Oscar season is about to begin (Harvey's 2014 screeners are in the mail) (1); pitchers and catchers are in full bloom. As a guy who produces movies for a living, the former feels about as interesting as Bey and Hova's latest exploits while the latter makes me literally giddy with anticipation.
I've been lucky enough to work and play with some of the planet's greatest actors -- Daniel Day Lewis, Nicole Kidman, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Robert DeNiro (just to name check a few) -- but for some reason, the only time I get goofy is with athletes. I've considered this odd thing over the years: too much peeking behind the curtain? That night Colin Farrell made me listen to his haiku? Or is it just the unabashed fan that's been there since I was a kid? For me, physical prowess and those indelibly clutch moments are much easier to define than a great acting performance. I admired Bradley Cooper's performance in Silver Linings Playbook, but Holy Shit, did you see J.R. Smith's backwards alley-oop? (2).
I never went to film school or lived in LA or dreamed about winning an Oscar; I studied box scores as a kid, grew up in New York and wanted to play short for the Mets. My career path went a different way, but I quickly learned what it meant to be a closeted sports fan; Hollywood is one of the few industries where it's cooler to be gay than into hockey.
When I first started making movies, I finagled my way into the Cannes Film Festival. Words cannot describe how ludicrously glamorous it is. The Hotel Du Cap (3); $40 Bellinis; escorts from countries you've never heard of. The most famous actors in the world gathered in one small hotel courtyard, smoking, drinking and fabulous-ing their way through the French night. It was mildly interesting, generally exhausting and almost fun, and I was already thinking about how to describe this to my crew back home -- the only reason to actually go to these things in the first place (4).
I went to the bathroom and found myself standing at the urinal next to Pat Riley. I remember being star struck for the first time all night and mumbling something about zone defense and my novel way to utilize the 2 guard. He said something involving "inappropriate" and "security" and it went downhill from there, but the die was cast and a sad pattern quickly emerged.
At the Golden Globes I made googly eyes at Magic Johnson. I shoved Cameron Diaz out of the way at an Oscar party to harass Mark Messier. There was an unfortunate incident at one of my own premieres involving Bernard King (5). The list goes on and on and it ain't pretty (6).
Things got worse when I started going to sports-themed events instead of places I should rightfully have been. I dated a lovely actress who had a large following among the, um, male demographic (7). She was invited to present at the ESPY's. As embarrassing as it was, she felt the need to have a talk with me beforehand about behaving myself around my sports heroes. I never got that speech before the People's Choice Awards or the UJA Gala Benefit, but here we were exiting the limo with me properly chastened.
I was immediately put to the test as she gave her first interview on the red carpet. Standing at a distance, holding her purse like all the other insignificant schmuck boyfriends, I found myself back to back with none other than Brett Favre (8). The Lord does work in mysterious ways.
I was about to introduce myself, maybe get a cheesy photo. Brett Freaking Favre! Surely that was worth a night in the doghouse. Trying to time it so that my girl didn't see what I was doing, I realized that Favre was conducting his own interview without even a glance at his interviewer; he was staring unashamedly at my girlfriend's breasts. And when I say staring I'm being kind, he had basically moved in and refurnished the place.
Amazingly, that didn't seem to deter my religious sports fervor one bit. Movie stars are pigs too! (9). I quickly rationalized five minutes later, when I spotted Marv Albert standing by himself -- practically begging me to ask him about Jordan's 55-point Garden explosion.
When we were fortunate enough to attend last year's Giants victory at the Super Bowl, I was essentially muzzled for three days and put on double secret probation. I did manage to get a great shot of Aaron Rodgers coming out of the Maxim party, a look of sheer terror on his face -- had someone forewarned him?
Perhaps my greatest coup would come in the Windy City when I filmed a movie there with the amazing Tim Robbins. Naturally a lot of the talk was about baseball -- Bull Durham being one of the all-time great sports movies (10) and Tim being one of the all-time great raconteurs -- and in a unanimous decision that surprised nobody, my sports dream overwhelmed my moral compass. I called the Cubs and told them that Tim was in town and wanted to come throw out the first ball at Wrigley. I then told Tim that the Cubs had heard he was in town and wanted him to come throw out the first ball. I'm ashamed to say that this ploy totally worked and I got to realize one of my childhood fantasies -- we walked on to that magical, beautiful field before the game. I marched right past the recently traded Cliff Floyd (11) all the PR people with whom I was supposed to arrange Tim's next few hours, and headed straight for the outfield. I walked up to the ivy, immersed myself in the wall, and began to cry. For reasons I will never fully understand, it remains one of the greatest moments of my life. And I've had some great ones.
I'm due in LA next week to speak on a panel for film producers. Though I've spent months preparing my notes and the topic is right up my alley -- How To Recognize That What You're Doing Is The Single Most Important Job a Human Being Can Do -- I'm now seriously considering a detour to Port St. Lucie instead. There are a couple of crucial questions I need to ask Jordany Valdespin...
Rick Schwartz is a Movie Producer and Man in Transition. He is currently fourth on the Mets outfield depth chart.
1. This was posted just eight hours after Ben Affleck officially accepted the Democratic nomination, um, Best Film award for Argo:
2. Holy Shit, seriously? And this guy can't even crack the Knicks starting 5?
3. Hotel Du Cap was famous for years for only accepting cash, generating a fortune for the French mafia. All kinds of famous people would show up for the festival with briefcases filled with tens of thousands of dollars for their stay, no exceptions.
4. I've had the same five friends since I was seven years old. When do you pass the point that it's easier to just continue with your boys rather than meet someone new? Are there any guidebooks for men on this topic?
5. Nowadays you get Alec Baldwin hosting the ESPY's and Bill Clinton presenting at the Golden Globes and it somehow makes sense. Back then it was: What the hell are these people doing here?
6. A lunch meeting at Rao's with Spielberg turned into a chance run-in with Joe Namath, nearly resulting in a restraining order. Not allowed to speak to either one of those fine and talented gentlemen.
7. No, this wasn't nearly as fun as it sounds. Imagine virtually everyone you encounter hitting on your girlfriend -- I remember sitting in the front row at a Lakers game and watching Kobe alternate between paying attention to the game and to the girl I came with.
8. Pre-penis photo still-in-Green-Bay-Brett Favre. Stats that year: 4155 yards, 28 TD/15 INT, passer rating of 95.7. We forget how good he was.
9. Nothing worse than working with one of your heroes and realizing in the first 10 minutes that he's a total douche. Jack Nicholson comes to mind - he spent most of his time on set chain smoking 5 inches away from Martin Scorsese, a famous asthmatic. Stay classy, Joker.
10. Never quite understood the argument here, this is literally indisputable -- and no, Bang The Drum Slowly isn't in the same category. FYI, Forbes magazine has Fever Pitch at #6 on their all-time Top 10.
11. Final year with the Mets: .244/11/44 in 332 AB. He seemed kind of pissed to see my Mets t-shirt and just pissed in general; I saw him years later on ESPN's Broke and immediately felt bad.