Saturday, August 14, 2004

Lexington Herald-Leader | 08/14/2004 | Fans' Day todayThe University of Kentucky football team will host its annual Fans' Day at Commonwealth Stadium today.

Activities begin outside the stadium at 9 a.m. with the "Wildcat Refuge" children's play area. The UK volleyball team will sign autographs in the Refuge from 10-11 a.m.

Stadium gates open at 10:30 a.m. Coach Rich Brooks and the team will be introduced at 11 a.m., with an autograph session to follow.

Fans will receive gift bags, free hot dogs and soft drinks while supplies last, and opportunities to win prizes that include season tickets, a golf outing, game jerseys and other memorabilia.

The autograph session ends at 12:45 p.m. Fans are invited to remain at the stadium and observe practice, which will begin at 1:20 p.m.

Friday, August 13, 2004

AP Wire | 08/13/2004 | Smarty Jones about to hit the road and leave Philadelphia ParkPHILADELPHIA - Smarty Jones is ready to hoof it out of Philly.

The Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner who electrified the sport and brought Philadelphia its long-awaited champion before his retirement is set to move out of his home turf.

First, though, comes the retirement party Saturday at Philadelphia Park. It will be the 3-year-old colt's last public appearance in Bensalem before leaving to stand stud at Three Chimneys Farm in Kentucky.

While the occasion is meant to honor Smarty, trainer John Servis has mixed feelings. He wished it could have been delayed a few years.

"As a trainer, I'd love for him to run until he was about 7 or 8," Servis said Friday. "But I think it's great for the fans."

The colt is retiring after he was diagnosed with bone bruises in all four hoofs. Servis hoped to run him in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Lone Star Park in Texas on Oct. 30, with perhaps a warmup in the Pegasus in New Jersey or the Super Derby at Louisiana Downs.

Those plans ended abruptly when a bone scan revealed the chronic bruising problem.

"There's not a whole lot I can do about it," Servis said. "We would have loved to have kept running him."

Servis still visits Smarty nearly everyday and said the horse was doing great and showed no signs of discomfort.

Philly Park will open its gates at 11 a.m., and Smarty will come out after the third race, around 1:30 p.m. Servis said Smarty would walk around the paddock before going to the winner's circle for a ceremony.

More than 4,000 fans attended an open workout after Smarty won the Kentucky Derby. Nearly 20,000 fans packed the park to watch Smarty's failed bid at the Triple Crown when he finished second at the Belmont Stakes in New York.

The fans haven't forgotten Smarty. While the hoopla has died down, cards, letters - and even a few carrots - still arrive in the mail for the trainer and his horse, and those quick trips to the grocery store have turned into two-hour autograph signings.

"It's starting to get back to normal, not rapidly, but slowly," he said.

Servis said Smarty Jones would remain stabled at the park until Wednesday or Thursday. Servis won't travel with the horse, but planned some visits for the fall.

"I'll be heartbroken," he said. "That horse put me in the history books."

What a ride - albeit a brief one - it was.

In nine career starts, Smarty Jones - with jockey Stewart Elliott - won eight races and earned $7,563,535, including a $5 million bonus from Oaklawn Park for victories in the Rebel Stakes, Arkansas Derby and Kentucky Derby. Owners Pat and Roy Chapman recently syndicated him for about $48 million.

While the future of the plucky red chestnut colt is set, Servis is still considering his options. He said he was happy with his clients and the horses he's training now, but was starting to get offers from "pretty good names" to train some of next year's 3-year-olds.

Most owners would let Servis train in Philly Park, though he's also had discussions with one big-name owner who wouldn't want to move his horse there.

"It was a very interesting conversation and it's something I'd have to entertain," he said.

But he knows there will probably never be another horse like Smarty Jones.

"To be around a horse like Smarty, it doesn't get better than that," Servis said. "I'm going to miss that."

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

ESPN.com - TENNIS - Looks are everythingBy Brian Triplett

Jetlagged from a trip across the Atlantic, already weary from the sudden surge of attention, Maria Sharapova slouched in the chair, rested her arms on her crossed legs and playfully rolled her eyes at the thought of what lies ahead.

Dozens of fans clad with "Maria Mania" buttons and the curious passers-by crowded around the makeshift tennis court in downtown New Haven, Conn., an event to promote an upcoming tournament, as questions about Sharapova's life off the court suddenly became important in the wake of her Wimbledon title.

While endorsers want Sharapova for her game and her good looks, she's firmly focused on her game.
She's young. She's blonde. She's tan. She's the new Russian starlet who just took the tennis world -- no, the world -- by storm.

Her life is at the precipice of change.

"It is, unfortunately, yes," she said.

