In 1994, there wasn’t a World Series. Due to an impasse in labor negotiations, the Major League Baseball Players Association went on strike in August, and commissioner Bud Selig called off the rest of the season.
It would be easy to say that the year was a lost one for real baseball. But for fictional baseball it was great. Especially for fans of the Minnesota Twins, thanks to the movie Little Big League.
Little Big League follows the story of a 12-year-old boy named Billy Heywood. When Billy’s grandfather passes away, he wills the Minnesota Twins to his grandson. The team, already in last place, crumbles when the grown men can’t stand the idea of working for a kid.
When Billy fires the manager, no other candidates want to work for him. So he puts himself in charge of the team. Through Billy’s baseball smarts, and his ability to remind the players why they love baseball in the first place, the Twins rally and make it to the cusp of the playoffs.
It’s a pretty absurd premise, but 25 years after its release, Little Big League has a cult following. Not everyone considers it a classic like Field of Dreams, The Natural, or The Sandlot, but for many, it is still a beloved movie.
“One day, I literally was driving on the 405 freeway here in Los Angeles and thought how much fun it would be for a kid to be the manager of a Major League Baseball team,” says screenwriter Greg Pincus. He wrote the script in 1991, the same year that the real-life Twins were winning their second World Series title.
Castle Rock Entertainment, Rob Reiner’s production company, optioned the script. The Twins’ involvement would soon follow.
“Having the dome at the time was advantageous for them, because you wouldn’t have to deal with the weather elements,” explains Matt Hoy, now senior vice president of operations for the Twins, who worked in communication with the producers for the film at the time.
However, not everything was filmed in the space. “Our clubhouse at the Metrodome wasn’t big enough for the players, much less to try and get cameras and other people in there,” says Hoy. The production had to build a newer, better facilities on a soundstage in Energy Park.
Once the movie had a setting, parts of the script needed to be reworked to fit the Twin Cities. Rewrites added Minnesota-centric moments in the movie, including fishing on Minnehaha Creek and a visit to Valleyfair for Billy’s birthday party.
Little Big League also needed a teenage actor who could anchor the story.
For Luke Edwards, it was just another audition. “I was just a kid auditioning around town at that time, and I was just sent some sides, and went in to read, and they liked me enough to bring me back,” he says.
Edwards was just 13 at the time. “We traveled around to some of the different ballparks around the country,” he says. “We were taking over the whole ballpark. That’s pretty crazy as a kid.”
The cast also includes some big names. Timothy Busfield, only a few years removed from his Emmy-nominated role on Thirtysomething, was cast as Lou Collins, the Twins’ star first baseman. Billy’s grandfather, Thomas, is portrayed by two-time Academy Award winner Jason Robards. Character actor Dennis Farina plays George O’Farrell, the incorrigible manager whom Billy fires before taking over the job himself, and Jonathan Silverman, best known for Weekend at Bernie’s, plays goofy reliever Jim Bowers.
Other actors would go on to bigger roles after the movie. Ashley Crow, who plays Billy’s mom, had a recurring role on the TV show Heroes, and, perhaps most notably, Scott Patterson, recognizable as Luke Danes in Gilmore Girls, plays starting pitcher Mike McGrevey.
Patterson had spent seven years pitching in the minors, parts of five of them at AAA. But that’s not why he was invited.
“I was a fairly accomplished actor on stage in New York before I came to L.A., so I was called in for my acting chops,” he says. “They discovered my pitching prowess the day of the baseball tryouts and they were pretty shocked.”
He was even offered a contract by a St. Louis Cardinals scout during the baseball rounds of the audition, but turned it down.
The movie also features cameos from quite a few Major League Baseball players, as well as Seattle Mariners manager Lou Piniella and ESPN personality Chris Berman. Former Twins announcer John Gordon appears as the obscure-stats-obsessed announcer Wally Holland.
“Ken Griffey was so kind to me,” Edwards recalls. “He was so friendly and very giving and warm.” The lanky flamethrower Randy Johnson was a somewhat different story. “That’s not just an on-field persona; he’s a pretty intimidating character in real life. He was friendly and everything, but that’s just naturally who he is.”
While Andrew Scheinman directed the film, a lot of the actual baseball action was handled by Bill Pohlad. Pohlad, part of the family that owns the actual Twins, is now an accomplished Hollywood producer of movies like Brokeback Mountain and 12 Years a Slave. For Little Big League, he worked as the second unit director.
The biggest challenge for shooting the baseball scenes was that the movie needed to be filmed while the Twins played on the road. “You have to go to the stadium when nobody’s there,” Pohlad says, “and then you’re picking angles and things that maybe don’t require thousands of people in the background.”
There was one sequence in the movie that needed the full stadium treatment, however. At the end of the film, after—spoiler alert!—the Twins lose to the Seattle Mariners in a one-game tiebreaker, Billy gives his final inspirational speech to the players. As Billy and the team head back out to the field before the credits roll, there’s a shot of a jam-packed Metrodome.
To make this happen, they filmed during a real-life fan appreciation night. “We came out and that’s a real crowd,” remembers Edwards. “It’s really kind of nerve-racking.”
Little Big League eventually finished the year in 99th place at the box office, sandwiched between the little-remembered films Greedy and 3 Ninjas Kick Back. Regardless, people still love the movie today.
“Twenty-five years later, people are still talking about something I thought of while driving,” says Pincus. “It’s just remarkable.”
In 2014, the Twins invited Edwards to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at Target Field. “A lot of them were fans of the movie,” he says of the Twins players he met, “and that was incredible. These pro ballplayers, they’ve got these fancy-ass lives. But I could see this sort of appreciation in their eyes for it, this sort of childlike appreciation for the film, and that just blows me away.”