Hollywood came to Oakland Monday night.
Black limos, big-name celebrities, eager photographers, and several hundred screaming fans lined the streets in front of the Paramount Theatre in downtown Oakland for the world premiere of Moneyball, the movie adaptation of Michael Lewis’ 2003 bestseller chronicling the Oakland A’s 2002 season and the revolutionary method of selecting players ushered into the game by general manager Billy Beane, played by Brad Pitt in the movie.
Pitt, as well as co-stars Jonah Hill and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, were in attendance Monday night, as were Beane, film director Bennett Miller and writer Aaron Sorkin. A host of former and current A’s players—including outfielder David Justice and first baseman Scott Hatteberg, both characters in the film—were also on hand and warmly greeted by nostalgic fans.
For some, the event was a rare chance to catch a glimpse of A-list movie stars in Oakland. Susan Johnson of Fremont was among the fans who packed the streets in front of the historic theater, poised camera-ready on the three-foot wide median in the middle of Broadway since 3 pm, two hours before the event. “I’m not a baseball person,” she said. “I’m here for Brad Pitt. I’d like to see Angelina too, but mainly I’m here for Brad.” (Angelina Jolie did not attend.)
Traffic backed up in both directions on Broadway, while the main part of the crowd gathered four and five people deep around the corner on 21st Avenue, where black limos and SUVs dropped off fancily dressed passengers in front of a blocked-off, media-only “red” carpet (which was actually green). As each new car pulled up, the excited crowd hushed, poised to erupt. Rumors spread, and Brad Pitt’s name was whispered often. People craned their necks and asked their neighbors, “Who’s that?” as attractive people stepped out through opened car doors.
Every few minutes a loud cheer went up as a suitably famous person arrived. Some actors and former A’s players came over and signed autographs. A band of hungry autograph collectors inched closer, holding black cases filled with glossy photographs destined for eBay. “I feel like a teenager,” one giddy middle-aged woman told the person next to her.
For others, like diehard A’s fan and lifelong season-ticket holder Antonio Caminada, the event was “a once in a lifetime opportunity”—but because of baseball, not because of Hollywood celebrities. Caminada was stationed directly in front of the Paramount, in the middle of the loudest group of fans at the event—a pack of boisterous, flag-waving A’s fans. Caminada, who grew up in Oakland and now lives in San Ramon, had gotten to the theater at around noon Monday and spent the day drinking beers and hanging out with friends in anticipation of the night’s events. “I’m going to come down and support every single second of it. Without a doubt,” he said.
Competing with the occasional cheers coming from the celebrity sighters around the corner, Caminada and has buddies alternated chants of “Let’s Go A’s!” with “Keep the A’s in Oakland!” Caminada, like many others in the crowd, had attended numerous all-night filming sessions at the Coliseum months earlier, playing extras.
“Thank God, they had [the premiere] here. Despite everything that’s going on with the organization, this is nice,” said Caminada, referring to the possibility that the A’s might move to another city. “It’s a little break from reality.” The Oakland event let fans and residents “show a little bit of solidarity, show that the team is more than just baseball,” he said. “It’s a city.”
As one famous face made his way through the blocked-off media area, one fan rushed over to Caminada’s group. “Yo, here comes the scourge of Oakland!” A few seconds later, Caminada and friends shouted “Lew Wolff Sucks!” and waved middle fingers in the air as the co-owner and managing partner of the A’s made his way into the theater.
Wolff, who led a group that bought the team in 2005 from Stephen Schott and Ken Hofmann, has been trying to move the team out of Oakland for the last few years. Despite the successful 2002 season highlighted in the Moneyball film, and the few seasons that followed, this season will be the fifth straight losing season in a row for the A’s.
Only a few seconds after Wolff ducked inside, the crowd caught sight of current A’s second baseman Jemile Weeks and outfielder Josh Willingham, and the “Let’s Go A’s” chant started up again.
Other Oakland residents were also in front of the theater showing their support for the city. George Rowan Jr., better known as “Jack London,” came dressed in top hat and makeshift tuxedo, driving a custom Cadillac with the words “Oakland Thanks Moneyball” on the side. (The Cadillac, he said, belonged to Liberace—“You know, the old piano player?”) “It’s something I could do for Oakland,” Rowan said of the message on the side of his car. “It means a lot. I want to thank them for shooting their movie here.”
As the 6 pm show time drew near, the crowd began to thin as people took their places inside. A limited number of $100 tickets were sold exclusively through an event company contracted by Sony, the film’s producer, but on Monday word spread that scalpers were asking at least double that. Benefits from the premiere went, in part, to Children’s Hospital Oakland.
As a few of the A’s faithful left their curb-side perch for much pricier seats inside, one fan unwilling to pay “two gas tanks for a movie” called out, “Don’t tell us how it ends.”
“We know how it ends,” someone answered. “With no World Series.”
With the crowd inside, event staff immediately went to work taking down the red carpet area and crowd barricades. Caminada waited outside, and made plans to go see the movie at Jack London Square when it officially opens Friday night. “I haven’t missed an A’s event since I’ve been an adult. I wasn’t going to miss this,” said Caminada. “Unfortunately, I didn’t have the $200 it cost to get in, but even knowing that, I still wouldn’t have missed this for the world.”
After the movie ended, the roughly 3,000-person crowd filed out, with many smiling people pausing to take pictures under the Paramount marquee lights. Longtime A’s fan and Oakland resident Jorge Leon, who runs the A’s community group, The Green Stampede, had a big grin on his face. “It was the best thing ever!” he said. “It’s so surreal. There were a few little things that were wrong. Like, one of the games was actually a day game and they had it at night. But whatever, I loved it!”
“I really liked it,” said Oakland resident Linda Driscoll. “It gave me good insight into the game. It was a good mix of drama and baseball.” Driscoll also gave high marks to the setting and the hometown crowd. “Just being here in the Paramount, even before it started, you felt like you were at a game,” she said. “Everyone was screaming ‘Lets go Oakland,’ and getting really excited.”
Her friend, Jorge Rosales, also of Oakland, agreed. “The crowd here was more into the sport and the team than into the Hollywood premiere stuff,” he said. “You really felt the energy of the crowd.”
Even some of the people who had come to the premiere but hadn’t watched the screening gave the film a positive review. When asked if he expected the movie to be good, Caminada smiled, lifted his green A’s cap and stared at the marquee. “There’s going to be a movie about my favorite team in the world,” said Caminada. “We have a movie. It’s going to be on the big screen. It’s going to be Scott Hatteberg hitting the homerun to seal that twentieth win. You can’t take that away from us. It’s forever now. It’s a movie.”