'42' Opens Friday

Former Newnan High player earns role in Jackie Robinson film

by Alex McRae

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Alex McRae

Former Newnan High baseball star Luke Large was chosen from more than 450 applicants for a role in the new Hollywood feature film “42,” which opens nationwide Friday.

Baseball has been at the center of Luke Large’s life since he was old enough to lift a bat and toss a ball. 

But Large never dreamed that his love for the national pastime would lead to a role in the Hollywood feature film “42.”

Subtitled “The True Story of an American Legend,” the film chronicles the personal and professional life of Jackie Robinson, who was the first African-American to play Major League Baseball.

The film opens nationwide next Friday, and Large hopes big crowds turn out to learn more about Robinson and the struggles he endured to change not just a game but a nation’s attitude about race.

“Before this opportunity came along I didn’t know a whole lot about Jackie Robinson, but I knew what he fought for and how much he changed things,” Large said. “He actually opened the door for heroes of mine like Hank Aaron. I think if I’d have been alive back then I’d have fought for civil rights, too. That’s just how I am.”

Large hit the local baseball scene big time when he was a starting pitcher for the Newnan Cougars. When he wasn’t on the mound, Large played infield and outfield so the Cougars could take advantage of his bat.

Coach Joe Pope, for whom the NHS baseball field is named, had enough confidence in Large to start him as a freshman in 1994.

“I know what it’s like to play for someone who believes in you,” Large said. “In return, players respect those types of coaches for allowing them to play worry-free. Baseball helped me obtain a college degree that I would not have been able to accomplish without a scholarship.”

After graduating from college Large served as an assistant baseball coach at Newnan High before starting two businesses he runs today.

One of those businesses, Naturals Training Center, offers personalized coaching and fitness programs to young athletes.

Large says his other business, Batter Up Pest Control, helps subsidize the Naturals Training Center. “That lets me concentrate on the athletes and not the bottom line,” Large says. “It’s a good situation.” 

Some of Large’s students make up two teams of 10-year-olds that compete in USSSA tournaments as far away as Florida during the summer.

Large says none of his baseball experience prepared him for a taste of Hollywood.

He learned about the movie when a friend of his wife, Katie, called to say movie producers were looking for baseball-playing extras to appear in a new film about Jackie Robinson to be shot in and around Atlanta. The film company was only looking for players with college or professional experience. Large fit the bill. In early spring 2012 he showed up for his first casting call at an office/ warehouse complex near midtown Atlanta.

First, he posed for a picture and filled out an information sheet. Large did well enough to be called back for a second phase of the audition process just days later. 

Those competing for parts first auditioned at different baseball positions. When the call came for outfielders, Large joined the crowd and completed the audition, which consisted of throwing from the outfield to second base, third base and home plate.

Large made the outfield cut and when the call went out for infielders, he stepped up again. He says he got some strange looks from producers but made the infield cut, too. When he walked out for the pitching tryouts, someone finally asked him what position he really played. He honestly answered that he could play them all, not knowing how valuable that versatility would be.

A total of 450 hopefuls started the tryout process. The first day, that number was cut to 135. The next cut reduced the number to 50. A final cut left only 30 extras standing. Large was among them.

“They knew I could fill in anywhere they needed me, and that really helped,” Large recalled.

Most of the extras are seen only in deep background or in passing. Large, who plays the first baseman for the Philadelphia Phillies, is a big part of two scenes, including one where he tries to pick off Robinson during an attempted steal. 

He says it was fun, but hard work. To film that pickoff scene, Large spent eight hours in the broiling sun dressed in period leather cleats and wrapped in a stifling all-wool uniform.

“It was hard work, but I really enjoyed it,” he says. “It’s an opportunity that may not come by again.”

Large has seen a few brief movie clips, but not the whole film. That will change Thursday when a special screening of the film is held in Atlanta for cast and crew members, including Large.

“I can’t wait to see it,” he says. “I think it’s going to be great.”

Large knows the Jackie Robinson story is important, and not just from a baseball point of view.

“Jackie Robinson, along with his wife, Rachel, and Branch Rickey (Brooklyn Dodgers executive), are three individuals that I find personal strength from in my daily life,” Large says. “We can all learn from their willingness to meet the challenge with a humble heart during a  journey that at the time was the first of its kind.

“If I can help athletes develop a successful work ethic while dieting on humble pie, hopefully doors will open for others like they have been opened for me.”




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