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Andy Warhol famously said that every person gets 15 minutes of worldwide fame, Danville native Jennifer Dietrich had a moment in the spotlight earlier this year that lasted more like five seconds. But, oh, what a state.Ugly Betty's New Beauty

A few years ago, Berkeley native Rebecca Romijn had the title role in Brian De Palma’s neo-noir classic, Femme Fatale. In February, Romijn became television’s first homme/femme fatale on ABC’s smash hit Ugly Betty, with her role as transsexual troublemaker Alexis Meade. She also just finished filming an independent movie called Lake City, costarring Oscar winner Sissy Spacek and rocker Dave Matthews. Just to stay busy, the 34-year-old actor—whose initial fame came on the covers of French Elle and Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issues—is furthering her supermodel career as the 2007 face and figure of Bebe. On a rare day off, Romijn gave Diablo a call from her Calabasas ranch to catch up.

 

Rebecca Romijn
Photo by James White/Corbis Outline
Ugly Betty was already a big hit when you joined the cast halfway through its first season. Then the show won the Golden Globe for best comedy just after you started. You have perfect timing!

I was in love with the show way before I was on it. To say I’m thrilled to be a part of it is an understatement. It’s a fantastic cast, and to see this new team of writers being successful is really exciting. I’ve made all these new friends, and we’re having so much fun making the show.

The show began as a Spanish-language telenovela before Salma Hayek brought it to ABC. How many versions of Ugly Betty are there?

The original show was Colombian, and then there was a version in Mexico. I think four other countries have it, and we’re airing in England and Australia soon.

Ugly Betty’s lead actress, America Ferrera, has become a huge star from this breakout role. I just noticed she’s one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2007.

She is? That’s great. I’m so happy that we have a 23-year-old actress who is a genuine role model. She’s the real deal. She’s wise and present and clear-headed and intelligent.

Have you given her any career advice?

No, but she asked me how to do a runway walk. We spent about a half hour practicing, and then she used it for the last episode of the season.

You and Vanessa Williams give the show a fantastic one-two diva-knockout punch.

Thank you! Our show’s producers wrote the characters that way because of their mutual love of Dynasty, which they grew up watching in the 1980s. Dynasty had a famous rivalry [between characters played by Joan Collins and Linda Evans], which was the inspiration for the dynamic between the characters that Vanessa and I play.

Your character is a woman who used to be a man. How did you get this role?

I met with the show’s producers just after the show began. They said, “Brace yourself. Here’s what we have in mind.” They were kind of scared to tell me my character was a man, but it took me about five seconds to say, “Uh, yeah, that’s awesome!” I knew it was a chance to play a revolutionary character on primetime TV.

Has everyone you’ve spoken with responded positively to the character?

The nature of my character is a little bit intimidating. Many people are still a little shy when they ask me about it. Some people get embarrassed, some want to be politically correct and try to say the right thing. [Gender transition] is a sensitive subject.

Hey, which Hollywood gender-bender do you like better: Tootsie or The Crying Game?

I like uplifting, so I’m going to go with Tootsie. Also, there’s a drag queen movie I love called Girls Will Be Girls.

Tell us about your new gig as the face of Bebe.

It’s a nice relationship. They’re originally a San Francisco–based company, and they’re still family run. We’re doing four campaigns this year.

You were raised in Berkeley. What were your favorite things about the East Bay 20 years ago?

[Laughs] Wow, let’s see. It would all be focused in a small area of north Berkeley. I hung out with my friends at Fat Apple’s and at the Rose and Grove Market.

What about now? If you were in the East Bay today, what would you do?

I have a deep appreciation for the whole culinary aspect of the area, so I get involved in the Gourmet Ghetto in a big way. If we can hit Chez Panisse, Semifreddi’s, Peet’s Coffee, and the Cheese Board, that’s a good weekend in Berkeley.

When you’re up here, are you recognized from living here or from your TV and movie roles?

You know, you go through two hours of hair and makeup before filming anything. When I’m in Berkeley, I don’t look like I do on TV, and I get recognized more as Rebecca from high school than Rebecca from Hollywood. There are a lot of people from those days still living in Berkeley. -Angela Sasse

Multimedia Troublemaker

 

No Name
Courtesy of Alice 97.3 FM

Mike Nelson spent his formative years tossing spitballs from the back of classrooms at Danville’s Charlotte Wood Middle School and later parlayed his penchant for mischief into a lucrative career. Nelson, aka No Name, of Alice radio’s popular Sarah and No Name Morning Show, is all over the media these days. He had a small role in last summer’s Pixar blockbuster, Cars, and he hosts a home improvement show called House Detective on HGTV. A television version of Sarah and No Name runs weeknights at 11:30 p.m. on KBHK 44. We caught up with Nelson as he was driving between gigs.

Hey, Mike, since we last spoke you showed up as a character in Cars, which grossed $460 million worldwide. Not bad.

I just found out that they are going to make an action figure out of my character, Not Chuck. I told [Pixar founder] John Lasseter that I want to be buried with it.

What else is new with you?

I had another kid in late September. My oldest will be two in March. He’s really into running into walls these days.

So now you’re a movie star, a TV star, and a radio star—which do you like the best?

Television is a new experience for me. It’s a lot of fun, and I’ve learned so much about home repair. But radio is still my primary passion. There are not too many jobs you can have where you can be so irritating to so many people without serious repercussions. I’ll definitely stay on the radio until they kick me off.

Tell us about your HGTV show, House Detective.

It’s a fix-it show with a twist. Steve Ramos is a home inspector, and we go into a home and he identifies the problems and recommends the fixes. Then I get to bust out the chain saws, sledgehammers, and crowbars, throw axes through doors, knock down walls, that kind of thing. We’ve filmed three seasons. The show takes me all over the Bay Area, and a lot of homes are in the East Bay.

What are the most frequent problems with East Bay homes?

The East Bay has the most plumbing problems that I’ve seen. A lot of clogged toilets out your way. There’s a lot of diversity in East Bay neighborhoods. We can be on a ranch in Danville one day and dodging bullets in Oakland the next. It can be kind of intimidating to go up to a sideshow and say, “Can you guys take that down the street? We’re trying to film for HGTV.”

Speaking of teardown projects, your former school in Danville, Charlotte Wood Middle School, was destroyed a few years ago to build a public library.

We would have done a big show on the demolition of Charlotte Wood. But no sledgehammers--we would have had to use TNT charges, dude, like when they blow up the casinos in Vegas.

Do you keep in touch with your classmates from those days?

I was just hanging out at the Chili’s in San Ramon with buddies from my days at Charlotte Wood. We’re gonna get a whole list of the Charlotte Wood Superchargers together for a reunion soon.

What are the Superchargers?

