Best of the East Bay - Stars & Standouts
Meet the movers and shakers who make the Bay Area world famous.
It’s hard not to be impressed with the accomplishments that Dwayne Johnson has compiled in his 38 years. Johnson, better known as “the Rock,” was born in Hayward, the son of professional wrestler Rocky Johnson and Samoan royal heiress Ata Maivia. He went to the University of Miami, where he received a degree in criminology and physiology, and played football for the 1991 national champion Hurricanes. After that, things got really interesting. Check out Johnson’s postcollege résumé.
World-Champion Wrestler Johnson’s “the Rock” persona is perhaps the most popular in the history of World Wrestling Entertainment.
Best-Selling Author Johnson’s 2000 autobiography, The Rock Says …, went to number one on the New York Times nonfiction charts.
Mega Movie Star Johnson was paid $5.5 million for his first lead role, in the 2002 action epic The Scorpion King. Since then, he has juggled big-budget action flicks (watch for car-chase movie Faster in November) with kid-friendly fare (Planet 51, Race to Witch Mountain). His films have grossed more than $1 billion worldwide.
Funny Man Johnson has also found great success as a comic actor in films such as Get Smart and Tooth Fairy. Next month, he stars alongside Will Ferrell and Samuel L. Jackson in the action comedy The Other Guys.
Philanthropist In 2006, Johnson created the Rock Foundation (djrockfoundation.org), a nonprofit intended to educate, empower, and motivate children through health education and physical fitness. Among the foundation’s programs is Global Playground, which builds children’s playgrounds in faraway places such as Nejapa, El Salvador, and Tanzania, Africa.
It took a while for Brandon Mull to realize that he was a little unusual.
“I always had these stories running through my head like a nonstop movie,” says the 35-year-old author of the hit tween fantasy series Fablehaven. “Growing up, I just assumed everyone else did, too. Then, it became apparent that there was something different about me.”
It wasn’t until after he fell in love with The Chronicles of Narnia as a child that Mull thought of tapping into his never-ending daydreams to become a fantasy author, a career goal he says he quickly learned to keep to himself.
“I’d tell people, and they’d give me these pitying looks, like ‘Oh, you poor guy,’ ” Mull recalls. “So, I decided, ‘OK, let’s play this a little closer to the vest.’ ”
He started writing creatively in high school and became serious after graduating college, but it took years of writing on the sly in the offhours from his job as a copywriter, as well as “constant rejection” from publishers, before Shadow Mountain Publishing gave him a shot.
The small Utah-based outfit gave Mull a contract to write what would become the first Fablehaven novel, published in 2006. Mull’s hyperactive imagination took over from there, and he quickly cranked out several follow-ups, culminating in Keys to the Demon Prison, the fifthand final book in the series, which was released in March.
The series, which follows the adventures of siblings Kendra and Seth as they navigate the hidden magical refuge of Fablehaven, has steadily built up a loyal fan base with each successive novel. Keys reached number four on the New York Times fantasy series best-seller list, alongside such juggernaut titles as Twilight and Diary of a Wimpy Kid.
Mull’s work is especially popular in Clayton, where he spent several of his formative years. The Contra Costa city serves as the thinly disguised backdrop for another of his novels, The Candy Shop War (the grade school protagonists attend Mt. Diablo Elementary).
The author, who now lives in Utah with his wife and three children, splits his time between writing, book tours, and speaking engagements at schools—something he does around the country, with the goal of inspiring creativity and a love of reading in students. Mull is already working on his next page-turning series, The Beyonders, a trilogy scheduled to debut next spring. And, he doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon.
“The daydreaming side of my job has always been the easiest side of it,” says Mull. “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to tell all the stories I have in my head.”
Kristine Carlson doesn’t have to do this—the books, the webinars, Oprah, the conferences. The widow of mega author Dr. Richard Carlson of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff fame could be a lady who lunches and writes a check here and there. But, because she is Richard Carlson’s widow, that’s not an option for her.
