“Hey pitcher, how do you spell relief?”
That well-known phrase, along with several other popular epithets, emerged Saturday morning from a bench behind a chain-link fence on the third base line of Diamond No. 1 at Balboa Park in Encino.
It was all part of the World Series of Entertainment. The game was softball but it was the real world of entertainment.
One team was made up of the behind-the-scenes people of Atlantic Releasing Corp., creator of low-budget films and the current hit “Teen Wolf.” The team had a slightly dreary look, like the wardrobe of a low-budget film. They wore gray trousers and green stretch jerseys with the word “Atlantic” written in script across their chests.
Fashion-wise, their opponents were clearly superior. Their uniforms were a crisply tailored white, with purple trim and purple hats. On their chests they wore the embroidered team emblem--a hand holding a golden-flamed torch with the word “VICTORY” beneath it and, above it, in gold block letters, the word “JACKSONS.”
That stood for the brothers Tito, Jackie, Jermaine, Marlon and Randy. Five of the six Jackson brothers play on the team along with others who work in their organization. The most famous Jackson, Michael, sits out the games. Not that he doesn’t like baseball, a publicist for the organization pointed out. His presence would simply create too much of a distraction.
This is baseball, not entertainment. And the Jacksons take the game seriously. One of them, in fact, was once a pro. Jackie, who is 34 today, said he was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in his youth. He played in their farm system for a while but decided to stick with the family in music.
For the title game, Jackie wore a purple headband and played shortstop. Jermaine wore a white headband and played center field. Marlon didn’t wear a headband. He played catcher and wore a wire mask and shinguards. Tito and Randy weren’t with the team. They had played during the season but had to be out of town during the series, the publicist said.
Because of Michael’s absence, and cover of secrecy, the bleachers on each side of the diamond were about as empty as they might have been if it were only the Hollywood Teaszers against the Marlin Securities Untouchables.
Only about half a dozen people sat on the Atlantic side.
Friends, wives, children and employees of the Jacksons filled about half the seats on the other side. One large, slow-moving man with a deep voice sat at the top in one corner. He was Jackie’s bodyguard, the publicist said.
It was a three-game series and the Jacksons had won the first game 9-2. In the second game they jumped to a 2-1 lead by the third inning. Then the game settled into a defensive contest.
Later, with the Atlantics ahead, 3-2, the players grew tense and vocal.
“We want the champagne, not the soda pop,” one of the Jacksons yelled, exhorting his teammates.
The players for both sides displayed reasonably sound fundamental skills, except for the occasional multi-player miscue that makes softball the pleasure to play that it is.
One such play started a rally that put the Jacksons back in the lead, 5-3.
Marlon, leading off the seventh inning, hit a high looper toward the roving outfielder in shallow center field. He backed up, but not far enough. The center fielder, running up, tried to bare-hand the ball on the bounce. He ran past it instead. By the time he had recovered and thrown the ball to the infield, Marlon was safe at third.
Jermaine was up next. He popped out.
“See, they always catch those,” a woman in the stands yelled. “It’s the ground balls that go through.”
She was Elaine Saller, a bookkeeper and secretary for Randy. Even though her boss was away, she came as a cheerleader and strategist. After several long flies were caught, she decided that the Jacksons had to keep the ball on the ground.
“We’re going to get the ground ball,” she yelled at Jackie, next to bat. “Come on Jackie, grounder. Ground ball.”
Jackie hit a sharp grounder toward second. It rolled up the second baseman’s chest. Jackie beat the throw.
“Ground ball,” Saller screamed as Marlon crossed home plate.
“That was an error,” the man sitting next to her interjected sourly.
“That’s not an error,” Saller retorted. “It’s a run. You see, that’s those ground balls. They roll by.”
The Jacksons committed a miscue of their own in the eighth. A batter popped up behind third. Jackie, trying to run it down, was blinded by the sun.
As he ducked away, the left fielder picked up the ball on the bounce and tossed it to the third baseman. He had drifted up the left field line and, by then, the runner was heading into third where the pitcher was waiting for the throw. But the third baseman didn’t throw the ball. Instead, he ran back to make the tag himself.
The third baseman and the runner collided with a sound of crashing bodies, a puff of dust and a loud groan. The pitcher threw his glove angrily, thinking it was a triple.
The umpire called the runner out. The runner rolled in the dirt.
The bodyguard up in the stands stood up.
“He’s all the way out,” he roared.
That was the play that saved the game. The Atlantics went out quietly in the ninth.
When it was over, the Jacksons leaped onto the field and, without being asked, lined up for photographs.
“We’re the best,” one said.
“We’re the prettiest,” another corrected.
Then the Jacksons went to their coolers and opened soda pops.