Oh, that was an incentive program for students to turn in their homework on time or whatever. You got points for good behavior and could build them up to get to go off campus and stuff. I never actually earned enough points to be Supercharger. But ever since junior high, my friends say to each other, “Dude, you are a Supercharger.” Which basically means, “You’re an idiot.” Russell Baze, like most jockeys, is small of stature, but he is a giant on the track.

If you had to give some advice to today’s seventh and eighth graders, what would it be?

That’s a frightening question. I would emphasize the importance of interpersonal communication. The ability to talk face-to-face with someone will be an art form by the time these kids get into college. —Peter Crooks

That’s because the 48-year-old, who rides at Golden Gate Fields in Berkeley and Bay Meadows in San Mateo, is the winningest jockey in the history of North American thoroughbred racing. He broke the record, formerly held by Laffit Pincay Jr., on December 1 of last year when he chalked up the 9,531st win of his career aboard Butterfly Belle at Bay Meadows.

 

Riding High
Photo by Vassar Photography

Riding High

 Baze was born in Vancouver, B.C., and raised on a horse-training ranch in Washington’s Yakima Valley. He came to Northern California in 1979 and has dominated the races here ever since, winning 30 riding championships at Bay Meadows and 38 at Golden Gate Fields. He holds numerous records and was inducted into the Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame in 1999. Sometime next year, he should become the first jockey to win 10,000 races.

Of course, there have been bumps along the way. Baze has suffered a broken pelvis and compressed vertebrae in falls, and he limits himself to one meal a day to keep his weight down. Still, even though Baze has ridden more than 42,000 races, he doesn’t foresee retiring any time soon.

“I can’t think of anything that would be anywhere near as exciting as this,” he says. “I love it.” - Justin Goldman

 

 

Health-Care Warrior

The association is pushing for California to become the first state in the nation to adopt a single-payer health-care system. It’s a revolutionary concept—one that would, among other things, eliminate the need for HMOs and other insurance companies. Although DeMoro speaks in a calm tone, her green eyes flash excitedly as she explains why California’s nurses possess the resolve and moral gravitas to make universal health care a reality.

 

Health-Care Warrior
Courtesy of California Nurses Association

Her passion and determination have catapulted this 58-year-old Orinda grandmother—and her organization—onto the national political stage. She has been hailed by Esquire as one of “America’s best and brightest” and named to MSN’s list of top 10 influential women of 2006—along with Condoleezza Rice, Nancy Pelosi, and Hillary Clinton. She has also won friends among the progressive elite, including Ralph Nader and Warren Beatty. When one of her rock idols, Bruce Springsteen, performed in Oakland two years ago, she was invited backstage to talk politics. This past May, she hobnobbed with filmmaker Michael Moore at the private New York screening of his latest documentary, Sicko, an attack on the U.S. health-care system and the insurance industry that garnered rave reviews at Cannes. DeMoro, Moore, and state senator Sheila Kuehl then rallied for sweeping health-care reform at the California Senate on June 12.

DeMoro encouraged nurses to pull off now-famous pranks.

DeMoro’s feisty “Mother Teresa with brass knuckles” reputation for union organizing has also earned her plenty of enemies—none more than Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In the 2005 special election, labor groups joined forces to crush initiatives that Schwarzenegger had put forth to curtail the nurses association’s power. DeMoro led the contingent of nurses, who were incensed by his refusal to implement California’s nurse-to-patient ratios. DeMoro grabbed the spotlight when she rebuked the governor for calling nurses “special interests” and bragging that he’s “always kicking their butts.” Saying that “activism has to be fun,” DeMoro encouraged nurses to pull off now-famous pranks to make their voices heard, such as hiring an airplane to fly over Schwarzenegger’s mansion, while he hosted a private Super Bowl party, towing a banner that read: “It’s no party for nurses and patients.”

The result was what many describe as a sea change in state politics: Schwarzenegger’s initiatives lost, his popularity plummeted, and he vowed to work with Democrats and labor groups.

Many say his shift to the political center is due to DeMoro, who says she wishes he’d move over even closer to the center. Asked if she and Schwarzenegger have made peace, DeMoro says no, particularly because her association opposes his version of health-care reform, a bill that would require all individuals to obtain health insurance. But wrangling with Schwarzenegger takes a backseat to DeMoro’s other projects, such as helping nurses in Texas, Illinois, and other states fight for nurse-patient ratios similar to California’s.

DeMoro says her concern for women’s rights and social justice goes back as far as she can remember. She grew up in working-class St. Louis and came to California in 1977 to pursue a doctorate in women’s studies at UC Santa Barbara. With two children at home and a developing interest in labor issues, DeMoro never finished her Ph.D. After a short stint with the Teamsters, she went to work for the nurses association in 1986.

“Probably from day one, I felt like I was home here,” she says. DeMoro became executive director in 1993. Since that time, the union’s ranks have swelled to 75,000 members, and it recently joined forces with the granddaddy of labor federations, the AFL-CIO. The combined labor groups will campaign for single-payer health care for all U.S. residents and vet 2008 presidential candidates on their positions for health-care reform.

These days, DeMoro spends a fair portion of her time traveling around the country mobilizing a nurse-power revolution in American health care. But she also savors her downtime around the East Bay: getting her hair cut in Orinda, working out at Lafayette’s Oakwood Athletic Club, and shopping in Walnut Creek. None of that ought to change anytime soon.

“I’ve been offered jobs that pay a lot more,” she says. “The trade-off would be happiness. When you’ve got a group of principled people, primarily women, who want to make a better world, what better place could you be?” —Martha Ross

Hoop Dreams Come True

For more than a decade, April has been the month when Golden State Warriors fans breathe a sigh of relief--becasue baseball season is starting again. But not this year. The Warriors, led by guard Baron Davis (pictured) capped the season by winning eight of their regular last nine regular-season games, then stunning the league-best Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the play-offs.

Suddenly, seats at a Warriors game were the hottest sports tickets in the Bay Area. Not that anyone was sitting. Record crowds flocked to Oakland’s Oracle Arena to see the Warriors’ first play-off appearance in 13 years. The 20,000-plus faithful wore matching yellow We Believe T-shirts and shook the Arena with their cheers.

“The energy was surreal,” says Davis, 28. “When we would come out of the locker room and into the arena, and see everyone in those shirts and hear the noise—it was like all the power from your body was replaced with some kind of supernatural power.”

 

Hoop Dreams Come True
Photo by Thomas Broening
Golden State’s six-foot-three inch point guard was at the center of the Warriors’s success. With the play-off spotlight on, Davis made the leap from local favorite to national superstar, dominating the heavily favored Mavericks in one of the greatest play-off upsets in NBA history. The victory was particularly sweet for Warriors head coach Don Nelson, who coached the Mavericks from 1997 to 2005—and is suing Mavs owner Mark Cuban for $6.6 million in unpaid compensation.