“I cannot lead a frivolous life,” Carlson, 47, says with a shrug and just a hint of sadness in her dazzling smile. “Otherwise, there would be
an earthquake. And it would be Richard rumbling, trying to tell me to do something meaningful to help others.”
That is precisely what Carlson is doing. Her newest book, Heartbroken Open, reaches out to others and offers them comfort in a heart-wrenching memoir about her own searing dark night of the soul and coping with the unexpected loss of her beloved husband.
Although Richard remains central to her new book—he died unexpectedly in 2006 at age 45, of a pulmonary embolism—Heartbroken Open is a departure for Carlson.
“My previous books were written under Richard’s brand. This is my first book outside that brand,” Carlson says. As such, it’s an emergence from the cocoon of comfort that the man she’d loved since she was 18 had provided her.
“I was married to Richard from the moment our eyes met,” she recalls. His presence still looms large in the family home in the Briones hills; a photo of him hangs in the hallway atop a collage of snapshots of the couple and their two daughters, Jasmine, now 21, and Kenna, now 18. Familial warmth still permeates the home, even as the nest empties. (One daughter is a junior at Saint Mary’s College, and the other starts there as a freshman in the fall.)
Things have not been easy for Carlson. She’s had to evolve from being an adored, protected wife to fending for herself. She’s become a single parent who’s had to help her daughters endure the pain of losing a loving father. And, she’s navigating the publishing world without the man who pushed her to write, as Richard did when he asked her to cowrite a book about romantic relationships for his Small Stuff series.
“I was reluctant to step out onto that platform,” Carlson says. “Not the writing part but going out on tour and all that. But, he said that if I didn’t do it, he would get another woman to coauthor it.” Thus, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff in Love came into being. Next came Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff for Women and An Hour to Live, an Hour to Love, a book based on a love letter Richard gave her three years before he died. Now, with Heartbroken Open, Carlson is on her own—and finding her own voice.
“There is a point to becoming a whole woman without a man,” Carlson reflects. “It is not what I asked for, but this is what I have been given. This is where I am on my journey as a woman.”
March Madness had mostly passed Saint Mary’s College by—until 2010. Then things went flat-out crazy, thanks to the school’s men’s basketball team, which electrified the hoops world with a deep run in this year’s NCAA tournament.
The madness began when Saint Mary’s crushed longtime rival Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference championship game, securing the Gaels a spot in the Big Dance. The team then shocked both the University of Richmond and last season’s Final Four powerhouse Villanova University to reach the Sweet 16, and Saint Mary’s was hailed as the Cinderella story of the season.
It was certainly the experience of a lifetime for the players, who went from playing before 2,500 faithful fans in Moraga to a crowd of 45,000 against Baylor University, the team that finally ended Saint Mary’s ride.
“Having grown up in this area, it was really amazing to be a part of something so special,” says six-foot-11-inch senior Omar Samhan, a San Ramon High alum. “The support we felt from the community was amazing—we got home from the Villanova game very late at night and there were 600 people there to welcome us.”
The team’s winning streak made sleepy Moraga feel like the center of the college basketball universe for a few days. Saint Mary’s magic could even be felt Down Under: Five of the team’s 14 players are Australian.
“The team’s success was a big deal for Australia,” says David Kershaw, president of the Australian-American Chamber of Commerce. “The media followed this very closely. It was incredibly exciting.”
Making the Sweet 16 capped a remarkable run for the Gaels, who have gone 44-4 at home over the past three seasons. “The real beauty of their success was simply the way they functioned as a team,” says Saint Mary’s President Emeritus Brother Mel Anderson.
Some people speak in a stream of consciousness. Carlos Santana speaks in a mighty river. The simplest question to the legendary guitarist-philanthropist-restaurateur elicits a response that is anything but simple.
