In Movies & TV

"Mr. 3000" draws similarities to filming of "Major League"

With his grizzled look and trademarked eyeglasses, not to mention surging velocity and dependability in save situations, Los Angeles Dodgers closer Eric Gagne proves a unique and intimidating opponent for National League batters. His confidence and unusual look make him perhaps the game's most feared closer. But you know what?

He's no Ricky Vaughn.

Perhaps better known as "Wild Thing," the offbeat, albeit fictional, fireballer began etching his legacy this week 15 years ago at Milwaukee County Stadium when filming began for "Major League." The Mirage and Morgan Creek motion picture about a team of lackluster ballplayers who win the pennant subsequently won a place in cinematic history as the template for comedic sports film.

"Charlie Sheen was the only baseball player in the bunch," Brewers head groundskeeper Gary Vanden Berg said of the actor who portrayed the visually impaired former prison inmate Vaughn. "Wesley Snipes was athletic but not much of a baseball player; the other actors -- Tom Berenger, Corbin Bernsen -- they were awful."

Vanden Berg, now in his 23rd year with the Brewers, had the chance to meet most of the actors in the now-famous film during the shooting, a cast that included Rene Russo and Dennis Haysbert among the aforementioned actors.

"We had no clue what to expect, Vanden Berg said. "We didn't know how to react to it, how to protect the grounds, how to make their schedules work with ours. Now that we've done it once, I think we have that figured out better."

With Touchstone picture "Mr. 3000" conducting ongoing filming at Miller Park, the experience of "Major League" helps Vanden Berg and the Brewers know what to expect. Among the necessary tasks is assembling a sizeable crowd for in-game footage during an upcoming two-game set against Houston July 23 and 24, as well as extras Fri., July 18 and Sat., July 19 for overnight filming sessions.

Exactly 15 years before the Friday date, Robbin Barnes, now publications assistant with the Brewers, joined many others in the County Stadium stands to help create similar scenes for "Major League."

"There was a guy down there with a megaphone, and I remember he had us doing warm-ups with different types of "the wave," she said. "We did a fast wave first and then a slow wave, then a noise wave. They pumped you up enough to stay enthusiastic."

Barnes, who said she bounced from section to section as people were needed for various camera angles, was surprised at how well received the movie became.

"It turned out a lot better than I expected," she said. "It wasn't a full stadium and the fact that they made it look like a full stadium was really amazing. I remember how I couldn't wait for it to come out."

Vanden Berg said the movie was done over a longer period of time than the two-night jaunt scheduled for "Mr. 3000," and the moviemakers struggled drawing fans for some of the later shoots.

"They were doing all kinds of things to keep people here," he said. "They were giving away refrigerators and they were giving away toasters, during the night to try and keep people here. If you notice in 'Major League,' a lot of their footage of the game is very close -- you don't see a large spectrum of the stadium because the crowd is getting smaller and smaller."

The smaller the crowd was the better in the film's storyline for Rachel Phelps (Margaret Whitton), an exotic dancer who inherits the Cleveland Indians from her dead husband and intentionally fields an abysmal team to justify the organization's relocation to a warmer climate. The collection of has-beens and never-have-beens inevitably win the division en route to capturing the hearts of Cleveland's citizens.

"They made it look as much as they could like Cleveland," Vanden Berg said, noting that several of the stadium exterior shots in the film actually do portray Cleveland's Municipal Stadium despite the producers' selection of Milwaukee for the majority of filming. "They changed the pads to blue and they'd always been green there, and since they changed them they just left them there."

Legendary Brewers broadcaster Bob Uecker, who played disgruntled Indians play-by-play man Harry Doyle in the film, added, "I think they thought the conditions here were better and were similar -- they could paint the booths and the wall and some of the other things to look like Municipal Stadium.

"They gave me the opportunity to do a lot of my own stuff," said Uecker of his role in the film. "They came to me in Chicago, we were playing the White Sox and I met with them and they told me they wanted me to play this Harry Doyle guy and I could do it anyway I wanted. They had a script, and I had the script laying on the floor, so I knew what the scenes were. And then I would do a bunch of ad lib stuff and they would use whatever they wanted."

The collaboration led to a series of quotable moments, including the mention of "Die Hard Night," which promised free admission to anyone actually alive the last time the Indians won the pennant, and the comment, "Heywood leads the league in most offensive categories, including nose hair. When that guy sneezes he looks like a party favor."

"It's nothing different from what I do here (with the Brewers)," Uecker said.

The clever baseball humor is part of the reason Barnes thinks the movie was so appealing.

"I thought it would be cool, and there were very few baseball movies at the time," she said of the film eventually released April 7, 1989 in the United States.

"No way did I think it was going to last," Vanden Berg said. "It's so hard to see what a movie is going to be like when they film it -- it was all out of sequence and painstakingly slow. But the movie was much better than I ever thought it was going to be."

With no shortage of baseball films in today's movie landscape and at least one more on the horizon, "Mr. 3000" will face the challenge of matching the season when players like veteran catcher Jake Taylor (Berenger), injury-minded Roger Dorn (Bernsen), voodoo-practicing Pedro Cerrano (Haysbert) and of course Rick "Wild Thing" Vaughn (Sheen) temporarily called Milwaukee home.

"I think it's a good premise for a film," Vanden Berg said of the upcoming flick. "I hope the Brewers are treated well in the movie…it's a nice storyline and I think people are going to like it."

Crowd scene filming begins at 6:30 p.m. on Fri., July 18 and 8 p.m. Sat., July 19, with extras being asked to stay at least eight hours. Fans wishing to be part of the "Mr. 3000" experience as crowd extras can make reservations at (414) 489-1442, with phone lines open 9 a.m.-7 p.m. during the week and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. over the weekend.

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