When celebrities Jessica Alba, Owen Wilson, Kate Hudson, Carlos Santana, and Snoop Dogg started showing up to cheer for Golden State, the team’s profile skyrocketed.

“Jessica had a movie premiere in Australia after the season,” says Davis. “She told me that something like 200 people showed up wearing yellow We Believe wristbands.”

Though the Warriors fell to the Utah Jazz in the second round, the play-off excitement has Bay Area hoops fans eagerly anticipating next season. Since the play-off run, the Warriors have sold more than 3,600 season tickets for the 2007-2008 campaign—the largest percentage of which are purchased by Contra Costa residents. But East Bay fans aren’t the only ones who can’t wait for the next season to begin in November.

“I don’t even want to take a vacation this summer,” says Davis, who will co-run a player’s charity tournament founded by Magic Johnson in Los Angeles in late July. “Next season is going to be exciting.” —Peter Crooks

 

 

 

Commercial Success
Photo by Blaine Stevenson

Commercial Success 

Andy Warhol famously said that every person gets 15 minutes of worldwide fame, Danville native Jennifer Dietrich had a moment in the spotlight earlier this year that lasted more like five seconds. But, oh, what a state.


“I went to a Super Bowl party with a bunch of friends and didn’t know when it would air. Which was fun, and sort of surreal, until the ad ran in the second quarter,” says Dietrich. “But, thanks to TiVo, my friends played it over and over, and teased me until I was red in the face.”
The Bud ad caused quite a sensation. The day after the game, the Wall Street Journal ran a large photo of Dietrich and the dog with a story about the game’s most popular commercials. An AOL poll showed that of all the commercials pitched to the event’s 93 million viewers, people liked Dietrich’s ad more than any other. A similar survey in USA Today had the Underdog spot running a close second, behind another Bud ad about beer-worshipping crabs. —Peter Crooks

 

Delroy's New Direction

After offering nearly three decades of riveting performances on stage and screen, Oakland resident Delroy Lindo (pictured, far right) made a strong impression this year as a director. Best known for his Broadway turns in Master Harold and the Boys and Joe Turner’s Come and Gone and his roles in the Hollywood classics Get Shorty and The Cider House Rules, Lindo helmed Blue Door—an intimate, intense examination of one man’s African American identity and heritage—for Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Just after Blue Door opened to rave reviews in April, Lindo, 54, sat down with Diablo for a conversation about the play and his career.

Delroy's New Direction
Photo by Kevin Berne

Congratulations on a very impressive piece of work. How did you get involved with Berkeley Rep? 

[Artistic director] Tony Taccone called me over a year ago and said they were thinking about doing this play and asked if I would be interested in directing it. I was immediately intrigued and agreed to direct it before I saw [the play]. I subsequently saw the off-Broadway production after I was committed to directing it.

Have you had experiences directing this production that will affect your acting in future roles?

Absolutely. I’m not necessarily sure I want to tell you how [laughs], but that’s absolutely the case. I was speaking with a writer once—I think it was John Guare [Six Degrees of Separation]—and I said I thought I would like to direct something. He told me, “You know, that’s a good way to work on your acting.” That has absolutely proven to be the case.

Blue Door’s central character, Lewis, mentions that he can’t enjoy a weekend in the country with white people. He’s a university professor who seems more comfortable deciphering complex mathematical equations than considering his heritage.

You can’t not be black—it’s pretty simple but profound. Lewis has all this information and this knowledge, but he’s so far away from some of the fundamental issues of who he is on the planet. The more exposed he becomes, both in terms of his own thinking and being challenged by his ancestors, the more he realizes what is missing in his life.

I was in the audience on opening night. After experiencing this meditation on African American heritage and cultural identity, I was driving home, and all the radio talk stations were babbling about Don Imus’s racial comments, which seemed insipid in comparison to what I had just experienced at Berkeley Rep.

Yes, except that the fact of the matter is that Don Imus making that comment and being on the air goes right to the heart of racial issues in this country. That babbling ensues, on any side of the argument, is totally indicative of the depth to which race is still an issue in this country. Maybe the problem is the lack of depth of discourse.

Wouldn’t it be more constructive for people to see Blue Door than to chatter incessantly about what some shock jock blurted out?

Will coming to see a play like this change how people think? I don’t know. But just this morning I had a conversation with someone who saw the play and thought something Lewis said [about his African American identity] was “weird.” And I told him, “That’s not weird. It’s real, and I have had that experience.” He was open enough to let me explain to him what I was talking about. It sounds very utopian, but if we can have those kinds of dialogues all over the country, we’ll have a more in-depth investigation of what we can try to do in our lives to change things.

I was just watching Get Shorty, in which your character [a mobster who wants to produce movies] says, “What’s the point of living in L.A. if you are not in the movie business?” Contrarily, why is a successful movie actor living in Oakland instead of Hollywood?

Los Angeles is an obsessive, one-industry town, and I’m obsessive about my work, so my wife and I did not feel that mixing those obsessions would be a good thing. I went to ACT [San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater] in the late 1970s, and I had such wonderful memories of this area, so the Bay Area seemed like the best alternative.

 

"I did turn down Do the Right Thing. Thank God [Spike Lee] cam back to me for Malcom X."


Tell us about the movie you have coming out at the end of the year.

It’s called This Christmas. It’s about an African American family and takes place over four days, ending on guess what day? Christmas. It was an interesting project, but I always reserve judgment until I see the finished product. Not infrequently, one’s experience working on a film is not reflected in the finished product. I’ve learned over the years that the audience’s response may not have anything to do with my experience making that film. I’ve learned to relinquish my feelings a bit.

You’ve portrayed some interesting historical characters in films, including the great baseball pitcher Satchel Paige in Soul of the Game. What are your reflections on that project?

I love that film. It has proven to have legs. I get a special spark of appreciation when people tell me that they saw Soul of the Game. It was a huge, huge honor for me to play Satchel Paige, to say something about that man. My appreciation for that film has only grown over the years, and I loved it to begin with.

You also played Clarence Thomas in a Showtime movie called Strange Justice. I read that the film was originally filmed for Fox, and Rupert Murdoch tried to kill the project because he was a supporter of Thomas.

Wow, that’s news to me. That could be one of those Internet things that’s not real [laughs]. But it’s a good film. You should see it. What else have you heard?

That you turned down Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing to do an action movie in Australia.

Yes, I did turn down Do the Right Thing, but my doing an action movie in Australia was completely unrelated. I turned down the part in Do the Right Thing that Spike wanted me to do, but thank God he came back to me for Malcolm X, because I did want to do that.

The action film, by the way, was called Salute of the Jugger when we were shooting it, then it was called Blood of Heroes when it was released. It was written and directed by a Berkeley writer named David Peoples, who was here for the opening night of Blue Door. David and his wife, Jan, have become very good friends of ours.