Santana took a break from recording his next album (due out September 21) to chat with Diablo at his Maria Maria restaurant in Danville.
On why he opened two of his five Maria Maria restaurants in Contra Costa—one in Walnut Creek and one in Danville:
I am so grateful I live in the Bay Area. Ever since I came here, I did not want to be anywhere else. I have traveled all over the world and have seen beauty everywhere—Geneva, Hong Kong, Rio de Janeiro, New York, all wonderful places.
Yet, this Bay Area is the Atlantis of today. Person for person, this is the only place left where there are more artists than con artists. People forget the United Nations was started here. So, with the symmetry of my family being here in the area and my sister knowing Jeff Dudum [restaurateur behind McCovey’s, Bing Crosby’s, and, with Santana, Maria Maria]—his passion and vision has stayed with me to really believe in it. When we joined, we realized how much productivity and creativity we could share.
On the quality of his restaurants and how much they should charge:
I don’t want to gouge people. I don’t want to charge so much that you only see a certain audience there. That, is for the restaurants and also for my music.
There needs to be a standard: The guitars need to be in tune; the song needs to be soulful. The bathrooms and floors should be clean, and the food delicious. And, the servers should have pristine attention in the moment—their smiles should be sincere. It takes pristine emotion in the moment when you are serving. All of us are here to be of service to one another … and if you don’t know how to do that, I will get rid of you. I am not shy about letting people go, in my band or anyplace else. If they are not giving everything, they shouldn’t be here. They should be somewhere that gives their heart joy.
On the food at Maria Maria being as satisfying as a Santana concert:
Yes, it is the same energy. Your eyes are the taste buds of how food looks. It’s all about symmetry. From the flower arrangements to the food, they are all on a frequency that is the understanding that we are all life and love.
I don’t apologize for being as intense as I am. A lot of people misinterpret my intensity; they think I am overaggressive about how I carry myself. But, I won’t apologize for being passionate about being alive. It is an effervescent thing to be alive, and a real blessing.
The stereotype of a scientist is the staid, pocket-protected, thick-lensed guy who lacks social skills. George Smoot does wear glasses, but he’s anything but dull. The UC Berkeley physics professor won the Nobel Prize in 2006 for satellite research that supported the big bang theory. Then, last fall, he became the second contestant on Fox’s Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? to win the million-dollar grand prize, which he donated. He displaying self-effacing charm while cracking jokes with host Jeff Foxworthy. Diablo exchanged e-mails with Smoot, 65, to talk about his work and his brush with celebrity.
What drew you to physics and cosmology, the study of the structure of the universe?
In college, my physics courses drew me in and excited me the most, and going to the frontier was the most thrilling part. I found that I liked the uncovering of the way things work and the revealing of underlying simplicity. Cosmology is simply the extreme case of that, where one tries to understand everything.
You won the Nobel Prize in 2006. How did it feel to be recognized with such a prestigious award?
It was a great honor. It changed my life, giving me many more distractions, exposure, and responsibilities. I am now a senior person in science and thus both a role model and one responsible to see that the wonderful opportunities to do research that I inherited are passed on to the next generations.
Why did you go on Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? How did your colleagues and students react?
I thought it could be fun. I liked Jeff Foxworthy. Some colleagues gave me difficulty for going on the show, saying it was inappropriate for a scientist, never mind a senior one. My students thought it was a great thing but liked my short stint on [the CBS sitcom] The Big Bang Theory more.
You seemed to have a lot of fun on the game show. Did you enjoy being on television?
I went to have fun and enjoy myself, and I did. That day, they filmed four shows, and I got to meet other contestants—[Kiss musician] Gene Simmons, America’s youngest mayor, and Miss America—and see how things worked behind the scenes.
How did winning the Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? prize compare to winning the Nobel Prize?
I prefer to be remembered for the work I have done. I did not really care for the publicity.
For most college students, a summer job ends with a paycheck. Bentley School grad Rachel Krantz’s summer job at Youth Radio ended with a phone call from Ethel Kennedy, the widow of Robert F. Kennedy.
