Back home for fund-raiser, Shriver still willing to serve

Tennis

December 03, 2003|By LAURA VECSEY

YOU'VE GOT to hand it to Pam Shriver. She never misses any news flash or subject pertaining to Baltimore. In a pithy e-mail dispatched from her new Los Angeles home on the eve of her arrival in Baltimore, the tennis champ jokingly fretted that something weird might be in store for her.

She was eager to get home and spend the week at her parents' house, until she heard about the robbery/kidnap/shooting victim who wound up naked and bloodied on Cal Ripken's doorstep. Talk about bizarre.

"They live two blocks from Cal, so I hope [there are] no big front-door surprises when I am home," she wrote.

Touchdown at BWI came Monday, and as of yesterday evening, Shriver reported all is well in her native city and surrounding environs.

"Except that it's cold," said the 41-year-old "retiree" who, when in L.A., likes to hit tennis balls for a half-hour before breakfast on her backyard court with her James Bond movie-actor husband, George Lazenby.

"He didn't come again this year," Shriver said, mentioning something about golf weather while refusing to admit she's becoming a West Coast weather weenie.

"The only reason I live in L.A. is because my first husband [now deceased] and George have been based here. Despite not living in Baltimore now, I consider it `my community' and the one I want to contribute much of my philanthropic efforts towards," she said.

Shriver and Lazenby, 64, so steadfastly eschew the Hollywood scene that she said they "never double date with Jen [Aniston] and Brad [Pitt] or Calista [Flockhart] and Harrison [Ford] or Arnold [Schwarzenegger] and [fourth cousin] Maria [Shriver]," she said.

She and George did go to Russell Crowe's Master and Commander premiere in L.A. As a fellow Australian actor, Lazenby helped Crowe out a bit when Crowe landed in Hollywood 10 years ago. But these days, Shriver is perfecting her cooking skills, on contract with ESPN and CBS for various broadcasting duties, heavy into charity work and eager to expand her family with a child.

Her sense of humor sets her up to be a successful parent.

"A typical day for me at home is wake up to a live news show, not the West Coast taped version, to make sure no wars have broken out," she said.

Catching up with Pam Shriver is like catching up with a longtime schoolmate, neighbor or best friend. Maybe that's because the tennis champ from Lutherville is all those things, and more, to so many people in Baltimore.

Shriver has come home to Baltimore this week, bearing gifts. She always has, ever since she partnered with the Baltimore Community Fund 18 years ago on a tennis fundraiser.

This year, those gifts Shriver bears are pretty awesome: The No. 1-ranked men's tennis player in the world, Andy Roddick, and fellow American star James Blake. The duo will headline the Mercantile Tennis Challenge tomorrow night at 1st Mariner Arena. Ticket sales for the event have already allowed Shriver to forecast it as the No. 1 or No. 2 gross in revenues, right up there with the Andre Agassi vs. Roddick match two years ago.

"After 18 years, the event has established itself, but it helps to have a sexy matchup," she said.

"We lucked out with Roddick. We got him just before he went on his winning rampage, which included the U.S. Open, when demands on him really grew. As a promoter, you have to sense when and who are the right players for that year. Sometimes you get a top match as we did this year. Other years it's not as easy," she said.

To make sure Roddick did not feel the urge to back out, Shriver sweetened the pot by donating money to some of his favorite charities and arranging a private jet to take him to his next commitment.

"You have to be flexible and reasonable to keep the stars wanting to come back to Baltimore," she said.

Make no mistake, though. Because of Shriver, the stars always come. Martina Navritilova, with whom Shriver won 79 doubles titles; Pete Sampras, Venus and Serena Williams, Anna Kournikova, Lindsay Davenport, Jana Novotna, John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Jim Courier, Todd Martin, Chris Evert, Monica Seles, Mary Pierce, Gabriela Sabatini, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, the Jensen brothers. They've all played in Shriver's event.

Celebrity-gazing is part of the deal, too. Julius Erving, Kenny Rogers, Cal Ripken, Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Alomar, Brady Anderson, Tony Siragusa, B.J. Surhoff, Mike Bordick, Trent Dilfer and Shannon Sharpe have played in the Tennis Challenge's celebrity doubles match.

Through the 18 years, the Tennis Challenge has raised more than $3 million for the Baltimore Community Foundation, stoking programs to help the greater Baltimore region's children. Shriver said she decided against starting her own group since the one in place was already doing such a good job. She is happy to be one of its most energetic and high-profile partners - though she says the event runs so well now, she could stay in L.A. and not be missed.

But on that note she is wrong. Her continued presence and devotion to Baltimore is what gives this tennis event its pop. It's too bad Shriver can't assert the same kind of control over charitable giving on the part of the Orioles, who have so far been trumped by the Red Sox and Yankees in winter deal-making.

"If we could get Vladimir [Guerrero]. He's my top pick," Shriver said with a gush of enthusiasm.

As an Orioles' minority owner - Shriver is the first to remind you her share of the team is about 1 percent - she could call general managers Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan to ask what's up, put a plug in to bring in a big free agent now.

"Yeah, right. I figure that's the last thing they need. Some silent partner calling up and getting chatty," she said.

Note to Pam: While in town, doing your good work on behalf of Baltimore, call them.

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