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With her help, Pepperdine program is in great shape

April 24, 2007

By Jerry Crowe, Times Staff Writer

Your husband is a college baseball coach in a coastal getaway littered with starlets and one day he comes home and announces, in so many words, "Our new No. 1 fan, my new best friend, is Pamela Anderson."

Yes, that Pamela Anderson.

What do you do?

If you're Kim Rodriguez, the understanding wife of Pepperdine Coach Steve Rodriguez and, like her husband, a graduate of the school, you shrug.

"As bizarre as it sounds, these are your neighbors," Kim says of the famous faces that share Malibu with the university, where she works in the athletic department as a learning specialist and life skills coordinator. "At Pepperdine, your neighbors are people that are known the world over. It's kind of surreal, but in a crazy, silly way, you kind of just accept the community for what it is."

Garry Shandling, Gary Sinise and Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers have dotted the stands at Pepperdine men's basketball games. Adam Sandler, Martin Landau, David Duchovny and Rob Schneider have supported the women's basketball program. Sean Astin is a fan of the baseball program. And Dean Cain, Gabrielle Reece, Courtney Love, Kimberly Stewart and David Spade are among the other celebrities who have been spotted at campus sporting events.

But Pamela Anderson all but adopting a team? The 39-year-old actress is an internationally known sex symbol, "Baywatch" babe, Playboy model, tabloid favorite and "Borat" fantasy mate.

But she's also a sports fan -- she was "discovered" in 1989 when she was shown on the video screen at a Canadian Football League game in Vancouver -- as well as a parent and a thoughtful neighbor.

And a den mother too?

"I don't know if I want to call it that," she says, laughing.

Anderson, though, is more than a fan. She participates in fundraising activities for the Waves, going so far as to allow dinner dates with her to be auctioned. Her winnings in an NBA.com fantasy league are earmarked for the baseball program. Last spring, after Pepperdine reached the NCAA tournament, she hosted a barbecue for the Waves at her beachside home. Her sons -- Brandon Thomas Lee, 10, and Dylan Jagger Lee, 9 -- serve as part-time batboys for the team.

At picturesque Eddy D. Field Stadium -- "It's gorgeous," Anderson says of the ocean view from the grandstand -- she attends 10 to 12 games a season.

Often to the Waves' benefit.

Her presence serves as a distraction to Pepperdine opponents, says former Waves pitcher Paul Coleman, a Dodgers farmhand. "They're warming up, stretching," he says, "and their necks are turned toward the stands looking for her."

Says Rodriguez, the Waves' coach: "There's definitely a different kind of buzz in the air when she walks down the hill and sits in the stadium. For the most part, it's still baseball and we do our thing, but it's definitely interesting."

Anderson, who often walks the hillside campus for exercise, says her friendship with Rodriguez and interest in the baseball program grew out of her sons' love of the game and their participation in the coach's summer youth baseball camps, where Pepperdine players serve as counselors.

She and the coach hit it off, she started attending games more regularly and one day Rodriguez asked if she wanted to become more involved in the program.

"He just pulled me aside and said, 'We're trying to raise money for this scoreboard,' " Anderson recalls. "And I said, 'I'll help in any way I can.' These guys have been such great role models for my kids. I like my kids to have a lot of really healthy male role models around, and the whole team has been so good to them. I said, 'I'll do anything for you guys.' "

At first, Coleman says, it was hard to adjust to her presence.

"The very first time she came down, I remember that everybody was just goo-goo-eyed," he says. "Everybody was distracted. We didn't get much practicing done. Everybody was in awe.

"But as she started coming around more, it was just like having any other supportive person there in the stands."

Except this one's guests included Tommy Lee and Kid Rock.

Rodriguez says recruits all ask about her, as do other coaches who've heard about her commitment. He tells them all the same thing.

"She's just an amazing person, once you get past all the tabloid stuff," the coach says. "I think she does things like this a lot, but I think a lot of the stuff gets overlooked because all most people see is the tabloid stuff. She's done an amazing job for us with our fundraising and just being a friend to the team."

And why not? Anderson asks.

At a charity event in London not long ago, she says, she was approached by other participants in her basketball fantasy league.

"Whatever money they raised was for families of war victims or something like that, some incredible charity," she says, smiling. "And mine was for a Pepperdine baseball scoreboard. And they said, 'Pamela, I don't think this is fair.' "

But she was unapologetic.

She participates in charitable events worldwide, she says, "but it's really important to help out with what's going on in your own neighborhood as well."

She smiles again.

"Charity starts at home."

jerome.crowe@latimes.com