Timothy Hutton and you were on the TV series Kidnapped together last season. He’s an East Bay native—did you get a chance to talk about living in the area with him?

Actually, we found out that he dated David and Jan Peoples’s daughter for a while. We talked about how he attended Berkeley High and that his mother still lives here, I believe.

What kind of reaction did you get from your family when you did a guest appearance on The Simpsons?

My nieces and nephews in Philadelphia were hugely excited. That’s when I got cred, man. They all said, “He’s on The Simpsons. He’s all right!”

Can we look forward to future collaboration between you and Berkeley Rep?

You would have to ask Tony Taccone. This has been a great experience; I would love to do something else with Berkeley Rep. I can certainly tell you that I intend to do more directing, both for stage and film. —Peter Crooks











 

Foreign Correspondent

Rajiv Chandrasekaran could serve as a model for local journalism students who dream of one day shaking things up with their writing. Chandrasekaran (pictured at center) is the former Baghdad bureau chief for the Washington Post whose book, Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone, dissects the first 15 months of America’s post–Saddam Hussein reconstruction efforts. His description of the detached, Americanized world centered around Saddam’s former palace has launched a congressional inquiry, received a National Book Award nomination, and inspired United 93 director Paul Greengrass to option the book for a feature film. Diablo caught up with Chandrasekaran, 34, now a Post assistant managing editor, at the Starbucks a few blocks from his old Campolindo High School stomping grounds.

How did you get from Moraga to the Washington Post?
From junior high on, I aspired to being a journalist. When I was at Campolindo, I wrote for and helped edit the school paper. I went to Stanford University, started working at the Stanford Daily, and became editor my senior year. The summer after graduating, I got an internship at the Washington Post, wound up moving back East, and the internship turned into a full-time job. I started off as a local news reporter, covering crime in northern Virginia, then moved over to the business section to write about this newfangled thing called the Internet.

When did you first go overseas?
In 2000, after I had been at the paper five and a half years, I joined the foreign desk. The opening in Indonesia came up.

How does the title of your book, Imperial Life in the Emerald City, pertain to what it’s about?
The book is about the great American screw-up in Baghdad during the first 15 months of our presence there. That was the time when we actually had a window of opportunity to get things right, to try to build the foundation for a more secular, moderate post-Saddam government, and the book is an effort to explain why we screwed that up so badly. I write about the manifold mistakes made by the civilians we sent to reconstruct Iraq and how their errors in many ways are just as responsible for the mess we find ourselves in today in Iraq. One principal reason for the missteps was the environment in which they lived and worked, which was the Green Zone, or as some occupants began to call it, the Emerald City.

Did you go to Baghdad with an assignment?
I was our bureau chief in Cairo and went to Baghdad for the first time in September 2002. I spent the three weeks of the invasion in Kuwait, writing the lead stories for the Washington Post, then I returned to Baghdad on April 10, the day after the statue of Saddam fell. My job was to run our bureau there. Early on, I was informed by some advice from the Post’s foreign editor: He said [that] some of the most powerful journals about the Vietnam War were about the American experience in Vietnam. While other [correspondents] were doing a lot of the great on-the-ground coverage, I tried to keep my eye on what the Americans were doing. That’s why I had such a focus on the wacky world inside the Green Zone.

Foreign Correspondent
Courtesy of Rajiv Chandrasekaran

Describe this wacky world.
It was a bubble that was cut off from the postwar reality of Baghdad. Inside the Green Zone, there were bars, a disco, Chinese restaurants. It was like a small town in America, or better yet, the ultimate gated community. Inside, there were 24 hours of electricity a day. Outside the walls, in the real Baghdad, people were lucky to get four or five hours a day. Inside, everyone drove around in brand-new Chevy Suburbans, obeying the speed limit. Outside, it was bedlam. Inside, the muezzin’s call to prayer, the acrid smoke from detonated car bombs—all that could have been a world away. Outside, Wild West lawlessness swirled around one of the world’s most ancient cities.

How was the food served in the Green Zone cafeteria particularly telling about what you consider our cultural myopia?
You could live in the Green Zone for six months and never once eat Iraqi food. What was most bizarre to me [was that] here we are in the middle of a Muslim country—and there were many Iraqi Muslims working in the palace—and they were eating in the same cafeterias as the Americans. And what did Halliburton manage to serve at every meal? Some form of pork. Pork is an offensive food to many Muslims.

Where did you live in Baghdad?
All the journalists lived outside [the Green Zone], unlike the Americans who lived inside and often stay ensconced inside the bubble. We lived first in the Palestine Hotel, and then in a lovely house, and then we were threatened, and we moved into the Sheraton Hotel.

Were you ever in danger?
We all had those “there but for the grace of God” moments. I was in the Baghdad Hotel when it was car bombed, and had some security contractors not applied Mylar film to a window directly behind me, I wouldn’t be here talking to you today. I gave way to a Humvee crossing a one-lane bridge. The Humvee was blown up right in front of me.

You describe the practice of hiring the civilians as “Michael Brown times 100” [referring to the controversial former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency].
One might think that, given the challenges of reconstructing and governing post-Saddam Iraq, the United States government would have sent our very best and brightest, people who speak Arabic, have some skills in postconflict reconstruction and expertise in the Middle East. Instead, what seemed to be most important to the White House and the Pentagon in many cases was political fidelity. So instead of scouring the State Department and nongovernmental organizations for the best people, the people doing the hiring scoured Republican offices on Capitol Hill and conservative think tanks. And just to make sure they got the right people, they asked some very, very blunt questions. This is among the more shocking details of the book: People were asked in their predeployment interviews questions like, “Are you a member of the Republican Party? Did you vote for George W. Bush in the 2000 election?” Someone told me they were even asked for their views on Roe v. Wade.

So we end up with someone like Jay Hallen.
A 24-year-old kid who had never worked in the securities industry sent to Baghdad with the job of re-opening the stock exchange.

How did medical care at Yarmouk, the public hospital in central Baghdad, compare with that in the Green Zone?
It was even worse than a comparison between the worst inner-city hospital and John Muir Medical Center. In the Green Zone, you had a hospital with world-class trauma surgeons, sophisticated imaging equipment, and the ability to medevac somebody to Germany. [Yarmouk] had been looted. It was lacking basic medicines, anesthesia, sterile bandages. I literally saw people dying in the hallway at Yarmouk after a bombing. The people who were brought into Iraqi hospitals after bombings were the unlucky ones. Many spent hours in pain before succumbing to their injuries. The lucky ones were killed instantly.