A soft, monotone voice and a forced giggle may be signs of her hesitancy to enter this new life of super stardom, as much as it is reflective of the inexperience that is inherent with being a 17-year-old tennis prodigy.

What lies on the road ahead for Sharapova is uncertain, but not unpredictable. An hour's drive south on I-95 to Mamaroneck, N.Y., in fact, could be a preview of what's to come. It's where the original Russian beauty and professional attention-drawer, to whom so many compare Sharapova, works the competition from side to side on the court and the fans into a frenzy in the stands during the first stop of her four-event World Tennis Team season.

A comparison of the pair both on and off the court is beginning to reveal sharpening contrasts. Indeed, as tennis continues to define Sharapova's developing image, the sport is becoming less of an active ingredient in Kournikova's celebrity. With a Grand Slam singles title now on her resume, Sharapova is a star in the making, the flavor of the moment. Kournikova is struggling to recover from a back injury that is threatening to derail a tennis career that never has been quite on the right track, while also trying to give the masses a taste of what they've come to crave.

If Anna is no help at teaching Maria about game, she can certainly teach her about fame.

Anna Mania
It's Kournikova's second season with the Kansas City Explorers, one of 10 teams on the World Team Tennis circuit, but the novelty of her appearance, whether it's a Grand Slam event or a minor league type atmosphere, hasn't worn off.
Anna Kournikova says she can walk away from tennis whenever she wants. So far, though, she hasn't walked away from the endorsement money.
"I've never seen any amount of frenzy as in the media interest and excitement that she brings to tennis," said Jeff Launius, in his third year as the Explorers' general manager. "She's certainly put our franchise on the map in my opinion, last year and this year."

Make no mistake, though, this is not a WTA event.

During gatherings with local media, fans often infiltrate press conferences to interject questions that invariably veer off topic. A local police officer thanks Kournikova for coming to town. Another man presents her with a T-shirt. The media-maven, though, doesn't miss a beat.

Said one man, three questions into her media address: "How would a big fan like me go about getting his picture taken with you?"

"Ask me," Kournikova said politely.

Her popularity is hardly fading. There are close to 280,000 registered members -- and counting -- on her Web site from nearly 100 countries. "Kournikova" long has ranked among the most searched words on the Internet.

Whether it's the throng of non-paying spectators who crane for an obscured view from behind the fence that rings the facility in Mamaronek, or a smooth-talker who pulls up in a Prowler with the top down and announces "I'm here to see Anna" to all within earshot as they make their way into the arena in Avon, Conn., Kournikova remains an attraction, her magnetism still unparalleled.

"She obviously has the sex appeal," a 19-year-old male employee says with a smile as Kournikova warms up on the court before a match. "That's definitely why there's all guys standing around watching her now."

Her game brings her here. Her looks bring the crowd.

In a typical tennis match, fans' heads turn on a swivel as they watch the ball bounce from one end of the court to the other. But with Anna involved, it's not a typical match. The neck muscles take a break as tennis becomes an afterthought.

During a match, a fan grabs an errant ball hit into the stands. He turns to celebrate his prize with his friends, but hands the ball over seconds later when Kournikova calls for its return.

"Why did you give that ball back?" a friend scolds him.

"Because she told me to," the man simply replies, an answer suitable enough for his friend.
Hoping to keep her tennis skills sharp, Anna spent part of her summer playing on the World Team Tennis circuit.
"As a promoter, we don't care what she's won because she does a great job of getting media, fans and selling tickets," said Illana Kloss, the chief executive of World Team Tennis. "And those are the things that really matter."

The sound of camera shutters rapidly opening and closing creates a white noise whenever she is on the court. The images of the woman who won a pair of Grand Slam doubles titles but never lived up to others' expectations, however, aren't all snapshots of moments capturing her athletic ability.

One fan steadies his camera phone and clicks a picture just as Kournikova bends over to adjust her shoe. "Yes!" he says as his girlfriend laughs in amusement.

Afterward, a long, winding line of children await their turn to collect her autograph, the occasional adult trying hard to camouflage themselves in the mix. While the other players head to the locker room, Kournikova pulls up a chair and scribbles something resembling her name until everyone is satisfied.

The attention, she says, has not backed off despite her absence from the WTA Tour more than a year now.

"It's not something that bothers me or makes me happy," she said. "I just kind of try to live my life."

A life that comes with strings attached.

A fight for the spotlight
Kournikova no longer needs tennis. And tennis no longer needs her.

"I'll always play tennis only because I love it," she said. "I'll never play just because I have to. I don't have to do anything, really. I just do whatever I love."

The tennis world has moved on and found it's new darling in Sharapova. But the taller, more accomplished newcomer, who also competes in World Team Tennis for the Newport Beach Breakers, seems to be missing something that would complete the package.