In the summer and fall of 2009, Krantz, 22, broke a story about abusive hazing in the Navy. This April, she got the call from Ethel Kennedy, telling her she had won the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award in International Radio.
“I got a message: ‘Hi, this is Mrs. Kennedy, can you call me back?’ ” Krantz says. “Meanwhile, I’m going to my job where I babysit and change diapers.”
Krantz chanced upon her story at an anti–Proposition 8 rally in San Francisco, where she spoke to Joseph C. Rocha, an ex-Navy petty officer who suffered abuse during his service in a canine unit known as “the Kennel.” Rocha gave Krantz materials that documented gruesome hazing in Bahrain—officers being locked in dog kennels covered in feces, spanked, and forced to simulate sex on video.
Krantz’s reports were picked up nationally, leading to an investigation about the suicide of an officer assigned to the Kennel. The Navy censured the unit’s former chief officer, effectively ending his military career.
Lafayette mother-and-daughter team Patti and Stephanie Anderson didn’t take home the $250,000 cash prize on the recently wrapped ninth season of NBC’s reality weight-loss program, The Biggest Loser, but they won something more valuable: longer, healthier lives.
Patti, 55, who owns Anderson Bros. Movers in Martinez with her husband, Karl, started the show at 243 pounds and lost an astounding 23 pounds in the first week—more than any other female contestant in the show’s history. But, she was voted off in week two, after a disappointing four-pound loss. Returning for the finale, she weighed in at 170, having shed 73 pounds—as well as seven of her nine medications.
“You don’t have to be at the Biggest Loser ranch to lose weight. I’m proof of that,” she says. “It’s hard, but I’m worth it, and so is everyone else. Wearing nice clothes is wonderful, but the thought of being with my future grandkids is most exciting.”
You might spot Patti working out with her trainer at 24-Hour Fitness in Moraga, on walks around the Lafayette Reservoir with her husband, or at her favorite restaurant, El Charro, which offers a low-cal burrito. “I just stay away from the margaritas,” she says, laughing.
Stephanie, a Campolindo High grad, began the show at 264 pounds and made it through 11 grueling weeks of intense workouts and temptation challenges. At the finale, she weighed 165, a 99-pound loss. But losing weight wasn’t the only milestone Stephanie achieved during filming. She also turned 30 and found love—with fellow contestant Sam Poueu, of Rohnert Park.
“Lots of people are petrified to turn 30, and I would have been a year ago. I wasn’t happy,” says Stephanie, who now lives in West Hollywood. “But now I am proud of myself. I took the initiative, and I’m finishing it. I’ve transformed not just my physical appearance but how I handle conflict, how to be open to love. [My] thirties are going to be my best years.”
So what are their best tips for people looking to shed some pounds, without the controlled environment that Biggest Loser offers? “When you have any amount of weight to lose, it seems daunting,” says Patti. “You can’t look at the big picture. Take small steps. Give yourself a goal for the week, and truly be committed to that week. You will surprise yourself with what you can accomplish, and it will give you confidence going into the next week.”
Adds Stephanie: “Arm yourself with your family and friends. Anyone that can hold you accountable, maybe someone who has a similar goal. It’s so much easier—and fun.”
In April, Danville-raised actor Greg Sestero stood on the stage of Manhattan’s Ziegfeld Theatre and reveled in thunderous audience applause. The historic Broadway theater was packed with 1,300 screaming fans—including actor Justin Long and Amélie director Jean-Pierre Jeunet—who had just seen The Room, a now infamous low-budget film shot back in 2003.
“I’ve been to many screenings of The Room, and the audience is always the best part,” says the 31-year-old Monte Vista High alum. “But that night at the Ziegfeld was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. People lined up hours before it started. After the screening, I stayed there until 4 a.m., signing autographs.”