You initially found Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, who headed America’s reconstruction work, to be inspiring. How did things go wrong?
Early on, I think he had some of the right messages, but over time it became clear he was not listening to enough Iraqis. Think of Iraq as a broken-down bus. What the Iraqis wanted was someone to come in, pour some oil in the engine, and get it going. Even if it was going to be belching smoke, they just wanted to keep moving. Bremer came with this ambition and the best of American intentions: to build a model country with a Jeffersonian democracy, a vibrant free market, and a secular administration. So he put that bus up on blocks, and he took the engine out, and he wanted to rebuild it bolt by bolt. The Iraqi people didn’t want to sit on the side of the road and wait for it to go.

Returning to your roots cranking out copy for Campolindo’s student newspaper, what advice do you have for aspiring correspondents?
This is going to sound pithy, but read, write, and travel. While I love the Bay Area—I was born and raised here—I am really glad I left. I’m glad I moved to Washington and experienced living in another part of the country. I’m glad I lived halfway around the world. I’m glad I lived in a dangerous, war-torn city. There’s no substitute for getting out there and seeing things. —Martha Ross

 

Cal Conservative

What would happen if the country’s most famously liberal university hired a controversial conservative as a professor? You’d have John Yoo at UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law.

Cal Conservative
MIchael Smith/ Courtesy of the Daily Californian

Yoo, 39, immigrated to Philadelphia from South Korea as a small child. He graduated from Harvard University and Yale Law School, and later worked at the Justice Department, helping to shape the Patriot Act and writing arguments to expand executive power (including a controversial memo that the Bush administration has cited to justify its use of brutal interrogation tactics). The Berkeley resident, a tenured professor at Boalt since 1999, agreed to answer a few questions about shaping administration policy and being a prominent conservative in a liberal enclave.

What originally drew you to conservative ideology?
I probably became a Republican because of Ronald Reagan. As an immigrant from South Korea, I liked his foreign policy of seeking to defeat the Soviet Union. I agreed with his effort to reduce the role of the national government in the domestic economy and society. In terms of law, I thought he was right to try to reduce the control that the federal courts were exercising over questions better left to the political process.

Why did you want to study law?
I had been interested in the Constitution and the law from an early age. Law is the way that our society governs itself.

Why did you take a job teaching at Boalt Hall? Did you feel any trepidation about working at a university that has a reputation for being so unabashedly liberal?
Boalt is one of the nation’s top law schools, and I have always felt lucky to have been asked to teach there. I have never had any trepidation about teaching at a liberal university. Most of the nation’s leading universities are dominated by liberal professors. It would not matter to me if all of my colleagues voted for Bush or none of them did. All that is important is that they be smart, interesting, and engaged.

Do you like living in Berkeley?
[My wife and I] like it a lot. The weather and food and cultural opportunities cannot be beat. If only the politics were more balanced, it would be perfect.

How have you been treated by the faculty and the community as you have become more famous? I recall there were some protests over your presence on the faculty.
It wouldn’t be spring in Berkeley without a protest. I don’t feel that I have been treated any differently by my colleagues than before I served in the Bush administration; it was no secret that I was a conservative.

You drove past the Pentagon the night of 9/11. What did you see, and how did it shape your opinions regarding the war on terror?
I drove across the 14th Street Bridge the night of 9/11. The bridge runs by the Pentagon. I saw a sight I never thought I would ever see in my lifetime: the Pentagon lighting up the night sky because the fires were still burning. It brought home to me what was at stake in the war on terrorism.

You’ve been quoted saying that it’s a lawyer’s job to interpret the laws, not to set policy. All the same, given that the administration has used your writings as justifications, and given that there have clearly been abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, do you feel any responsibility for these abuses? Or any regret?
No one in the government could have anything but regret for the abuses at Abu Ghraib. But, as several investigations have concluded, there was no link between those abuses and official policies made in Washington.

You’ve written that the Patriot Act improved our intelligence laws, but many expressed concerns that the new laws would lead to infringement of civil liberties. Now, in the wake of myriad controversies over the FBI and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, have your thoughts on the Patriot Act and surveillance operations changed?
No, my opinion has not changed. The government must expand its surveillance authority to respond to the threat posed by Al Qaeda. It would be a mistake to return to the world of September 10, 2001.

The president has said repeatedly that we’re fighting a war against people who “hate freedom.” At the same time, he has worked to curtail the civil liberties of American citizens. At what point are we destroying that which we’re supposed to protect?
Our society does not have, nor has it ever had, complete freedom of civil liberties or perfect security. Government policy must always make trade-offs between the two, just as it must balance costs and benefits for other types of policies. In wartime, we tend to move that trade-off toward more security because of the threat to society. I think that we still enjoy a great deal of freedom and liberties despite the wars we are currently engaged in.

Critics of the administration would say that the unilateral actions taken by the president after 9/11, combined with torture scandals, have made the United States even more of a target for international aggression than it was before. What do you think?
I do not agree with the critics on this point. It is more likely that [Al Qaeda’s] continuing efforts to attack this country would have succeeded without the vigorous response of the United States.

What do you think the United States should do in Iraq?
I think that the president has the constitutional authority to decide on strategy and tactics in Iraq, and Congress can cut off the funds if it likes. My view on the right strategy in Iraq was [that we should have divided] it into three autonomous nations soon after we removed Saddam Hussein from power. —Justin Goldman

 

Speed Racer

Speed Racer
George Tiedemann/GT Images/Corbis

 

The scene appeared lifted from Talladega Nights, the 2006 comedy that spoofed all things NASCAR in which a gay French driver horrifies fans by excelling in the southern-born sport. When Jeff Gordon (neither French nor gay but a Bay Area native) raced to victory around Talladega Speedway in late April, fans at the famed Alabama racecourse hurled beer cans and garbage onto the track and screamed obscenities. With his win, the Vallejo-born Gordon passed legendary driver Dale Earnhardt on the list of all-time victories. Seems a Northerner breaking records is something of a sacrilege to some NASCAR fans.

To which we say: Whatever, Jethro. Diablo is proud to raise a glass of Pinot Noir and praise Gordon as a Best of the East Bay player. After all, the 36-year-old racer’s track record is pretty impressive. Check out these numbers.

1: Number of NASCAR racers to host Saturday Night Live (Jeff Gordon,
January 2003).
5: Age at which Gordon started racing quarter midget cars.
6: Gordon’s rank on the all-time NASCAR winner’s list.
13: Number of races Gordon won in 1998; he tied with Richard Petty for the best single season in NASCAR’s modern era.
79: Career NASCAR victories.
192.069 mph: Top speed at Talladega
in April 2007.
83 million: Total career winnings
in dollars, best in NASCAR history.
Peter Crooks

 

Can Act, Will Travel

Tom Parker has the kind of face you know you’ve seen somewhere. Maybe you’ve noticed him strolling down Hartz Avenue during one of the Hollywood actor’s frequent visits to his mother’s home in Danville. More likely, you’ve seen him on TV: The 30-year-old is making a splash as a primetime player with recurring roles on WB’s Everwood and ABC’s What About Brian, as well as appearances on ER, CSI, and Without a Trace. He also recently portrayed a 17th century conquistador for a Taco Bell commercial (hey, it’s a living).

