Sunday, June 12, 2011


Nearly 25 years ago, the cast and crew for a low-budget baseball movie
began filming at Durham Athletic Park, an old stadium located in the
heart of Tobacco Road. The DAP, as it was known, had some of the
charm of Wrigley Field and Fenway Park, with its short porch in right field,
a warehouse as a backdrop, and seats so close to the action they seemed
to be part of the game itself. It was the perfect setting for "Bull Durham",
which was made for just $7 million dollars.

Nobody really knew what this baseball movie was about when production
began. The local paper did a story in advance of its filming and had a quote
from a producer who read the script, but who was not affiliated with the
movie in any way. He predicted that it would not only be "the worst baseball
movie ever made, but quite possibly the worst movie ever created."

Many could see where that producer was coming from, after all, most
sports movies, with the exception of "Slapshot" and "Caddyshack"
had bombed at the box office.  Most directors found it difficult to make
the action believable with actors who had no athletic ability whatsoever.
In some cases, like "Bang the Drum Slowly," the baseball scenes
were downright laughable.

When I was asked to work on the movie, I honestly didn't care whether
it was going to win an Oscar for Best Picture or go straight to Blockbuster
video stores. As a Radio, TV, and Movie Production major at UNC, I was
interested in getting some experience in seeing how a movie was made.
Little did I know that it would end up as all-time classic and become part
of my life forever.

First of all, filming "Bull Durham" was like 30 days of "Animal House"
and "Comedy Central" mixed together. It was a laugh a minute, and in
between there was some work on the actual production of the movie.
The cast that included Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins,
and Robet Wuhl knew how to have a great time while making the movie,
and they helped make it an unforgettable experience. There were long days,
lots of drinking, plenty of sex, and too many laugh until you cant' breath
jokes to count.

Coming off two wildly successful movies, "No Way Out" and "The Untouchables",
Costner was on the verge of superstardom. He was the perfect actor to
play Crash Davis, mainly because he could act and play baseball. Costner
was a terrific person during the 30 days of filming in Durham. He picked
up every tab and treated everyone from the Grips to Sarandon,
the same way and that was with great respect.. Costner didn't have that big
Hollywood ego just yet. I heard a lot  of unflattering things about Costner
after "Bull Durham", but he was great to everybody during the filming of

Costner pulled off the best prank of "Bull Durham" when he made an
secret arrangement with a Durham Police officer. Tom Gagliardi, who played
the Bulls second basemen, was bragging one day how he hooked up with
a woman who looked like she was 16-years old. The following day, Costner
convinced the police officer to come onto the field during filming and arrest
Gagliardi for statutory rape. The officer broke out his hand-cuffs and
told the actor he had the right to remain silent. Gagliardi freaked out and
started running around shouting, "I didn't do anything, this is a big mistake.
The girl said she was 21!". The officer led Gagliardi away in hand-cuffs until
everyone started cracking up. I must admit it was pretty hilarious.

There were scenes that were just as funny as that incident, but ended
up on the cutting room floor. Danny Gans, who played the third baseman
for the Bulls and was later a star in Vegas as an impressionist, did a national
anthem that included Michael Jackson and a moon walk, Kermit the Frog,
Tom Jones, Frank Sinatra, and Sammy Davis, Jr., all performed to a T by
Gans. It was a showstopper and made everyone roar with laughter.
Unfortunately, it didn't make the final cut.

People always ask me how I got to be in "Bull Durham" and the home run
scene with Costner. I'd like to say I was walking down the street and the
director discovered me, kind of like the episode of the "Brady Bunch",
where a Hollywood-type wanted them to be the subject of a series. I was
in the right place and the right time. That's it, that's all. I had played at UNC
and was just finishing up my course work to get my degree. Someone
called UNC and gave them my name. I showed up and did what I always
did, I just played ball.