Of all the How I Made It on Broadway stories, Sestero’s is one of the most bizarre because The Room isn’t a great movie—or even close to a good one. In fact, Broadway hadn’t seen something this atrocious since Bialystock and Bloom premiered Springtime for Hitler in Mel Brooks’ The Producers. Just like that so-bad-it’s-hilarious classic, The Room, a bizarre sexual thriller, is so outrageously awful that it veers into unintentional surrealism. As a result, it’s captivated cult movie fans around the world and become the biggest midnight flick since The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Sestero costars in The Room with Tommy Wiseau, the film’s writer, director, producer, and executive producer. The two met in a San Francisco acting class 12 years ago. Wiseau told Sestero about a script he had written and offered him a role in the movie. “The script didn’t make any sense,” says Sestero, who also helped cast the film and worked as the line producer. “I agreed to do the film, assuming no one would ever see it.”
The Room premiered in Hollywood in 2003 and played for two weeks in a single art house. The film’s early reviews were nowhere near kind. Critics referred to Sestero’s handsome, philandering character as a “himbo.” One reviewer went so far as to describe Sestero’s acting technique as that of a department store mannequin. “That one made me laugh,” Sestero says.
The film’s cult status began when one moviegoer asked to buy a ticket and was read a strict no-refund code by the box office attendant.
“This guy was a USC film school student, and he said, ‘I have to see it now,’ ” Sestero explains. “He was the only one in the theater. As soon as it was over, he started calling his friends and saying, ‘You have got to see this movie.’ Two days later, he had told so many people that the theater was completely sold out.”
Word spread among comic actors such as David Cross, Patton Oswalt, and Jonah Hill that The Room’s bizarre badness had to be seen to be believed. Soon, midnight screenings became a hot ticket in Hollywood, Manhattan, and San Francisco (where the Red Vic Movie House still sells out shows the last Saturday night of every month). Over the past five years, Room-fever has swept through college towns and hipster cities from coast to coast, with Wiseau being hailed as a modern-day Ed Wood.
Though Sestero is thrilled by the sensation that The Room has created, it is not his only claim to fame. He has a busy modeling career that takes him to Europe for several months a year (he’s been in recent issues of GQ and Vanity Fair). He also starred in country star Miranda Lambert’s video “White Liar,” which won the Academy of Country Music’s Video of the Year award in April. While he’s in Europe this summer, Sestero plans to start writing an insider’s account of the making of The Room to try to explain the now-worldwide sensation.
“It’s huge in Minneapolis and Chicago and Sydney and Perth,” says Sestero. “It just keeps getting bigger. We could never have planned to have this happen. The odds of a little film like this becoming this big of a worldwide hit have to be one in 10 million.”
Tea party politics have attracted nationwide news coverage, so we reached out to the East Bay’s most engaged activist. Pleasanton resident Bridget Melson is the founder of the Pleasanton–Tri-Valley Tea Party, which brought 10,000 people to the Alameda County Fairgrounds on April 15.
What is your background, politically and personally?
I voted in November; that’s the extent of my political background. Personally, I have been living in Pleasanton for 11 years. I have three kids, and I’m a psychotherapist [on hiatus], specializing in teenagers.
Why did you start the Pleasanton Tea Party?
I really started seeing that the fiscal irresponsibility of the government at local, state, and federal levels was affecting my family.
Which specific issues affected you?
In Pleasanton, our schoolteachers are getting pink slips. The schools are begging parents for money, and the city council wanted to pass a parcel tax, which I was against. Meanwhile, the higher-ups within the city government are getting raises. Statewise, California is bankrupt, when we have so many rich resources—water, oil, etc.—that aren’t being used. Add federal issues on top of that, and how could you not take a stand?
What were your expectations for the first tea party?
