LIVING IN A Celebrity World : Now, Adam Ging Tries to Make Name for Himself

Times Staff Writer

Few college baseball players, or others for that matter, had a childhood like that of UC Irvine’s Adam Ging.

But then few people had fathers like Jack Ging. Commonly described as a character actor, Ging could just as well be called, simply, a character.

Jack Ging has had various identities, each of which has left its peculiar mark on his son, among them University of Oklahoma football player, single parent, nightclub owner, Crosby golf tournament winner, Clint Eastwood Celebrity Tennis tournament champion, Malibu real estate salesman, and currently, Lt. Quinlan on NBC’s “Riptide.”


Weekend days in Adam Ging’s unorthodox boyhood began at 6:45 a.m. on the glistening grass of some country club, where Jack Ging routinely competed for sport and money. His opponents were such golfers as Dean Martin and James Garner--and others whose bank accounts were much bigger than their names.

Tagging along, the precocious youngster picked up the lessons of that game--and those of other adult games.

“He knew how to conduct himself around big-time gamblers,” Jack Ging said. “He could read a football sheet when he was 8 years old. And he always kept his mouth shut.

“One time I was out there with Dean Martin and some others at the Riviera Country Club. Adam was about 8.

“The round came down to one shot with thousands of dollars on the line. I explained to Adam, ‘These guys are trying to take money out of my pocket. It’s the same as if they were trying to take milk out of our refrigerator.’ Then I blew this sand shot.

“Adam came over to me and said, ‘It’s all right, Dad. I don’t like milk, anyway.’ ”

On other days, Adam Ging hung around television and movie sets, watching the filming of such shows as Mannix, Kojak, Hawaii Five-O, and Starsky and Hutch.

“My dad was always the bad guy,” he said. “He’s one of those actors whose face you recognize, but you don’t know the name.”

In the last three years, however, the pattern has turned around.

Now it is Jack Ging’s turn to observe his son’s performances. He spends many afternoons in the stands of Irvine’s Anteater Stadium, watching Adam, one of the best baseball players in the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn.

The 21-year-old player’s talent rates four stars in Jack Ging’s book, but, of course, that’s a father doing the reviewing. The real tipoff is that the pro scouts seem to agree. Barring injury, Ging will probably be a pro draft choice this June as a junior.

The Anteater shortstop is batting .375 with six doubles and six triples this season. A switch-hitter with equal power from either side of the plate, he is 10th in the nation in triples. Even though he has not hit a home run this season, he is fifth on UCI’s all-time list with 12. He hit seven of those last season as a sophomore.

How much power does he have?

Plenty, Irvine Coach Mike Gerakos can assure, although he wishes he hadn’t had to learn that first-hand. Gerakos had to be treated for a cracked rib last month after one of Ging’s line drives nailed him while he was pitching batting practice.

“He probably got a big chuckle out of it,” Gerakos said dryly. Nonetheless, Gerakos, the Anteater coach for five years, calls Ging the best power hitter he has ever coached.

Ging demonstrated his power by becoming one of an elite group of Irvine players who have hit homers over the stadium scoreboard in right field. The scoreboard is a campus landmark, decorated with a 25-foot-long anteater whose tongue is about 15 feet long.

Right above runs and hits on that scoreboard, and at the tip of the remarkable tongue, is the word Zot!, which UCI students recognize as the sound of their mascot scoring a meal.

Big, funny insectivores were not exactly part of the college atmosphere that Jack Ging had in mind for his only son. When Adam graduated as an honor student and baseball star from Los Angeles’ Loyola High School in 1982, Jack, who had grown up poor in Alva, Okla., entertained visions of his son hitting the books and the baseballs in the Ivy League.

“He was admitted at Stanford and Dartmouth,” Jack Ging said. “But he didn’t want any part of that.”

Instead, Adam came home to Malibu one day and announced, “Dad, I’ve found the man I want to play for.” It was Gerakos. Adam admired him for “telling it like it was.”

Jack Ging’s reaction was measureable on the Richter scale.

“I said, ‘Irvine? Where the hell is that?’ ” Ging said.

“Then he said they were the Anteaters. I said, ‘The Anteaters! That’s the worst name I’ve ever heard!’ ” Adam tactfully neglected to mention that his father is a former Alva High Goldbug.

But Adam was certain he had made a wise choice. He didn’t care about the lack of Division I tradition of Irvine’s young baseball program. Its other advantages were immediately apparent to him.

As a freshman, he was the starting third baseman on the UCI team that finished third in the Southern California Baseball Assn. in 1983. As a sophomore, he was the second-team all-conference shortstop.

Meanwhile, his father changed his mind about Irvine.

“In some ways, he’s smarter than I,” Jack Ging said. “He’s his own man, and he makes his own decisions.”

If they made a movie about the rearing of Adam Ging, it would probably be a quirky hybrid of “Father Knows Best” and “Paper Moon.”

“I’d love to relive that part of my life,” Adam said. “I may not have understood all of it at the time, but I remember it, and it made its imprint on me.

“A lot of days, they (Jack and his friends) would start playing golf at 6:45 a.m. Then they’d come in at night and play these big poker games with $10,000 to $30,000 on the table.

“There were owners of pro ballclubs playing, and underworld figures. It was something to see.”

Adam’s parents divorced when he was a third-grader, and for three years, until Ging married his second wife, Apache, the parental duties were his alone.

