Oriole Park turns into Indians' playground for 'Major League II' Baltimoreans get lessons in big-league movie-making

October 09, 1993|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

If you film it, they will come.

That was the message last night at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, when about 15,000 presumably temporary Cleveland *T Indians fans crowded in to cheer their team through the climactic seventh game of the American League Championship Series against the Chicago White Sox.

This event occurred not in the service of surrealism, but in the service of fiction, as Baltimore's gem of a ballpark was costumed in Indian blue for a starring role in Morgan Creek Production's $20 million movie sequel, "Major League II."

Filmmakers were looking for authentic crowd scenes to heighten reality in the production -- they wanted a field of screams.

But surrealism was still the rule of the day.

At one point, White Sox catcher and chief villain Jack Parkham swats a majestic homer out of the park and dawdles arrogantly around the base paths to the chorus of 15,000 lusty boos.

Only one thing separated it from reality: No ball was thrown, no ball was hit.

It may not have been Major League baseball, but it was major league movie-making, complete with stars like David Keith (Parkham), an army of production people, a smaller army of police (the ones in the Cleveland uniforms were actors) and "Welcome to Cleveland Stadium," blinking gaily off Baltimore's scoreboard.

Alien names were appliqued to the now-blue walls of the beautiful green yard: "Lou Boudreau 5." "Earl Averill 3." "Bob Feller 18." "Mel Harder 19." Who could they possibly be? Who could possibly care?

Worse, some fans even allowed themselves to be photographed wearing Cleveland Indians caps or made over by make-up in goofy Indian war paint.

"It's just pretend," said Kay Underwood of Catonsville, festooned like an around-the-bend Indians-o-maniac, complete with feathers and dabs of warrior blue on her nose and cheeks.

Ms. Underwood, by day an entirely sober nurse at St. Agnes Hospital -- as well as an ardent Orioles fan -- said she really didn't think she was selling her team down the river.

"It's only a movie," she cautioned. "And besides, I get to see Charlie Sheen."

Worse still, some of the fans were cardboard. In the bleachers, those polite and well-dressed ladies and gentleman were about 3 feet high and one-third of an inch wide; theoretically, the camera, in long shots, won't know the difference.

The production, sequel to a popular 1989 comedy, has been working in the stadium for three weeks, but without crowds. This is the first of four nights with actual humans in the seats, and people who show up are in for a long eight hours of sitting. The vTC production company itself will work until dawn.

Local disc jockeys and wannabe comedians were on hand to keep the fans amused as the crew set up new shots.

"We're kind of like rodeo clowns," said Wes Johnson of WHFS-FM. "We try to keep the bulls happy."

He said he was in it "for the hot dogs, not the money."

The movie recycles most of the stars of the original film, including Mr. Sheen, Tom Berenger, Corbin Bernsen and Margaret Whitten, as well as writer-director David S. Ward. Only Wesley Snipes is not among the repeaters; his role -- Willie Mays Hayes -- is played by Omar Epps.

"This is something I really enjoy doing," said Dennis Haysbert, who plays the charismatic long-ball hitter Pedro Cerrano.

Actor David Keith said that "if you talk to actors, you'll find a lot of guys who'd really like to be professional athletes. There's something electric about making contact with a huge audience."

Meanwhile, up front, Director David Ward was teaching 15,000 Baltimoreans how to be movie actors.

"Whatever you do, don't look at the camera," he cautioned. "The surest way to end up on the cutting room floor is to look at the

camera.

"We have cameras all over the place with very powerful lenses. We can see you no matter what."

The crowd, lured to the ballpark by radio ads promising the opportunity to appear in the movie as well as chances at raffle prizes that ranged from Sony Walkmans to automobiles,

performed reasonably well under the tutelage of First Assistant Director Jerram Swartz.

The crew got its first shot at 7:30 p.m., an elementary cheer as "Our Cleveland Indians take the field." Easy as pie.

An hour later, however, it kept blowing its lines by booing too early on the Jack Parkham home run. "It may be the first time we ever fired a crowd," a production assistant said.

But soon enough, fans got with it.

A good thing, too.

Steve Yeager, the legendary Dodgers catcher who serves as guru and coach for the less athletically inclined actors, said he was pleased that he had been able to impart the jock mentality on them.

"We have fun, kick ass and take names afterward," he said, grinning

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