"I've been involved with World Team Tennis for almost 20 years and I've never seen fans affected by any player as much as Anna Kournikova," Kloss said. "With Sharapova coming along, she has the ability to, I think, attract some of those people. But Kournikova has that X-factor that I don't think Sharapova has."

Sharapova, apparently, doesn't want it.

Sharapova's agent, Max Eisenbud, said tennis will always remain first on the priority list. "She's interested in becoming No. 1, so you're not going to see her doing 20 or 30 different deals," he said.

Still, she already has endorsement deals with Nike and Prince, and others could find themselves in the works before she takes the court at the U.S. Open in early August.

"She definitely attracts fans, and I think Maria should have a very bright future," said Ben Sturner of Bennett Global, a sports and entertainment marketing agency. "I think the sky's the limit for Maria in terms of marketing ability and tennis ability."

Kournikova, of course, has struck her riches off the court. Even if her back injury leads to an early retirement, marketing experts say they believe that her revenue streams won't dry up completely.

Kevin Wulff, director of sports marketing for Adidas America, refused to speculate about Kournikova's future with his company, but said it is not uncommon for high-profile athletes to continue a lucrative endorsement career after their playing days are over. Although only a select few can continue to hold on to their celebrity power when it comes to marketing after retirement, Michael Jordan and George Foreman have shown that it is possible.

"Even when she has not been playing, she still has been maintaining a place in the spotlight and still getting offers," said Patrick McGee, a vice president with Octagon, the agency that represents Kournikova.

The older Russian beauty doesn't seem to feel threatened in any way that Sharapova will still her glory. "I think it's very exciting for the game," Kournikova says with a smile.

The younger Russian star, however, is sick of hearing Kournikova's name. "After winning Wimbledon, I don't want to answer those questions anymore," Sharapova said.

But no matter how hard people try to keep the comparisons to a minimum, sometimes they are inevitable.

When it was announced that Sharapova was to compete in the China Open this coming September, according to a newspaper in China, tournament officials proudly announced her arrival by hanging up a poster of Kournikova.

It may never end.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

From Elvis to Britney, autograph collector shares his lifelong hobbyFrom Elvis to Britney, autograph collector shares his lifelong hobby


Some the hundreds of autographed photos he's collected surround Mark Mitchell, top, at his Club Hollywood casino in Shoreline. Old Hollywood legends, such as Judy Garland and Marilyn Monroe, are well represented and among the highest valued.
You can find those artful autographs and just about any screen star's John Hancock imaginable at Club Hollywood, a Shoreline casino that opened in September 2003.

"This is by far the best collection in the whole world," says Mark Mitchell, who owns it.

Sure, he's a bit biased, but it is an impressive, not to mention free, display. (He just hopes you'll have a cup of coffee or maybe some sushi.) About 2,500 signatures, all framed with photos of their authors, cover the walls and line a gallery. But the entire collection is about three times that size.

Mitchell, who favors Hawaiian shirts and tinted glasses with gold rims, circa 1978, estimates the value at about $5 million. With his family, he owns and runs the Drift on Inn Roadhouse Casino and Club Hollywood.

Now 69, Mitchell was 4 years old when his lifelong hobby began. His father, M.B. "Mike" Mitchell, was the publisher of the Ballard Tribune in an era when stars came to the local press club on publicity tours. Little Mark would go along and almost always came away with an autograph.

"By the time I was 10 years old, I had a heckuva collection," he says.

Who knows what an autograph says about a person or why we like capturing someone's name on a piece of paper, written in their own hand? Do we feel that we now own a little piece of the person?

Mitchell, a former restaurateur who operated 32 eateries over the years, including Windjammer and Spinnakers on the Bay, doesn't have the answer. "I was just kind of fascinated by meeting famous people and seeing them in a movie as a kid," he says.

The collection centers on Hollywood actors, though there are some directors, producers, musicians and a few sports stars who also appeared in films, such as Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle.

Mitchell says his favorites belong to an earlier era, and include Clark Gable, Laurel & Hardy and Sophia Loren.

A "Guys and Dolls" publicity still signed by its quartet of stars -- Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, Vivian Blaine and Jean Simmons -- is "worth a fortune." "I don't doubt that there aren't any more in the world," Mitchell says.

Even more precious, he says, is an early photo of the Beatles, clad in tight black leather, and signed by all four. What makes it so rare is that the drummer was Pete Best, before he was replaced by Ringo Starr.

"That's worth a fortune. That's worth an absolute fortune," Mitchell says reverentially.

A Sinatra fan, Mitchell's encounter with the leader of the Rat Pack is a treasured memory. "I walked up to him at the Sands Hotel in Vegas when I was 18," Mitchell says. He didn't have anything for the crooner to sign, so he grabbed a cocktail napkin and borrowed a pen. That napkin signature is worth a lot more than the usual $500 to $600 for a run-of-the-mill Sinatra.

