From left, Pawtucket Red Sox President Mike Tamburro, President of the New England Patriots Alumni Club Pete Brock, singer-songwriter Jeffrey Osborne, and Pawtucket Red Sox General Manager Lou Schwechheimer are pictured under the barbecue tent at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket on Thursday, taking part in a press conference for the Jeffrey Osborne Celebrity Softball Classic.
(Photo by Louriann Mardo-Zayat)
PAWTUCKET – Through his 40 years in the music business, Jeffrey Osborne has compiled a pretty impressive Rolodex of celebrity friends in the entertainment industry, but one of his oldest and strongest friendships is with someone from an entirely different walk of life – basketball legend Magic Johnson.
His early-in-life connection with Johnson helped lay the groundwork for the Providence native and chart-topping musician/singer to expand his list of contacts to the point where if needs to call in favors for his annual charitable endeavor, he knows exactly where to turn.
Osborne took a trip down memory lane Thursday afternoon while standing underneath the barbecue tent at McCoy Stadium. The performer was at the ballpark for the announcement of more participants for the Jeffrey Osborne Celebrity All-Star Softball Classic that’s scheduled to happen here on Sunday, Aug. 10.
“I left Providence in 1970 to join this group called L.T.D. and that was one of Magic’s favorite groups,” Osborne said.
“We did a show for him in Lansing [Michigan, Johnson’s hometown] before he joined the Lakers. I then started doing the national anthem for the Lakers and during this stretch (late 70s/early 80s), my music was really hot.”
Osborne said that he and Johnson struck up a friendship that remains as strong as oak to this day.
“I started to get asked to do a lot of major sporting events and that’s how I met (former big-league pitcher) Dave Stewart when he was with the Oakland A’s. I met members of the (NFL’s) Raiders and 49ers through the appreciation they had for my music and in turn, I started to do things for them.
“It’s a reciprocal kind of thing,” Osborne said. “Now when I’m holding events and pitching it to Magic, he’s like ‘I want to be a part of that.’ He’s totally committed. It’s a beautiful thing that at this point, all I need to do is make calls and know that they will support what you’re trying to do.”
Johnson and his several of his former Los Angeles teammates with ties to the “Showtime” era in the 1980s will be at McCoy next month, as will Stewart and singer Smokey Robinson, a person who, like Johnson, helped open a lot of doors for Osborne when he first started out.
“My relationship with Smokey goes way back. When I started with L.T.D., we were in Los Angeles and we were starving. I had go find ways to make money so I went to go play drums with other acts,” Osborne said. “I was Smokey’s drummer for eight months to a year so I became close friends with him. It’s about relationships and that is what is making this happen.”
Osborne’s involvement with the worlds of both sports and entertainment has enabled him to compile a pretty impressive list of guests. As PawSox General Manager Lou Schwechheimer pointed out, “This is the greatest collection of guys and gals ever to come to McCoy Stadium.”
Some of the new names added since last month’s official announcement include NFL Hall of Fame running back Marcus Allen and Los Angeles Clippers (and former Boston Celtics) coach Doc Rivers.
“Doc’s telling me that he can’t run up and down the field. I told him he can coach first base,” Osborne shared. “I know he’ll be here for the golf tournament and says that he’s going to try and fit (the softball game at McCoy) in.”
Also on board is former New York Knicks head coach Mike Woodson, Providence-based boxer Demetruis Andrade and Hollywood director/Cumberland native Bobby Farrelly. There will also be a strong presence from the Providence College basketball community with head coach Ed Cooley leading the pack.
Cooley will face an interesting conundrum. In a video that has been airing at McCoy Stadium, Johnson touted that the game itself will pit East Coast celebrities against those with ties to the West Coast. Cooley is a born-and-bred Providence native just like Osborne, who will be on the West’s side.
“Ed is my guy. He gave us PC for the basketball game last year,” Osborne said. “Pete Brock (former New England Patriot offensive lineman and president of the Patriots Alumni Club) mentioned about throwing names into a hat and holding a draft. I told him I like my team.”
Along those lines, Osborne said that fans shouldn’t be surprised if players end up switching sides during the contest or witness something along the lines of Osborne challenging Johnson to a free-throw contest between innings.
By no means is Osborne done with compiling the guest list that will take the field at McCoy in the name of raising money for worthwhile causes, such as the Davey Lopes Recreation Center, which sent a group of youngsters to Thursday’s event. Osborne mentioned that he’s trying to land commitments from Ken Griffey Jr., Rick Barry, Ahmad Rashad and Tony La Russa.
“Last minute, people will pop up and say they’re coming,” said Osborne. “On gameday, we’re liable to have incredible people here. We just don’t know. We’re just playing it by ear at this point.”
Brock has reached out to the Red Sox and Bruins’ alumni associations. Now it’s a matter of seeing who has the time available.
“We’ll get some guys who the fans will appreciate seeing on the field,” said Brock.
It was at a PC game at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center this past season where Osborne began having discussions and swapping ideas with Pawtucket team officials about McCoy Stadium possibility hosting a big-time event while the PawSox were on the road. Now that everything is etched in stone, those associated with bringing Johnson & Co. to Rhode Island feel this could be the start of an annual staple.
“This is an event we look forward to hosting for years to come,” stated Schwechheimer.
Added Terell Osborne, Jeffrey’s brother, “If things go well, we’ll be back next year and bring in even more talent.”
Tickets for the event are now on sale at the PawSox Box Office at McCoy, on-line at www.pawsox.com
, or over the phone by calling (401) 724-7300.
All tickets will be priced the same as regular-season PawSox tickets, which are $12 for reserved box seats and $8 for general admission ($5 for children aged 12 & under and senior citizens).
There will also be a special deal to include a pre-game meet-and-greet barbecue with the celebrity All-Stars and a ticket to the game for a donation of $50 (fans are encouraged to phone the PawSox regarding the opportunity to hobnob with the featured attractions).
Gates will open at 4:30 p.m., with the singing of the Star-Spangled Banner by (who else?) Jeffrey Osborne taking place right before first pitch, scheduled for 6 p.m.
As an added bonus, fans will be treated to a postgame fireworks show.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03
View more articles in: