Hand, a Corner High School graduate, took the mound at America’s oldest ballpark Wednesday as former Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Fritz Ostermueller while shooting scenes for the upcoming Jackie Robinson biopic “42,” which has filmed in several locations around Birmingham this week.
“I feel like a 12-year-old in the 1940s,” Hand said while taking a break on set Wednesday. “Guys dream of being in a sports movie, and to be involved with something as iconic as Jackie Robinson, it doesn’t get any better.”
Hand described filming in Birmingham and at Rickwood Field as extra special.
“For this to be my first big studio (Warner Brothers) feature film, and to get to film in Alabama, it’s really exciting,” Hand said. “Filming at Rickwood Field is such a thrill. There are so many hall of fame players who have been on this field. Jackie Robinson actually played here. I’m honored to be here.”
A highlight of Wednesday’s shoot was a scene with Ostermueller pitching where Robinson stole home for the first time in his major league career. Hand said his character has a rivalry with Robinson throughout the film, hinting he might even get to throw a few balls at Chadwick Boseman, the actor playing the legendary baseball player.
“It is fun to play the bad guy,” Hand said. “Ostermueller was a hard-nosed guy. He was a veteran player who had been in the league a long time, and he didn’t like change.”
Before landing the role in “42,” Hand, 31, said he had last played baseball as an 11-year-old.
“My agent called and asked if I could pitch,” he said. “I told him, ‘Sure I can pitch.’”
Hand said he went through several weeks of training to learn modern pitching techniques, before several more weeks of learning a more old-fashioned method of pitching.
“I had to get the basic techniques down before I could pick up the old-time way of pitching,” he said. “It’s been a lot of work, but it’s been a lot of fun too.”
While not watching film on Ostermueller specifically, Hand said he has watched hours of pitching footage.
“I’ve been able to see some pitchers from that era,” he said. “I’ve watched a lot of film on pitching since landing the role. I want people to watch the movie and think they are watching a major league pitcher when they see me.”
During Wednesday’s filming, Hand spent time chatting with fellow Alabama native Lucas Black of Speake. Black, who starred in “Sling Blade” and “Friday Night Lights” plays Dodgers shortstop Pee Wee Reese in “42.”
“Lucas is a great guy,” Hand said. “This is also home for him.”
Starring in “42,” but absent from the Birmingham filming, was “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones” actor Harrison Ford who plays Branch Rickey, the Dodgers executive who signed Robinson. Christopher Meloni of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” plays Dodgers manager Leo Durocher but was not expected to be a part of the Birmingham shoot.
The film is written and directed by Brian Helgeland, an Academy Award winner for Best Screenplay (“L.A. Confidential”) who also wrote screenplays for “Mystic River” and “Man on Fire.”
After Birmingham, filming for “42” moves to Tennessee and Georgia. The movie is scheduled to open next April to commemorate the 66th anniversary of Robinson breaking professional baseball’s color barrier.
The title “42” refers to Robinson’s jersey number, the only number to be retired by all of the Major League Baseball teams.