Parker, who’s known he wanted to be an actor since middle school, studied drama at Carnegie Mellon University after graduating from Walnut Creek’s Northgate High School, then spent several summers performing with the Utah Shakespeare Festival before hitting Hollywood. He’s done well in the ultracompetitive world of auditions, callbacks, and thanks-we’ll-let-you-knows. But as much as he’s embraced the acting life, Parker is eager to get away from the Hollywood scene—far, far away—as often as he can.

Can Act, Will Travel
Joe Quinto

“I have become addicted to exploring culture and the world that I don’t know,” he says. “In L.A., I get a real sense of its being a bubble. It became very important to go see the rest of the world.”

Parker’s website, www.bigwelcome.net, features his writing and photos from recent trips to India, Mexico, Morocco, and Spain, some of which were recently exhibited in a Hollywood gallery. He’s also been able to combine his acting and travel passions. He was cast in the lead role in Jo’kel, a thriller shot in southern Mexico that will be released later this year. “It was the perfect job: a lead in a movie, and I got to go traveling,” says Parker.

His newest gig is an even better cure for wanderlust. Just after chatting with Diablo, Parker sent an e-mail to let us know that he’s been hired as a travel journalist for Discovery Networks’ 5 Takes: Latin America, which airs on Saturdays at 10 p.m. on the Travel Channel. —Peter Crooks

 

Yau-Da-Man

Yau-Da-Man
Jeffrey R. Staab/ 2006 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved

The East Bay is on a Survivor hot streak. Last season’s Cook Islands challenge featured Walnut Creek native Yul Kwon winning the $1 million prize, and the recently completed Survivor: Fiji featured a final-four showing by Yau-Man Chan, 54, of Martinez. Chan was a fan favorite, playing the game with athleticism, smarts, and integrity. Unfortunately, Chan was the victim of a double-cross, when Dreamz, a 25-year-old from North Carolina, promised to give Chan immunity protection from being voted off the island in exchange for the truck Chan won during the show. Dreamz kept the truck but welshed on the immunity.

Although he knew long before the finale aired in May that the show hadn’t made him a millionaire, Chan had to keep his outcome a secret as he got back into his East Bay life as director of information systems at UC Berkeley’s College of Chemistry. Regardless, he enjoyed watching the show and was satisfied to achieve his goal: that “my two daughters could watch with their friends every week and not be embarrassed.”

Chan also enjoyed America rooting for him. “Every time I walked into a Starbucks, people would call my name,” he says. And after losing 15 of his 140 pounds during his 39 days in Fiji, Chan was happy to be back near his favorite East Bay eateries, Tin’s Tea House in Walnut Creek and Mangia Bene in Martinez.

Chan befriended several survivors, including the $1 million winner, Earl Cole. “Earl is going to come and visit; he wants to see the Napa vineyards,” says Chan. “Maybe he’ll buy me a nice bottle of wine.” —Peter Crooks

 

New Media Mogul

New Media Mogul
Courtesy of Markos Moulitsas Zuniga

 

The Cossacks were some of the fiercest fighters in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The Kossacks, as posters on Dailykos.com are known, are some of the fiercest liberal polemicists on the battlefield of American politics—the toughest of all being the blog’s founder, Berkeley resident Markos Moulitsas Zúniga.

Moulitsas, 35, was born in Chicago to a Salvadoran mother and a Greek father. At an early age, he moved with his family to El Salvador, but they were forced to return to the United States to escape the Salvadoran civil war. Moulitsas served in the army for several years before majoring in journalism, philosophy, and political science at Northern Illinois University, and getting a law degree at Boston University. In 2002, he started Daily Kos, an online blog where he posted his thoughts on politics under the moniker Kos.

The website gained national prominence as part of the movement that propelled Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign, and it is now a hub for progressive activism that is visited by about 500,000 readers per day—upwards of 3 million a day visited at the peak of the 2006 election campaigns.

Diablo sat down with Moulitsas at a café near the Berkeley home he shares with his wife and two young children.

How did you become politically aware? Was it related to growing up in a war-torn country?
Clearly those were formative years for me, and I was very politically aware because politics in that environment was literally a matter of life and death. I knew from a very early age that politics had real-world effects on people and that it mattered.

You’ve said that you grew up a conservative because of Reagan’s intervention during the Salvadoran civil war but changed your way of thinking after you served in the army. What made you change your mind?
The military is the perfect socialized economy. They paid for my school, they paid for my housing, they paid for my medical care, they paid for my food—we all looked out for each other. We always made sure everybody was healthy and doing well so they could do their jobs properly. And we were very good at doing our jobs, because we didn’t have to worry about things like, am I going to have enough money to get breakfast? There is a real stark difference between a “we’re all in this together” mentality and then coming out and seeing Republicans basically say, “I’ve got mine. F—k the rest of you. You’re on your own.”

Where do you place yourself on the left-right political spectrum now?
I think most people are too sophisticated now to really fall cleanly into that. I say I’m a libertarian democrat. I don’t want my neighbors telling me what to do, I don’t want my mother-in-law telling me what to do, I don’t want the government telling me what to do, and I don’t want some big multinational corporation telling me what to do.

Why did you start Daily Kos?
This was 2002, and it was right after the Afghanistan war and in the run-up to the Iraq war. I’m a veteran, and people were telling me that if I criticized the war, I was being unpatriotic and un-American, and to me it was deeply insulting. I was ranting and raving to my friends and family and coworkers. I needed another vehicle to release this stuff.

Why did you become a blogger instead of a politician?
I had no interest in being a politician. If you’re a politician, you have to be really social, and I’m not. I don’t like to have to meet face-to-face with people. That’s one of the hardest things about my growing prominence—that I’m forced to go out and actually interact with human beings. That doesn’t come naturally for me.

Are you making more of an impact as a blogger than you would as a traditional journalist, such as a newspaper reporter?
You can be a journalist, like New York Times reporter Judith Miller, and lead a country into war, so clearly she had more impact than I do trying to stop this thing. [But] I think currently there’s a lot of influence. More people read Daily Kos than most American newspapers in general. But that’s not really what interests me about Daily Kos. What interests me is that regular people have the opportunity to reach that audience and participate in politics in a way that’s not possible with traditional media.

Is there a problem with people getting their news from blogs instead of from the traditional media?
When people say that, I always want to ask, “What have we gotten wrong?” The media were all over Iraq—it was going to be a cakewalk. They got that wrong. Weapons of mass destruction—they got that wrong. They didn’t want to look into the outing of Valerie Plame—we got that right. On the U.S. attorney scandal, it was the blogs that pushed that story. We had Time’s Washington bureau chief basically laughing at bloggers, saying, “They’re inventing things the way they want it to be; it just ain’t so.” Oops, I guess it was something big.