My expectations were just to gather a few hundred local people to hear some speakers and to listen to people’s concerns. I got a permit from the city to have a 200-person gathering, but when radio stations started to promote it, it grew quickly. We had about 3,000 people at the first party in April 2009. We had 10,000 this past April at the Alameda County Fairgrounds. We had local candidates speak, and [senatorial candidate] Carly Fiorina came.
Is the Pleasanton tea party the biggest in the Bay Area?
Absolutely; the membership reaches more than 8,000 people. Since the tea parties started, the comment I’ve heard more than any other from callers on the local right-wing talk station is that tea parties leave no litter behind.
Is this is an environmental movement?
[Laughs] No, we are just respectful and were taught to leave a place nicer than when we arrived.
What is the first priority of the tea party for November’s election?
Getting fiscal conservatives into office.
What is the most important local policy issue?
We don’t want any more taxes. The city council of Pleasanton is trying to push that parcel tax through. Once the higher-ups take a pay cut, then we can talk about a tax increase.
What about nationally?
Fiscal irresponsibility. The passing of the health-care bill is at the forefront of our minds.What is your day like?
Being Mom is number one. So, it starts with breakfast and carpool and diaper changes. Then, I meet with candidates, and I take my six-month-old with me.
How much national news coverage have you received?
Fox News was at our event; that was great. I was interviewed on Greta Van Susteren’s show. We also got a lot of coverage about the reason we disinvited [controversial activist] Orly Taitz from attending in April. I did not invite her in the first place, an individual “patriot” had. But, I asked her not to come because it is not my intention to have controversial activists who draw negative attention. Still, the Los Angeles Times reported that I had invited her and then disinvited her, and then Keith Olbermann reported the same thing.
What have you thought of the local news coverage of your events?
It has been pretty good. What I don’t like is when they make it about race. I’ve spoken with some reporters about this, and they say since the Bay Area is so culturally diverse, and you have a large gathering of people of one race, then race is part of the story. But, there are no limits to who can come.
How about the national coverage?
Nationally, they tend to focus on how angry they think we are. I don’t think that’s true whatsoever. We’re not a group of radicals, and we are not going away soon. The one tea party that I walked through in Danville did feature the uglier sides that I had read about: Misspelled signs, people heckling police about receiving overtime pay, and calling for a boycott of an independent bookstore because it was hosting an event with Barbara Boxer.
That is a problem. I don’t condone that kind of disrespect. The face of the tea party should start with respect and integrity.
Do you have any criticisms of the tea party movement?
There are those fringe few with Nazi signs and those who have made a mockery of President Obama, and that is inexcusable. But the majority of the people are amazing. I truly believe in the movement.
Are you going to run for office?
People ask me that and I say, “Heck no!” I’d rather be a lobbyist for the people.
There was something about the man and his two daughters that didn’t sit right with Lisa Campbell and Ally Jacobs. Call it a gut feeling or women’s intuition, but the two members of UC Berkeley’s police department knew something wasn’t right.
Luckily, Campbell and Jacobs decided to report the strange visit by Phillip Garrido, which led to a break in one of the nation’s most famous kidnapping cases, the 1991 disappearance of 11-year-old Jaycee Lee Dugard,
of South Lake Tahoe.
It was August 24, 2009, and Garrido made the mistake of visiting Campbell’s office in the UC Berkeley police department—and taking with him his and Dugard’s two daughters, then 11 and 15.
He had gone to talk to Campbell, the manager of the department’s special events unit, about a religious event he wanted to put on. His rambling monologue about God’s desire caught Campbell’s attention (even more than the usual eccentrics on the Berkeley campus).
The former Chicago police officer was especially concerned about the girls who had come with him. Campbell, of San Ramon, feigned interest in Garrido’s big event and invited him to come back the next day.
She asked her colleague, Corporal Ally Jacobs, of Brentwood, to check Garrido’s background and to sit in on the meeting. Both women had a heart-pounding feeling in the presence of Garrido and his daughters. The girls were polite and looked well-fed, but also looked as if they had never seen sunlight. They wore drab Little House on the Prairie–style dresses.
