Ray Negron's Playball Weekly Blog

Candy Cain’s, HEAVY HITTERS!

“HEAVY HITTERS,” the highly anticipated baseball series from Gemelli Films and director Candice (Candy) Cain set to revolutionize the sport both on and off the screen, has named the soon-to-be All-Star cast. Unlike anything seen before, “HEAVY HITTERS” promises to blur the lines between reality and fiction, with a cast composed entirely of actual baseball players who will not only act but also perform their own batting and fielding.

Casting Director for the series Donna McKenna had her hands full with over 60,000 prospects nationwide submitting for roles and vying for the coveted uniforms. Ultimately, the project was carefully cast with players and actors bringing a life and passion to the diamond that can only be described as “otherworldly.”

Starting the line-up of Gemelli’s All-Stars is Andrew Larkin, who will be portraying Brendan Crane – and Larkin is very excited to see the mechanics of baseball translate onto the screen.

“We’ve all seen particular films or shows recreate a world with a very specific skill set, but it wasn’t truly believable because it didn’t look right. In those times, I can just see people in that field or sport roll their eyes. I believe in the power of storytelling. While we are creating a fictional world, we are bringing truth to it,” Larkin said. “Baseball is a huge part of this story and baseball is what viewers are going to get and fans of the sport will love. I’m excited to see the choices Candy makes as a director to showcase this sport. I’ve seen a lot of baseball films that feel very choppy because they’re constantly cutting back and forth, so it’s easy to bypass. We’ve got actors that can really play ball and I think it’s going to look awesome on that screen.”

Larkin adds that while it’s great having that and stunt doubles in your back pocket, there’s nothing like the real thing.

“As a fan of film and tv, I love falling in love with characters, rooting for them. Knowing an actor is doing everything makes it more exciting to me,” Larkin said. “It’s currently baseball season and I see a lot of kids after a game and I think of them watching a show like this, and then maybe seeing the actor in real life with real admiration. It would feel less authentic if it wasn’t us really playing baseball. There’s nothing like the real thing.”

Stepping into the cleats of Derek Prescott is River Perkins, who said that from the jump, the auditions, and try-outs felt like a combine or a showcase.

“It was a walk down memory lane of getting to go out on the diamond and compete. It was very specific and indeed calculated. It took full concentration on the playing of the game,” Perkins explained. “Director Candice, or Coach in this instance as it really felt, put us in the position of being able to showcase baseball skills and fit into the mold of players. We moved in a timely manner throughout and broke up into positional exercises and were able to step closer into the roles we were being looked at without saying a single line from the script.”

Perkins also noted that the characters may not act alike but they all have one thing in common; they can play ball at a high level.

“It’s not MLB players that are required to get the shots, but it is required to have experienced moving as a baseball player and being mechanically sound throughout the process to reach those real-life baseball shots,” he said. “I believe the mechanics will translate well. That was my sole focus. My fastball was probably coming in around 55mph which those who know, know that is middle school – maybe even elementary level – but I had one job: Throw in the zone, make it look good and let those camera geniuses do the rest.”

Taryn Kelly, known behind the plate as Charlie Tucker, said that, as actors, there are many different ways you can prepare for an audition. Especially in today’s world of self-tapes where you can do something 100 times until it’s perfect – but this wasn’t the case with this unique and special project.

“There was no hiding with HEAVY HITTERS. No memorizing, no prepping, no second chances. We had one opportunity to prove we had a specific skill in front of ten professionals who knew it best,” she said. “You weren’t making it past the day if you didn’t know how to play the game. Not just know it but truly have the mechanics to translate on screen. This entire production is going to be zoomed in on the physicality of the game so if you don’t have the skill, it’s going to show.”

As for Kelly’s experience with Gemelli Films, she said the entire crew was amazing.