Do you see traditional media eventually being overtaken by blogs?
I think both sides have a lot to gain. And I look at publications that are very much finding the ways [to do that], working together with bloggers and other sources of information. The Wall Street Journal has been shooting stuff off to bloggers for years now, understanding that, hey, these guys are gatekeepers, or a new form of gatekeeper, and for us to remain relevant, we’ve got to have these guys keep linking to us.

Democrats are often criticized for not having a unified message. What do you think that message should be?
I think we’re getting a little better. I’m starting to see three themes that are really emphasized in Democratic circles—just like Republicans have. Everybody will tell you [that Republicans are for] smaller government, lower taxes, national defense, family values. [Democrats are] for equality of opportunity, we’re for fairness, and we’re for investing in the people of this country.

Is your work as a blogger improving that?
[I’m] focused on movement-building. Governor Brian Schweitzer of Montana said [that] issues divide, values unite. We’re going to disagree from issue to issue, but at the end of the day, as long as we have the same values, we really should be working together.

Democrats have been the underdogs in Congress for the better part of a decade. How does your role changewhen the Democrats win, as they did in 2006?
It takes some of the urgency out, but what’s going to happen is that the right wing is going to attack and overreach, and as long as they’re doing that, and as long as they’re fastened to an ideology, I’m going to be doing brisk business. If it gets to a situation where bipartisan becomes normative and we’re all collegial, then I’ll be obsolete, and I’ll happily move on to another field.

Have you decided who you’re supporting in the 2008 presidential campaign?
For the primary, I’d be happy with Edwards, Obama, or Richardson. And it’s no coincidence that those are the three that are not DC-centric candidates. I like the notion of putting in [someone from] outside the establishment.

Regardless of who gets the nomination, what do the Democrats need to do to win in 2008?
Have a pulse. I don’t see, at this point, how [Republican candidates can] survive this thing. They’re absolutely decimated. I think [that] by 2010, we could have a filibuster-proof majority in the senate.

Do conservatives often cite your living in Berkeley as a point against you?
Oh yeah. For my public relations, it would have been a lot better if I had moved two streets over into Oakland. But we found a place we liked. I’m really not very Berkeley. If you’re going to look at the left-right range, here in Berkeley I’m like the right-wing sellout because I believe in capitalism.

Did you ever think you’d make a living by blogging?
Hell no. Who would have thought?

How much do you make off Daily Kos?
Enough that I actually now have four fellows that I pay. Revenues are pretty darn good.

Did working on Daily Kos change when you started to make money from ad revenue?
Anytime you do anything and it becomes work, then it starts becoming a grind. And I don’t want that to sound like I’m complaining, because I can’t imagine a better job, but it is a job.

How many hours a day do you spend blogging or reading or thinking about politics?
I get up at 7:30 in the morning, and I reach over to grab my computer and start checking my e-mail. And I go until about 1 or 2 in the morning. I’ve gotten good about laying off on weekends. That took awhile. It’s been a process, but I’ve gotten better at letting go.

Since you’re always working from home, I have to ask: Do you wear pants while you’re blogging?
[Laughs] Sometimes. I can’t tell you how many times UPS has knocked on the door at 2 in the afternoon, and I’ve got to scramble for a pair of shorts. It’s really embarrassing. —Justin Goldman

 

The View from the Right

The View from the Right
Courtesy of Tom Del Beccaro

 

It’s not easy being Tom Del Beccaro these days. As chair of Contra Costa County’s Republican Party and vice chair of the state GOP, he lives in hostile territory here in the Bay Area. Even his once-sedate hometown of Lafayette has become the site of the controversial display of more than 3,500 crosses, one raised for each U.S. soldier killed in Iraq.

But there was nothing browbeaten about the way Del Beccaro took to the stage to lead a monthly meeting of the Contra Costa County Republican Party in April. Addressing the crowd of some two hundred party faithful, Del Beccaro cut a confident, sporty figure with his blue blazer and mop of dark hair. As he joked about a Democrat-sponsored antispanking bill, he seemed more like the hip host of a political comedy show than a 45-year-old real estate attorney and political functionary.

Del Beccaro’s routine quickly switched from comedy to his real purpose. He was there to inspire Republicans in the tradition of his idol, Ronald Reagan. Rallying support for the party is something Del Beccaro does well. In the 2005 and 2006 elections, Republican turnout in Contra Costa was the highest in the state among large counties. Although some party members have complained that his entertaining stage presence covers self-serving ambition, one conservative blogger, Steve Frank, dubbed him a “role model for future GOP leadership,” and mainstream reporters have crowned him “a rising star in state politics.”

On the stage at his county organization’s monthly meeting, Del Beccaro drew a big round of applause when he declared a Republican victory: That day, the Supreme Court decided to uphold a 2003 Bush administration ban on “partial-birth” abortion. As he strolled the stage with his microphone, he shared his unflinching faith that core Republican values hold the key to America’s future health and prosperity. Tax cuts, small government, strong defense, law and order—these are the mantras he regularly intones at meetings and in speeches and media appearances, as well as in columns he posts on his conservative news website, Politicalvanguard.com.

One of Del Beccaro’s biggest fans is talk radio personality Melanie Morgan, the morning host on San Francisco’s KSFO 560 AM. When Morgan appeared at the April meeting as part of the monthly speaker series that Del Beccaro initiated to galvanize party unity, she took a moment to gush about her “friend Tom.” “He’s a dynamic, powerful speaker, a fantastic organizer, and he’s doing an amazing job articulating our beliefs as conservatives and Republicans,” said Morgan.

In an interview a week later in his Walnut Creek law office, Del Beccaro shrugged at the oft-made suggestion that he’s got what it takes to go far in politics. He says he has no immediate plans to run for elected office. That choice, Del Beccaro says, has to do with being a divorced, full-time father of a 14-year-old daughter, Juliana, a sophomore in high school. “Juliana is too young for me to be anywhere else full time. I take her to school most days and pick her up. I want to be around to see her grow up.”

In the meantime, as Del Beccaro mulls his options for a future run for office after his daughter leaves for college, he says he’ll continue to exert his influence on local, state, and national politics through his party work, public appearances, and his website.

“I’ve always been fascinated with politics, and I’m fascinated by issues, about communicating those issues, and trying to make a difference,” he says. “There are real issues that need real solutions, whether it’s law and order, jobs, or education. I can’t imagine sitting idly by.”

Del Beccaro’s passion for politics started early. He grew up in a family of eight kids, where lively discussions were part of nightly dinner conversation. He carried his passion to Acalanes High, where he was student body president in 1979, and to Cal Poly, where he walked precincts to support Reagan’s first presidential bid.

