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Remembering Jackie Robinson, the film 42, with C.J. Nitkowski

Every year on April 15, Major League Baseball honors the memory of Jackie Robinson who broke the color barrier when he took the field in 1947 for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Since 2009, every player wears the number 42 on this date, evoking Robinson's former Dodgers teammate Pee Wee Reese who told him, "Maybe one day we will all wear 42. That way they won’t be able to tell us apart.” C.J. Nitkowski played his high school baseball in Bergen County at Don Bosco Prep, went to St. John’s University in Queens, and then enjoyed a lengthy MLB career that included pitching for both the Mets and Yankees. He played the role of Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Dutch Leonard in the 2013 movie 42 about Jackie Robinson. Currently a broadcaster for the Atlanta Braves, C.J. spoke with Jim Monaghan back in 2013 when the movie came out. They talk about the making of the movie, re-creating Ebbets Field, and yes, those old wool uniforms were VERY uncomfortable. C.J. Nitkowski on WDHA  April 2013 [audio mp3="https://wdhafm.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/26/2024/04/CJ-Nitkowski-4-14-13.mp3"][/audio]   INTERVIEW EXCERPTS C.J. Nitkowski On the Filming of 42 JIM MONAGHAN - You figure very prominently in the movie 42, which my wife and son and I saw last night in a game between the Phillies and Dodgers that takes place in Ebbets Field in the spring of 1947. You are the Phillies pitcher Dutch Leonard and not to give anything away for anyone who hasn't seen the movie, but the Phillies manager at the time, Ben Chapman, is so over the top in his verbal assault on Jackie Robinson. And as we're sitting in the theater, you could hear a pin drop as this is all going on. I was wanted to ask you, what was it like to be filming that scene and to have a man screaming these racial comments towards Jackie Robinson or the character playing Jackie Robinson? C.J. NITKOWSKI - Well, I tell you, you think about, like you said, for those who haven't seen you don't want to ruin it, but for those who have and you've seen the scene, it's pretty jarring. And so just think about that. So you only have to see it and hear it once. Basically, his rants, you go through it once. Now, when you shoot a movie, which I've now learned, I've never been on the movie set before, but everything in its regards to how could you do it is going to be between four and six takes and they're going to do it from a handful of different angles. And so we shot that scene and I was standing on the mound like he was out in the dugout, probably for about six hours. And so we heard that nonstop for that day. And it was for me out there for about 10 days shooting. It was certainly the most awkward day to be there on set and to listen to that consistently, especially with the, you know, with the sincere hatred and anger behind it and to see an actor who knows what he's doing to really be able to dig deep and bring that out. And so to have to listen to that all day was extremely uncomfortable. And at one point, one of the makeup ladies was standing next to me and she said, "I cannot wait for the day to be over." And it was just, it was just that bad. It was just a long, long day and really uncomfortable. And I think the only benefit to it was that it, you know, for this generation and a couple of generations, I mean, we're almost on the seventy year anniversary mark now is that you can get a little bit of taste of what it's really like. And you can read stuff all day long, but to actually see it and hear it, especially at that level was, I guess, interesting to say the least. Chadwick Boseman Portraying Jackie Robinson JM - You watch the young actor who plays Jackie Robinson, Chadwick Boseman. And as I'm looking at the expression on his face as the character playing the Phillies manager is just one racial remark after the other to him. And I'm looking at this kid's face and I'm thinking, what's going on in your head right now as you're playing Jackie Robinson? CJ - He did a great job. And that a really good job was a huge break for him. And I, you know, I'm thinking now that I tell you what, I was surprised with the mood was how much they brought Jackie's personality out. I think Chad did a really good job with that. It was, you know, I kind of expected it was going to be really serious, especially after shooting that scene, but there was more lighthearted moments with him. And I think he did a really good job of capturing everything, not just the seriousness and dealing with the heavy racial epitaph, but also, you know, the lighter side of Jackie too. And I thought Chad would that really be, but did a really good job with us. Major League Baseball As a Business JM - Harrison Ford plays, Dodger President and General Manager Branch Rickey. He's tremendous in it. And you really get an understanding for what a shrewd businessman he