The first scene I was in, called for me to hit a double as a right-handed hitter.
Tim Robbins, who played "Nuke LaLoosh" actually had to throw it to me
because the camera was behind him  filming the scene. He was the
worst athlete any actor could possibly be. The guy was all over the place.
Crash Davis was right when he said Nuke couldn't hit water if he fell out of
a boat. Before the scene, Ron Shelton, who wrote and directed the movie,
told me to try to hit a line-drive betwee shortstop and third base. I said to
myself, "If I could do that, I'd probably be playing in the big leagues."

What made that even harder was the fact that Robbins couldn't throw the
ball over the plate, or within a mile of it. He was throwing it behind me, over
my head, five feet in front of the plate, and he hit me twice in the back. It
took 17 takes to get the scene right. When I finally hit one, I was so stunned
that I didn't even move. Costner got up and yelled at me, "Run!". In the
movie, the radio man back in Durham hits a piece of wood and says, "there's
a line drive to left-center field."

I was catching when Costner had his first at-bat for the Durham Bulls, but
we traded places later in the movie. Costner was behind the plate when
I got up in the 9th inning, while Nuke was working on a shut out. During this
scene, which was filmed with the cameras directly in front of Costner and a
minor-league pitcher replaced Robbins (Nuke) on the mound because
we didn't have to see him. Shelton (Director) was adamant that the pitcher
throw a curveball even though the most ardent baseball observer couldn't
tell the difference between the fastball and curveball when it appears on screem
for 1/100th of  second.

Shelton told me to hit the ball and then "give it your best Reggie Jackson
in watching the ball go out."  That meant I should act like the ball had
been hit so far "it should've had a damn stewardess on it."  I must admit,
I didn't have a lot of experience in that since I only hit four home runs in my
career at UNC.

After Nuke kept shaking Crash Davis (Costner) off, he stood up and
said, "Charlie, here comes the duece. When you speak of me, speak well."
I just gave some cheesy smile and got back into the box. I wished they
had let me say, "thanks" or something because if I had a line, I'd still be
getting paid today. Lord knows, I could use a little extra cash.

I cranked the ball out on the fourth take and did like Shelton asked me
to and gave it my best Reggie Jackson-pose. They said cut, that's a wrap,
and I was gone. I didn't hold my breath for any of the scenes that I was
in to make the final cut. I was superstitious, so I really didn't say anything to
anyone. I chalked the whole thing up to one great experience.

A month later, in December,  the Boston Red Sox organization called and offered
me a free-agent contract. Six months later, on June 13th, 1988, I just happened
to be back at the same park playing against the real-life Durham Bulls. And
it just happened to be "Bull Durham Night". I was like, what were the chances
of all this happening. We were scheduled to see the premiere of the movie the
next day.

In the eighth-inning of our game against the Bulls, I came up to bat with the
bases loaded. Two months into my minor-league career, I had yet to hit
a home run. And since I had only been hitting left-handed for two years, I had
never hit a home run from that side of the plate. I hit a ball which I thought
was going to be a routine fly ball to right field. Somehow, someway, the ball
carried and cleared the fence by about a half-an-inch. It must've been divine
intervention or something because I hit the ball in the same spot as I did in
the movie. It was all so surreal.

I hit two more home runs against the Bulls in that same park later that year.
I often said that I hit .420 in that park and .091 everywhere else. There was
something really magical for me when I played at Durham Athletic Park.

In the off-season that year, I received a big package from UPS. It was
from Kevin Costner. He had purchased a letterman-type jacket for
everyone who worked on "Bull Durham", which was over 200 people.
On the back of the jacket read, "Bull Durham-The Greatest Show on
Dirt". Production crew 1987. It was a great gesture by Costner.

I never really thought much of my home run scene in "Bull Durham" because
I hit a ball, which didn't take any great talent or ability. I thought of the movie
as a great experience and that was about it. But 24 years later, it continues
to follow me around. People call, email, or text me every time they see
my home run on the countless number of times "Bull Durham" is re-run on
various networks.

Friends introduce me to acquaintances as the "guy who hit a home run in
"Bull Durham'. Or they start with, "hey, do you remember the guy in Bull
Durham...?". I honestly get embarrassed about it. It was a long, long time
ago and I never, ever, considered it a  big deal.

But God, it was a helluva lot of fun.

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