitcom "Suddenly Susan."

Without prompting, the New York Yankees have better star-drawing power than the Angels. Both during the regular season and in their divisional playoff series with the Angels, the Yankees have brought out the likes of Adam Sandler, Nicholson and Billy Crystal.

But the notion that the Angels have the ability to attract stars on their own is a new phenomenon that will be put to a truer test next season.

The Angels, for most of their history, have lost many more games than they've won. That, and you have to take two or three freeways from the Westside to reach Edison Field, a schlep even if you're being driven in a Town Car.

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