Moneyball: Training

The conclusion of Moneyball’s baseball action comes in Game 20, when the A’s set the American League record of winning 20 games in a row, in a stirring, last-minute comeback that is the stuff of baseball legend.  “Looking back, it’s incredibly surreal that you could come to the ballpark 20 games in a row without being in a bad mood,” muses Billy Beane.  “Even now it’s hard to believe that’s something this club accomplished.  And I can safely say, I’m not sure as a General Manager, I’ll ever see it again.” 

To match every uncoiling pitch and swing at the plate to that of the famed game, baseball coordinator Michael Fisher put the actors through a rigorous series of boot camps, training sessions and rehearsals on the fields of colleges in the Los Angeles area. It was all aimed at mixing accurate details from the past with the feel of being in the moment.  “Usually when I do a sports movie,” Fisher says, “I make up all of the action.  But we followed Game 20 just the way it was actually played.”

Fisher explains: “With the popularity of ESPN and Fox Sports, the audience now expects everything in a sports movie to be authentic.  So we had to become a well-oiled machine, and having real players playing definitely helped.”  To help with that, Fisher brought in former USC baseball coach Chad Kreuter and UC Irvine baseball coach Mike Gillespie to further hone the actor’s skills and choreography.  (They would also take small roles in the film: Kreuter as pitching coach Rick Peterson, and Gillespie as bench coach Ken Macha.)

During training, a special emphasis was given to the one actor lacking ballpark experience:  Chris Pratt, who takes on the pivotal role of Scott Hatteberg, and had his work cut out for him. He had to lose 30 pounds; he had to learn to swing a bat left-handed, like Hatteberg did; and he would have to learn to play first base, just like his character does in the film.  But he devoted himself without hesitation to the task.  “Chris Pratt’s evolution as a baseball player was pretty tremendous,” says Fisher. “He really put in the effort.  He swung a million times till he had blisters on his fingers.  But the result is a fantastic performance in the movie.”

Says Pratt:  “I hadn’t played baseball since maybe my freshman year in high school, but this experience really reignited my passion for it.” 

As the actors began training, stock footage researcher Jodi Tripi began hunting up a running stream of archival material from a wide variety of sources to keep Bennett Miller inspired.  Tripi collaborated with Nick Trotta of Major League Baseball to secure rights and access to the league’s footage for the intricate baseball montages throughout the film, with particular attention paid to the A’s legendary 20-game winning streak. Other footage, including coverage of Kevin Youkilis, the “Greek God of Walks,” from his minor league days in 2001, Tripi managed to track down homemade footage shot by spectators in the stands.

“We were able to draw on an archive of broadcasts – not only to help us choreograph what happened on the field, but to incorporate that footage within the scenes,” Miller explains.  “We wanted to stay true to what happened.  Because what eventually did happen is so unbelievable it became important to communicate that these in fact are true events and we incorporated archival footage with what we shot.

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