LOS ANGELES -- It started 49 years ago at the Los Angeles Coliseum when singer Nat King Cole and some of his Hollywood buddies thought it would be fun to have a star-studded baseball game before the new team in town, the Dodgers, played a game that actually counts in the standings. All these decades later, the Hollywood Stars Game has been a regularly scheduled promotion on the Dodgers' calendar each season. What was once a hardball game for the first 45 years is now a softball game, but the intensity and competitiveness between the stars is still there.
Luc Robitaille had a run-scoring double to tie the game at five. "It was a lot of fun," he said. "I love to play baseball and the actors are all big Kings fans, so it was fun to talk hockey with them."
"This is the most fun day of the year," said former "Dawson's Creek" star James Van Der Beek, who has played in eight of these games, highlighted by robbing actor Rob Lowe of a home run with a circus catch in 2004. "Tommy Lasorda was my coach that year, and we thought this was a nothing softball game, but he gave us a pep talk that got us so riled up, next thing I know I'm on my back on the other side of the fence, with the ball in my glove. I blame Tommy 100 percent for that."
"I don't know if it's just actors who are just interested in baseball, but I know these guys are," said "Desperate Housewives" star James Denton, who flew all night from a movie set in Canada to make his fifth consecutive appearance in the game. "It's fun to get on the field and meet up with the guys. It's one of the perks of starring on a hit series; you get to know guys like [Dodger second baseman] Jeff Kent, whose No.12 I wear in his honor today. It's like a little kid's dream come true, and we're representing some of our buddies who never get to do this kind of thing."
The stars usually come to Dodger Stadium two hours before the game is scheduled to begin. They are treated to food and refreshments in a tented area in the parking lot behind right field. The celebrities are given sports bags loaded with Reebok shoes, Dodger clothing and other goodies. They then get the real treat of taking batting practice, infield and shagging fly balls like the big boys do.
While this is going on, the Major Leaguers are watching with amusement.
"It looks like they take this seriously," said Toronto Blue Jays pitcher A.J. Burnett, who was watching the proceedings with fellow hurler Roy Halladay.
Van Der Beek and Denton came over and shook hands with the Toronto players, who had never seen a celebrity game before. On the other side of the diamond, Dodger players, who see celebrities sitting in the stadium's Dugout Club seats at every game, were still out in force to take in the game.
"Walking around this place is just so much fun," said "Heroes" co-star Greg Grunberg, who grew up a Dodgers fan in Los Angeles. "It's unbelievable to be here with these guys. I mean, I'm used to playing softball with a keg at second base, and the guys here are already talking smack, saying they're going to bring it. I, on the other hand, just want to have a good time."
"I think people in show business tend to be sports fans in general and especially baseball," said actor Joe Mantegna, who also co-wrote the popular play "Bleacher Bums" about the fans of his beloved Chicago Cubs. "In our business, you're judged on how good this actor is, how good this actress is, how good is your last movie? In baseball, it's pretty much what you see is what you get -- you're either hitting the ball or not. I think we like the divinity of the sport, the beauty and complexity of it and the fact that there's no clock."
There was a clock in this game and after battling through a few innings the white team and the blue team ended up with a 5-5 tie. Now mind you, the blue team did have a ringer in Dodgers catcher Russell Martin, who came up as a pinch-hitter and smacked a home run, but who cares?
The Hollywood Stars Game benefited The Painted Turtle, the sixth addition to Paul Newman's family of Hole in the Wall Camps for seriously ill children located in Lake Hughes, Calif. The Dodgers presented The Painted Turtle with a Dodger Dream Field for campers to enjoy.
So celebrities had fun and everyone helped a good cause. That's the Hollywood way.