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05/09/08 4:56 AM ET

Three Dodgers ante up for charity

Loney, Bennett and Proctor show poker faces for crisis in Darfur

HIGHLAND, Calif. -- The San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino was abuzz Thursday night as celebrities from both the entertainment and sports world took part in the first annual Ante Up for Africa poker tournament to aid survivors of the humanitarian crisis in Darfur. The event, hosted by Academy Award nominated actor Don Cheadle and World Series of Poker Champion, Annie Duke, came about over a lunch date.

"We were having sushi about two years ago," recalled Duke, who is rated as one of the best poker players in the world - man or woman. "I just came back from another charity poker tournament, that I had hosted and I said 'you know, maybe we should start our own thing because what was happening in Darfur is just so terrible' and Don had lunch the next day with another friend named Norman Epstein, who said the same thing to him, so we knew we all needed to get together."

So with the help of the World Series of Poker and San Manuel, that contributed the use of their main room as well as a $500,000 contribution, the event was launched. It just so happened to be a rare night off for the Dodgers, so three of their players, James Loney, Gary Bennett and Scott Proctor, drove about 70 miles down the 10 freeway to take part.

"I heard this was a good charity and a good idea," said Loney, who brought his mom to the event. "It was a good reason to get out of the house and later in the day and I had all day to rest, so it's fun to come out here and help raise money for a good cause."

"This is totally out of our element," said Bennett, the Dodgers' backup catcher. "So we come out here and hang with some good people, play poker for Don and Annie's good and noble cause and just enjoy the experience."

"This is the first one I've ever been a part of," said Proctor. "I wanted to see how it's handled and to be a part of a first-class event like this is a lot of fun. We're all going to have some good luck here."

The tournament was an All-Star, no-limit Texas Hold'em, which brought out other well-known poker playing celebrities like "The West Wing's" Joshua Malina and "Sex and the City's" Willie Garson, who have both done quite well on the celebrity poker tour. Proctor, who joked when his picture was being taken at the table, 'get the shot now, while I still have chips in front of me,' was a little prophetic, because those chips disappeared pretty fast. Bennett hung in there in the early rounds, but it was Loney, who rang up some good wins at his table, forcing the much more experienced Malina out early.

"Loney's doing well?" asked an incredulous Bennett. "I didn't even know he played. Maybe that's the secret of winning at poker. The less experience the better."

"I haven't played in a while," remarked Loney. "I still remember the rules and basically the competition was between Gary, Scotty and I to see who would be the last one still playing."

Loney, who is always the gentleman, patiently explained between hands to one of the women playing at his table, what his day job was. "I play first base for the Dodgers," said Loney. "Is that a good position to play?" asked the lady. "Yes, I think it is," replied the 24-year-old from Houston.

"I think this is a great event," said Cheadle, who is best known as one of the co-stars and producers of the Oscar winning film "Crash" along with the highly successful "Ocean's 11, 12 and 13." "It's great that everyone is throwing in and once they get educated about what's happening in Darfur and knowing about the issue, to a person they ask 'what can I do to help?'

"It's great that we are able to marry something that we love and enjoy, where there is so much money floating around, with something that is good. It's not often you get to do that, so we are really happy."

Ben Platt is a national correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.