Can a Hollywood reference make a minor league team famous? Via the Fresno Bee -
Considering how much Billy Crystal loves baseball, it’s taken a long time for him to make the sport a major element in one of his movies. He’s put in some small baseball touches — his character in “City Slickers” wore a New York Mets cap — but now he’s finally headed to the ballpark in his Christmas Day release, “Parental Guidance.”
Crystal plays Artie Decker, the voice of the Fresno Grizzlies. When his announcing career hits an impasse, Decker and his wife (Bette Midler) take a trip to Atlanta to babysit their three grandchildren for a week. The clash of old- and new-school parenting techniques — including the way youth baseball games don’t keep score — creates the comedy.
“Parental Guidance” gave Crystal the chance to bring together his two great loves: baseball and acting. The two passions came together during his college days.
Had it not been for a decision at Marshall University to shut down their freshman baseball program, Crystal’s career might have gone in a very different direction from stand-up comedian to TV actor to movie star.
“I had a scholarship to play there,” Crystal says. “When the program was shut down, I was going to have to wait a year. My father had died the year before, and I really felt like I needed to be at home. Marshall was a really good school, but West Virginia was just a little too off-Broadway for me.”
Crystal returned to New York and enrolled at Nassau Community College, which just happened to have a really good theater department. The school also had a first-rate baseball team, but by that point, Crystal had fallen in love with acting.
“The only regret I have is that I stopped playing competitively after my freshman year in college,” Crystal says. “I still love baseball, and so it became a great character thing for Artie Decker to be the announcer for the Fresno Grizzlies.”
Playing the voice of a baseball team takes Crystal back to his childhood, when he would listen to Mel Allen and Red Barber broadcast the Yankees games. Their colorful descriptions of the games were Crystal’s first exposure to how a person could — with only their voice — transport an audience to another place.
One of the players Allen and Barber talked about was Ralph Branca, whose 13-year career included a season with the Yankees. He was on the mound for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1951 when Bobby Thomson hit the home run that won the National League pennant for the New York Giants.
The radio report of that homer — known as “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World” — is an important plot point in the film — one that helps explain the Fresno Grizzlies connection. Artie longs to one day be the voice of the San Francisco Giants.
Cameras rolled during the final game of the 2011 Grizzlies season, and that footage is used in the opening minutes of the movie.
“The ballpark was perfect for us,” Crystal says. “The people that were there that night were great.”
It was Fresno native Samantha Sprecker, one of the “Parental Guidance” executive producers, who brought the Grizzlies to Crystal’s attention. As soon as he saw photos of Chukchansi Park, Crystal knew it would be perfect for the movie.
Unrelated, did you know that Buck Showalter and Don Cooper were teammates on the 1980 Nashville Sounds? Amazing that they both went on to become great coaches.