was. This was a business decision that he made as much as it was a sense that he needed to get baseball integrated. CJ - Yeah, absolutely. I think anybody who's played or to put that matter in your hands, if you've ever been suspicious of your owner or you want to think he's a good guy or doing the right thing, at the end of the day, it's about making money for these guys. They're not in the baseball business to be a nice guy. And I think that's continued from generation to generation. Not much has changed. I think the bottom line for him, yes, I think there was some motivation to maybe, I don't know if I want to say change the world, but kind of throw in baseball's face a little bit. But, you know, if Jackie Robinson wasn't a good player, Branch Rickey wouldn't have been interested. There was some motivation there. It wasn't that people were just trying to do a nice thing and break the color barrier. He actually wanted to win baseball games and you win baseball games to make more money. JM - There's another very poignant moment in the movie. The scene with the father and the young boy, I guess he's between the ages of 10 and 12. So he was about the age of my son and I guess your son's what, 13 now your oldest? The scene with the father and the son are talking about baseball and it's this iconic classic American moment - dad, son, watching the game, reminiscing, and all of a sudden the dad starts yelling at Robinson and the kid looks over at him. And the kid repeats what he's just heard. I'm watching that little, that young boy's face and that iconic moment all of a sudden becomes extremely ugly. CJ - It sure does. And I think that, you know, you can take away from that scene as a dad that sometimes it's easy to forget how much your sons look up to you, how much they are going to follow your ways and do things the way you do them, say things the way you do them. You know, I was watching that moment. I wasn't really sure how the kid was going to react. They did a really good job of kind of leading up to that. You know, what was this scene going to be about? What this did was portray how, as a parent or anybody in a leadership position, if you're not careful about how you handle your business, you're going to be leading other people down the wrong path. So I thought it was really a poignant moment made a lot of sense and made you think a little bit about reverse, how serious, how you talk in front of your kids and how much they actually listen and take it in and they're willing to copy your behavior. Recreating Ebbets Field JM - The scenes at Ebbets Field where your character pitches, I can't get over how well they recreated Ebbets Field. You'd swear it was still standing. CJ - Yeah, it was great. I mean, you know, for me, we didn't get to see it until the actual movie was out. I got to see a screening two weeks ago with the Atlanta Braves. And that's because we're basically filming at an old Chattanooga field where I ran off as why I started my career, historic Engel Stadium down there in Chattanooga, Tennessee, which had been closed and run down. The only thing that was real there was the scoreboard. They had actually replicated the scoreboard in right field, which was really cool, but the rest of it was just green screen. So as much as it was fun to put on the old, old uniform and feel like an old time baseball player, you didn't really feel like you were in Ebbets Field until you actually got to see it on the movie, which was for me really cool. Those Old Wool Uniforms JM - Did those old wool uniforms itch as much as players used to say they did? CJ - Miserable. So we had to wear them longer than players did. We shot sometimes up to 14 hours a day. And it was hot, you know, it's June and Tennessee. By the third or fourth day, because what they were doing is they didn't want to watch the uniforms because they don't, you know, the following scene is all of a sudden you got a brand new clean uniform on, but really it's later in the game. So I just, I think that just made it worse by the third, fourth, fifth day. Oh my goodness.  But they were heavy. They were uncomfortable. I mean, we were wearing everything period. The spikes, I mean, the spikes were, you know, built for guys. They were, you know, probably on average, five foot eight and weighed 160 pounds. You know, here I am at, you know, six foot three at about 215. And these shoes have just absolutely no support. So your feet are killing you using this old glove. You know, not that I'm in any position to complain, because I would do it again in the heartbeat.  It was so much fun, but there were certainly some moments where it was very, very uncomfortable.   IN CASE YOU MISSED IT - Jim Monaghan and Chris Swendeman discussed the alarming increase in baseball arm injuries last Friday on the Two-Minute Drill. [select-listicle listicle_id="778310" syndication_name="madison-njs-dan-buckelew-2024-boston-marathon" description="yes"]

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