He also fondly recalls being a child when Irving Berlin previewed a song he was working on. Seven or eight months later, it became a big hit -- "Easter Parade."

Mitchell owns five Marilyns -- you know which one. Each is valued at between $5,000 and $7,000. And, he bought her silver Cadillac limo, which he refinished and now displays. James Dean, also of the early dead club, is worth $5,000 to $6,000.

Mitchell has multiple copies of Jimmy Stewart, Marlene Dietrich and Elvis Presley, among others.

But he's not willing to part with a duplicate, or any of his autographs, though people have asked to buy them. "I've never sold anything," Mitchell says.

Mitchell gathered about half the signatures in his collection, either in person or by sending a picture of the stars to them, along with a self-addressed, stamped envelope. The signed product would come back in the mail. He bought other pieces from auctions, other collectors and through magazine ads.

He has had to destroy a few fakes that failed verification tests.

Some of the hardest autographs to collect aren't the ones you'd necessarily expect. A River Phoenix, which looks more like symbols than the alphabet, was very elusive because the actor died young and hadn't signed many things. Another surprisingly difficult one was Dick Powell, a movie and TV star of the '30s, '40s and '50s.

He never ran down celebrities or chased after them in a car. "You have to pick your time," he says. "You can't walk up to them at dinner."

There was only one star who ever refused Mitchell in person.

"Cary Grant was the only guy who wouldn't sign an autograph for me, so I never liked him. But I got one anyway -- I bought it," he says with a measure of satisfaction.

Some of the signatures seem to mirror the public perception of their authors.

An Ahnold is big and tightly muscular, rather like the physique of the Governator. A Goldie Hawn has a big, curvy G and H, and looks like the written equivalent of an air giggle. Russell just signs with the first name; no Crowe necessary here.

A Rudolph Valentino, who made women swoon in the silent film era, is sexy, yet elegant.

A Trump is eerily megalomaniacal. Signed in shiny, gold marker, it's big -- real big -- and thick. Definitely the sign-off of an ego freak.

And one can't help but wonder whether Michael Jackson's ornate, tall and very swoopy autograph would make a graphologist break out in a cold sweat.

Then there are the surprises.

A Woody Allen is remarkably neat and normal -- a model of good penmanship -- not, as one might think, neurotic and nebbishy. A Robert De Niro is bigger and loopier than you'd expect from the guy who plays wiseguys. But there's another one that looks scrappier, and you can see his chameleon skills extend off-screen as well.

Besides autograph collecting, Mitchell has two other notable hobbies. He's an expert poker player who's won some big tournaments in Las Vegas, including a division of the World Series of Poker.

And, the man who's been fascinated with Hollywood his whole life gave it a shot himself. Mitchell moved to Malibu in the mid-'80s to study acting with famed teacher Lee Strasberg.

For two years, Mitchell went to class five days a week. He got an agent, read all the trades and went after parts.

"I would not take extra work," he says. "If it wasn't a speaking part, I wouldn't take it."

He played a hit man on TV's "The Equalizer," a stockbroker on "Scarecrow and Mrs. King," and a TV reporter on "Harry and the Hendersons." He was also a gambler in a movie and appeared in "Northern Exposure" about a dozen times.

He partied with a number of the stars. There are photos of Mitchell, in a tux with frilly shirt, standing next to Sid Ceasar, Hugh Hefner and others.

"I went to some pretty good parties at the Playboy Mansion," he says.

Acting, he says, is pretty easy. "I found anybody can act if they want to," he says. "That's why so many stars' kids are actors."

Though he's always viewed acting as a sideline, Mitchell hopes to find some character roles soon.

But the father of four and grandfather of 10 says his autograph-collecting days will likely never end.

"I still just can't stop," he says. "It's almost an obsession."


Club Hollywood, 16716 Aurora Ave. N., Shoreline; 206-546-4444; casino open 7 a.m. to 3 a.m.; restaurant open 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Some of Mark Mitchell's massive collection includes these stars:

Old Hollywood: Jimmy Stewart, Lon Chaney, Errol Flynn, Mae West, Charlie Chaplin, W.C. Fields, John Wayne, Rita Hayworth, Shirley Temple, Betty Grable, Lauren Bacall, Gary Cooper, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Ronald Reagan, Ava Gardner, Marlene Dietrich, Elvis Presley

New Hollywood: Julia Roberts, Tom Hanks, Richard Gere, Brad Pitt, Will Smith, Keanu Reeves, Adam Sandler, Britney Spears, Halle Berry, Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Meg Ryan, Drew Barrymore, Robert Redford, George Lucas, Dustin Hoffman

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