“He gave up his golf to raise me,” Adam said. “Instead of going out with the boys, he started staying home with his boy.”

Between 1968 and 1973, Jack Ging owned a Manhattan Beach bar called Cisco’s, along with partners Tom Smothers and Clint Eastwood, whom Ging still counts among his closest friends.

The bar booked such up-and-coming acts as Ike and Tina Turner and the comedy duo Cheech and Chong. Glen Campbell, Kenny Rogers and Neil Diamond would drop in from time to time to tinker with new songs away from the pressure of Hollywood reviews.

Jack finally sold the bar after fights and suits and financial wrangling made it more trouble than pleasure. But he remembers one particular night when Adam, still in grammar school, stood outside the club, talking to his mother on the pay phone.

Jack, who is not accustomed to backing down from challenges, got involved in a fight with an unruly patron. His opponent heaved him out the door of the bar.

“So Adam tells his mother, ‘I have to get off the phone now. Dad just flew by,’ ” Jack Ging recalled.

Few people in Alva, Okla., would have predicted that Jackie Ging would become a television actor, that Clint Eastwood and Jack Nicholson would attend his wedding, or that he would have Lee Majors as a longtime friend, and Robert Redford as a neighbor.

But they might have guessed that Jack Ging’s son would be a college sports star.

As a high school freshman, Jack Ging was tiny even by the standards of small-town football. The coaches bluntly told him that Alva High Goldbugs couldn’t be that little.

Ging’s reaction sounds like a line he might have spoken in a movie years later. Except that, coming from a boy who lost his father in World War II and whose mother struggled to get by as a waitress, it was nothing but the truth.

“I had some kind of idea of wanting to get across the tracks, to be something and get some recognition,” Ging said. “A feeling of: ‘I’ll get there and I’ll be better than all of them.’ ”

Football was the vehicle of advancement at hand, and Jack Ging became one of the best players in his school’s history, a high school All-American recruited by the nation’s top football schools despite his size.

No one in his family had ever attended college before. No one in his family had ever owned a car, for that matter.

“He’s the typical Horatio Alger, rags-to-riches story,” Adam said of his father. “Coming from his background, he wasn’t book-smart. He didn’t care about studying or reading. But he’s got a mental toughness I’ve never seen in anyone else.”

At Oklahoma, Ging became a disciple of Bud Wilkinson, whom he calls the greatest football coach there ever was.

“My whole life has been on a different level because of Bud Wilkinson,” Jack Ging said.

The respect is mutual. Mike Treps, Oklahoma’s sports information director, said that when Wilkinson speaks at sports banquets, he still brings up the story of Ging as the ultimate example of dedication triumphing over circumstances.

A ferocious hitter, Ging became a starter at halfback and defensive back as a sophomore, despite being barely 5 feet 10 and 150 pounds.

During his senior year in 1953, the Sooners not only upset No. 1-ranked Maryland in the Orange Bowl, but started their string of 47 consecutive victories, a string never equaled by another college team.

Ging left college with an Orange Bowl watch, which he still wears, and some Wilkinson philosophies, which have also given him lifelong service. In Jack Ging’s words, they include:

“Avoid the peacocks of the human race.”

“The people you buy will let you down. That’s the bottom line.”

“The winners are the ones who sacrifice the longest and the hardest, and do it for the right reason.”

“Earn it.”

In a way, Adam personifies his father’s ideals. He has a 3.5 grade-point average as a political science major at Irvine, and he was a second-team choice last year as an academic All-American on a team picked by the College Sports Information Directors of America. He will probably be named to the first team this year.

And just guess what his favorite class has been at UCI.

“Organized Crime,” he said. “It’s about the Mafia. That life fascinates me. After I took that class, I wasn’t sure if I hated those people or admired them. I can relate to those people because they’re smart.

“I get good grades, but I value my street smarts more than my book smarts, as far as surviving in the real world,” he said. “My dad taught me to read between the lines, to know when somebody is BS-ing you. I don’t get fooled very often.”

Jack Ging sees his son this way: “Adam doesn’t talk a lot and he doesn’t like very many people.”

Adam said, “I don’t know if I would say I don’t like many people, but I don’t like people putting on a show or a false front. A lot of entertainment people do that.”

If baseball doesn’t work out for Adam, he has two other occupations in mind. One possibility is working as a Hollywood stunt man, for obvious reasons.

Adam’s favorite alternative sounds odd, unless you know that Jack Ging was so patriotic that he protested being labeled 4F after three knee operations and a shoulder separation in football. After demanding a special tryout in 1956, he was allowed to join the Marines for three years.

“I want to work for the CIA,” Adam said. “I like that kind of stuff. I really want to work for the government in intelligence. I think I’ve got the right frame of mind. It’s the only kind of job that would fit my kind of personality.

“I don’t want to sit behind a desk eight hours a day and boss people around. I want to invade El Salvador or something. People always laugh when I tell them that. They think it’s all James Bond, but it’s actually nothing like that.”

Jack believes that if the opportunity is there, Adam should go pro in baseball this summer.

“My philosophy with him is that he should keep struggling and reach for that star,” Jack Ging said. “It’s not important that he makes it to the top, only that he gives it every last thing he has.”

Adam said: “He knows that whatever I do, I’ll be a success. Whether it’s sports or professional life, I’m going to make it somehow.”