The cat was a stray, scared and hungry, running loose at the Oakland Coliseum in the middle of a nationally televised A's-Yankees game in the summer of 1990.

While a crowd of 30,000 roared, the visitor, one of many feral cats that occupy the Coliseum and so many other big-league ballparks, squeezed under a hole in the fence and ran out of the right field bullpen area."She headed down toward the dugout," Tony La Russa said. "Then she turned back toward the bullpen. She was just trying to find a place to hide or a way to get back out."

For better than five minutes, the game was halted as the cat ran loose, leading groundskeepers on a merry chase. Finally, tired and frightened, she turned one more time and found herself in front of the A's dugout. There, she made eye contact with the manager.

It was one of those moments that anybody who has ever adopted an animal knows all too well, when a creature in need of help finds a human savior.

"She was obviously fatigued," said La Russa, who coaxed the stray into the dugout's restroom and closed the door behind her. "It was a safe haven for her."

The game resumed - the result doesn't matter now - and when it was over, La Russa went to retrieve the cat. "She was in a corner, cowering behind the sink," he said. "We called Oakland Animal Control and they came to pick her up."

That should have been the end of the story. The manager had done his part. Now, the cat would be on her own.

Luckily for this cat, however, she was not.

La Russa asked what would be next for the feline he had befriended. "They said she'd probably come in the front door (of the shelter) and go out the back door," he said. "They were so strapped for funds, they couldn't keep strays. They had to euthanize them."

That was all the manager needed to hear. "We made arrangements to pick her up," he said.

That's how Evie - named for the wife of Walter Haas, then the A's owner - became one of the first cats saved by La Russa. It was a defining moment for him.

The following winter, the manager and his wife, Elaine, founded the Animal Rescue Foundation, a nonprofit shelter for homeless animals in Concord, Calif. The first rule of ARF is no animal is euthanized. Homes are found for them or they are kept in the shelter.

"We're 7 years old now," he said, "and we are up around 6,000 rescued animals. Ninety-five percent of the animals we place are kept. Normally, it's around 50 percent. We have purchased six acres and our goal is to build a multipurpose center that would rescue animals and educate the public.

"People who rescue animals understand all the ways animals help people. They are used all the time in therapy at hospitals, senior citizen centers. They work with battered women and abused kids. Our motto is `Animals Make Better People.' "

La Russa's shelter is about to get a major injection of funds. On Saturday, June 6, ESPN will televise the Purina Dog Chow Incredible Dog Challenge, a sort of extreme sports competition for dogs. The $25,000 in prize money will be donated to ARF, which also arranges for neutering services and gives free food for pets of needy families.

La Russa has 10 cats and three dogs in his home, each with their own distinctive personality, each of them special in their own way.

Perhaps the most special, however, will always be Evie, the stray cat that changed the manager's life.