When Campbell asked the girls where they went to school, both answered quickly, as if programmed: “We’re home schooled.” As Garrido, rambled on, Jacobs noticed that the younger girl smiled at her in an “eerie way,” and the older girl gazed up at Garrido almost in reverence—not as a typical teenager would look at a parent. Jacobs, who has two small kids, said maternal instinct kicked in: “I started thinking like a concerned mom.”
Campbell and Jacobs were dismayed that they had no legal reason to hold Garrido, but they contacted his parole officer. Now 59, Garrido was on parole for earlier kidnapping and rape charges, but Dugard’s presence at Garrido’s Antioch home had escaped detection. According to Jacobs, the officer was alarmed to hear that Garrido had two girls with him; as far as he knew, Garrido didn’t have any children.
Campbell and Jacobs’ report led authorities to a secret tented compound behind the Garridos’ Antioch home, where Dugard was living. The next day, Garrido and his wife, Nancy, were in custody, and Dugard and her two daughters (fathered by Garrido) were on their way home to Dugard’s family.
The two women have since become national heroines, lauded on Oprah. They are also in-demand speakers for children’s welfare organizations and law enforcement groups. They tell kids to speak up if they find themselves in a situation that doesn’t feel right, and parents to pay attention to red flags and the gnawing sense that their children could be at risk. They also advise people to look after one another’s kids. There was a time in our society, Campbell says, when the nosy neighbor had a role. “We don’t know our neighbors anymore,” she says. “We don’t know the neighbors two or three doors down.”
Mother’s Day has long been a tough holiday for Dallas Braden. The Oakland A’s pitcher’s mom died of melanoma at 39, during Braden’s senior year of high school, while they were living with his grandmother in a hotel she managed. But this year, Braden had a perfect Mother’s Day.
On May 9, Braden, 26, threw a perfect game against Tampa Bay, only the 19th in Major League baseball history. It was the first no-hitter by a member of the A’s since 1990 and the first perfect game in Oakland since Catfish Hunter threw one in 1968. The best part was that Braden did it with his grandmother, Peggy Lindsey, in the stands.
“It hasn’t been a joyous day for me in a while,” Braden told the San Francisco Chronicle. “To know that I can still come out and compete and play in a game on that day makes it a little better, and with my grandma in the stands—to give her this—is perfect.”
Even before the perfect game, Braden’s life was something out of a Hollywood underdog story. Raised by Lindsey and his single mom Jodie Atwood in Stockton, he got into his share of trouble: One semester during his junior year of high school, when his mom got sick, Braden missed all but two days of class, got thrown off the baseball team, and got in a fight that sent another boy to the hospital.
But Braden put his life back together. He walked on at American River College in Sacramento (sometimes sleeping in his pickup truck to avoid missing morning workouts), transferred to Texas Tech, and was chosen by the A’s in the 24th round of the 2004 draft.
Before the perfect game, Braden had only 17 career wins in the Majors and was best known for a dustup this April, when he yelled at Yankees prima donna Alex Rodriguez for breaking an unwritten code of conduct by jogging across the pitcher’s mound during an inning.
A media firestorm ensued, with A-Rod condescending that he didn’t “want to extend [Braden’s] 15 minutes of fame.”Braden certainly doesn’t need the Yankee third baseman’s help now. His pitching masterpiece landed him the cover of Sports Illustrated and a chance to read the Top 10 list on the Late Show With David Letterman.
He may have thrown himself into the national spotlight, but don’t expect Braden to forget his roots: The pitcher still lives in Stockton, five blocks from his grandmother (who was quoted saying, “Stick it, A-Rod” after the game). He’s renowned for his involvement in the community, and he has the city’s area code, 209, tattooed on his chest. After the perfect game, Braden said he would give his glove, cap, and jersey to the tiny Stockton Athletic Hall of Fame, instead of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
Mom would be so proud.