He transferred to UC Berkeley to study English, having decided to become a lawyer and knowing that being an English major would build writing skills useful for persuasive legal briefs. Until eight years ago, the demands of career and single fatherhood pushed politics into the background. But his concerns over a local issue—traffic around his daughter’s Lafayette elementary school—pulled him back in. He ran for city council in 1999—and finished last. “That’s the best loss I ever had,” he reflects. “What it really did was open all these other doors that have ultimately become a better fit for me: being involved at the statewide level and my online magazine.”

His Politicalvanguard.com columns are written in a lively, conversational style and stick to a few key themes. He injects humor to make his messages more approachable, saying he tries to avoid the “shrill” one-liners associated with other conservative pundits, such as Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and his friend, Morgan. Morgan was recently banned from PBS’s The News Hour With Jim Lehrer after an appearance in which she repeatedly interrupted her debate opponent, an Iraq war veteran. “I don’t fulfill that function,” Del Beccaro says. “You can be either shocking about issues or humorous, and I try to be more humorous and analytical than shocking.”

Another of Del Beccaro’s key themes is that the Republicans need to do a better job growing leaders. That’s the subject of a book he’s writing, They Can’t Catch You If You Stay Ahead, which is due to be published in 2008 and offers his oft-stated view: “[Leadership] has vision, continually sets goals, and communicates them to voters.” —Martha Ross

 

Team Players

 

Most baseball fans at A’s games root for the home team because they live in Oakland or the nearby burbs. But one group of diehards, made up of nearly 20 women, migrates to the East Bay each season to support the team for a different reason: They are married to the players.

Team Players
Michael Sugrue

Tonight, as the A’s play the Angels, the wives convene in a McAfee Coliseum luxury suite belonging to A’s catcher Jason Kendall and his wife, Chantel. The posh party pad is separated from $10 general admission bleacher seats by a Plexiglas window, which is shut to keep out the nippy night air. Expensive jeans and big diamond rings are on display, Chardonnay flows freely, and the wives dish about the ups and downs that come with having a spouse in the Major Leagues. They also discuss one of the ways they are reaching out to each other, and giving back to the community.

he only wife who doesn’t indulge in a glass of wine is Sarah Ellis (wife of second baseman Mark), who is very pregnant. As Sarah models her maternity top for the group and cheers a nifty double play that Mark just helped turn on the field below, I ask how she met her husband.
“Blind date,” she answers. “My friend was dating [former A’s pitcher] Mark Mulder, and he kept saying, ‘You have to meet Mark.’ ” Sarah was initially apprehensive about the setup, she says, because she worked for a Jerry Maguire–esque sports agency in which “players weren’t really seen as people—they were products.” Mark Ellis, who had just finished his 2002 rookie season, was also hesitant. But when the couple was finally introduced, they clicked and were married within two years. Things were just great until, just a few months after their wedding, Mark suffered a spring training shoulder injury that could have ended his career.

“Doctors told him that the nerve damage in his shoulder was severe enough that he would not play again. We were going around the country to specialists until we got to these doctors who were basically using Mark as a guinea pig, to see how his nerves would respond to different forms of treatment,” Sarah recalls. “I had prepared to be married to a man who was going to be gone half the year. Instead, he was home all the time, and [he was] miserable because he couldn’t play.”Fortunately, Ellis recovered—and is now one of the top second basemen in the American League. (The Ellis’s son, Briggs William, was born in June.)

Jessica Haren is still a newlywed. She and starting pitcher Dan got married near their hometown of Covina, California, last November—but she was already a veteran of the hectic Major League lifestyle. The mid-twenties couple met during a party when both were home from college. They’ve been together ever since—during which time Dan was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals and developed in the minor leagues. As the couple stuck out the long distance relationship, Jessica worked as a career advisor at DeVry University in Southern California. I ask whether or not she would advise “player’s wife” as a good career direction for the average college undergrad.

“Probably not,” says Jessica, who drops her husband off at the ballpark before each game then picks him up after. “Don’t get me wrong. Danny has done well, and we are really thrilled about all that we have. But it’s not an easy life. You will probably be moved away from your family, and you never know if there is going to be a trade or an injury that could change everything.”

Chantel Kendall knows about trades. She and Jason live in the Los Angeles area, where they are raising four children, so they were ecstatic when the A’s traded with the Pittsburgh Pirates for Jason before the 2005 season. “All the cross-country flights to Pittsburgh, with the time difference, got really old after a while,” Chantel says. Alas, Jason is in the last year of his contract, and there is a good chance that the frugal A’s won’t re-offer the $13 million he’s making this year, so the Kendalls don’t know where they will be next season—they’re hoping for a team on the West Coast.

While their husbands’ playing years in Oakland are limited by contract negotiations and trade deadlines, the wives are doing what they can to establish longer relationships through getting together and giving back. Over the past two seasons, they have organized the Baseball Wives Charitable Foundation, a network of A’s spouses and several dozen wives from other teams. Although still in its infancy, the foundation is starting to create a buzz. Later this summer, the California State Senate will make an official proclamation in honor of the foundation’s work, and the group hopes to announce a relationship with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a wellness and exercise campaign led by Bill Clinton and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The wives host fundraisers—usually something fun, such as golf or bowling tournaments—to benefit causes like Boys and Girls Clubs and the Make-a-Wish Foundation. It’s hard to pin them down on how much money has been raised overall, but this year’s spring training fashion show in Scottsdale raised more than half a million dollars in funds and equipment, including DVD players and movies, for Katrina-damaged hospitals in New Orleans. Several of the wives also flew down to New Orleans to visit Children’s Hospital and West Jefferson Memorial Hospital.“

The best part of the experience was spending some time with those kids,” says Holly Johnson (wife of first baseman Dan), who modeled in the fashion show. “And to bring them something that they could use was really gratifying.”

Michele Duchscherer (wife of relief pitcher Justin) has gotten similar satisfaction from her foundation efforts. During the past two spring trainings, Michele has spearheaded an annual video game tournament among the players to raise money for multiple sclerosis research. “My mom has MS,” says Michele, whose 2007 event raised nearly $50,000. “She came out for the event this year, and it felt so good to let her see it all come together.”

As it evolves, the foundation hopes its philanthropic efforts—and the friendships among player’s wives—will network throughout all 30 Major League cities.

The wives are in a jovial mood tonight, as the A’s send 20,000 fans home happy with a win. (Particularly pleased is Gina Raspaolo, whose fiancé, shortstop Bobby Crosby, hit the game-winning home run. The couple will wed in Italy this December.) The wives abandon the suite and intersect briefly with the exiting masses en route to a hallway outside the A’s lockers room, where they’ll meet their team of husbands and head home. —Peter Crooks



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