The advertisement began appearing last summer in both The Wall Street Journal and The San Francisco Chronicle. "A small luxury hotel in San Francisco," it read in part, "is interviewing for bartenders with a touch for traditional hand-shaken cocktails. Must despise auto-dispensers and other gimmicks.... Degrees in psychology, anthropology and mixology desirable but not required." Such qualifications would have made the ad intriguing enough, but there was more. "Other positions also available," said the copy, "including 2nd base and shortstop on the hotel's Softball team. Send resume to Campton Place Hotel."
Yes, you read right. When the old Drake-Wiltshire Hotel (just off San Francisco's Union Square) was being prepared to reopen last fall as the posh Campton Place, the new management was looking for not only bartenders and valets but also a softball squad, one ready to play in San Francisco's Hotel League this spring. In response to the ad, more than 400 applicants, some from as far away as Florida, wrote in, many claiming to have at least the requisite athletic skills. Two other softball-related ads appeared, and after the hotel officially opened, this one: "After a nationwide search, the team is ready: Behind our polished bar is second baseman Peter Perry mixing impeccable cocktails in the traditional hand-shaken manner. (In the hotel softball team Peter plays second base with a few twists of his own.) ...And everyone at Campton Place is out to win." While the three previous ads had featured elegant drawings of bats, balls and gloves—set against background sketches of cocktail shakers, plump iced oysters, luggage and so forth—the last one included a photograph of Perry in bartender's garb, holding a mitt and wearing a baseball cap, and two other Campton employees similarly attired.
Throughout the campaign, some readers wondered, was the Campton just kidding? (A lawyer from Portland wrote the hotel, asking if he could play on the team if he stayed as a guest.) The Campton Place's general manager and president, Bill Wilkinson, says the hotel did ask everyone applying for a job—whether they'd read of the openings in the paper or heard of them by word of mouth—if he or she participated in any regular fitness activities. "We thought it was good to have people working with us who also had other, outside, interests," he says. "So if we had two people lined up together, with the same basic qualifications, and one played ball and the other didn't, we hired the ballplayer." But, stresses Wilkinson, the point of the ads "was really to show that the Campton Place was an elegant hotel that still had a sense of humor about itself, and that its employees were good sports."
The Hotel League—a 14-team circuit featuring squads from the Mark Hopkins, the Clift, the Pacific Plaza, several Hyatts and other San Francisco hostelries—began its three-month schedule on May 10.
When Perry, 31, saw the ad in the Chronicle, he was tending bar at another San Francisco hotel. "When I filled out my application," he says, "there was a section that asked, 'Why should we hire you?' And one of the reasons I gave, since I'd seen the ad, was that I could play second base." At one time Perry had been a first sacker in an informal league in New York City.
Another athletic ex-Easterner who spotted an ad, Bernadette Wiesen, 22, waits table and plays leftfield. Wiesen once considered going after a Softball scholarship at Temple University, but instead went to Montclair (N.J.) State on a basketball grant-in-aid. She averaged 17 points a game over two years before dropping out because of injuries. The Campton Place team includes 30-year-old Ben Cardenas, the executive steward, who had long played in San Francisco's City League, a doorman named Hugh who told Cardenas that he had played several seasons of "farm ball" but didn't elaborate, and a handful of employees who used to work at other San Francisco hotels and played on their Hotel League teams.
"I think we have a good chance of placing in the top six and making the playoffs," says Cardenas. "A lot of the other teams have older players, who aren't as athletic as when they were 20. We've got a bunch out of college who'll be assets because of their youth. And the ads have got all the other hotels talking about us, this crazy hotel with the softball idea. I'll run into guys from the Clift, or the Mark Hopkins, and they'll say, 'We can't wait to get you guys out on the field and see what players you got as a result of the ads.' "
Never mind that the Campton Place uniforms are a dainty pink and gray and that the team's nickname is the Killer Swans—after all, those are the hotel's colors and there's a swan on its logo.
"When you play," says Perry, "you're spending time with people you work with. Then, when you see them the next day, you feel better about them, and that makes the hotel a better place to work in." But alas, even this early in the season there has already been one mutiny. Concluding that Cardenas, as a member of management, shouldn't be supervising employees after as well as during work, the squad voted to depose him as team manager, albeit affably.
Despite Cardenas's dismissal—perhaps because of it—Campton surprised itself May 10 with an Opening Day 7-5 win over the Moscone (convention) Center at Balboa Park, near Candlestick. The game's hero was assistant steward Irving Terada, who hit a seventh-inning, two-run homer to break a 5-5 tie.
Though the Swans were 1-0, they weren't unduly euphoric. Moscone is the league's other expansion franchise, another team that must still prove itself. A more realistic indication of what the season may hold in store for Campton Place came April 21, at the Children's Playground near Kezar Stadium. That was the day of its first practice game. The opponent was last year's Hotel League champion, the Mark Hopkins, and the final score was a sobering one. Despite a massive home run by Campton Place's Frank Paganini (an engineer on the job) and a spectacular catch in centerfield by room-service waiter Jeb Evans, the Swans were beaten 10-4. It could be a long season.
But, are the Swans down? Not at all. Feathers unruffled, they'll continue to go out there and let it rip for the old Pink and Gray. At least they can't lose as many games as, say, the Giants will this year; they're scheduled to play only 13. And, according to Wilkinson, the hotel is considering joining a local basketball league. Joe Barry Carroll's contract with the Golden State Warriors has just come up for renegotiation, and maybe he's a mean hand with an omelet pan...or a cocktail shaker.