“You could tell they’ve been together for a long time and are more of a family than coworkers,” Kelly said. “And Candice is a firecracker. She reminds me of my female college coaches who had such a big role in making me the strong woman I am today. She is passionate, determined, and genuine. She has mama bear energy and makes you feel like you can go to her with anything, which is important in not only a director but a coach.

“Candice handled the audition very diplomatically. We knew exactly what she was looking for from start to finish and was up front and honest. The tryout was organized and she gave every player her time and attention. It was on time; everyone had the same fair shot and she shook everyone’s hands individually and thanked us for our time. The day couldn’t have gone better in my opinion.”

Aidan Dyson who is stepping up to the plate as Frank de la Cruz said that thus far, it’s been like joining a family.

“On phone calls I’ve had with Candy, she has stressed how much this series and this group of actors means to her. She told me that no matter what happens, she’s got our backs. She created a dynamic where if at any point during this process, any of us fall, she’s going to pick us back up. And she’s made it clear that we’re her guys now,” Dyson said. “I fully believe that if I was stranded across the country and needed someone to bring me back home, she’d jump in her car in a heartbeat and make the drive. And that goes for all the guys on this team. It just felt like an atmosphere of support and loyalty throughout. After the first scrimmage, when the camera crew was leaving, I overheard Candy say I love you to the DP (Orlando Fuentes, Jr.) when she gave him a hug. It just feels like family.”

When it comes to the actual experience of HEAVY HITTERS, Dyson said it is going to make him a better player simply because he’s surrounded by people 24/7 who are better at baseball than he is.

“These guys are supremely talented and I’ll essentially never stop learning from them through this process. Along with the coaches that will be present for the filming, it will literally be like being on a real team and studying the game that way,” he explained. “And same goes for acting. If we do our work as actors and make the games and the team mean as much to us as they would if we were really in a pre-draft combine, the work will speak for itself. Acting is the love of my life. It’s everything to me. Now I get to add baseball? Not everyday are you allowed to have two ‘love of my lifes’, so I’m enjoying this process very much.”

According to Ethan Jones who is taking on the role of Erik Robinson, this is his first recurring role on a television series and he can’t wait to grow on both sides of it.

“For acting, I think these moments will be natural for me to find, which will allow me to focus on the character side of things. I’ve played baseball my entire life, and watch pretty much every pitch of every Dodger game, so I know the narrative within the game pretty well and know how it feels to be in those spots,” he explained. “I do mostly theatre and film so my characters are usually pretty one and done, so I’m especially excited to build Erik longer term and hopefully grow with him over the coming seasons.”

Jones added that it was great seeing how many people have familial attachments to baseball.

“For me, it’s my dad. It’s our sport together. I bother him pretty much every day to come play with me, so this will be a much-needed break for him,” he said. “But I feel like a lot of people have a similar relationship to the sport. It’s going to be a very special show for a lot of people.”

Mark Keegan who accepted the role of Ryan Stevens said the audition stood out from many others for reasons.

“Through this experience I realized that there are a lot more actors who are very good at the game of baseball than I ever thought. I was honestly blown away at tryouts. This brings out the competitive nature in all of us, making us want to practice individually to keep perfecting our craft and keep up with each other! The time spent playing together and learning from one another will ultimately will make us better baseball players as well. I also think it’ll improve our acting

in the way that we’ve all bonded through the scrimmage/tryout experience. In a way we feel like we’ve lived through the MLB combine intensity that our characters go through in the show! This experience will translate in our performances for the better,” Keegan noted.

Of course, having a seasoned director who was also a former baseball coach helped make the experience a lot more interesting and exciting.

“Candice’s vision of having real baseball players in the series is SO IMPORTANT. Baseball is a sport that takes a great amount of skill, practice and patience to perfect. The fact that Candice has found people who have a love of both acting and baseball is going to translate beautifully on screen,” Keegan explained. “The players are supposed to be potential MLB candidates, if you have actors who don’t know basic hitting/fielding mechanics, it would greatly hurt the authenticity of the show. Thankfully Candice understands how important it is that we all know the game. The gameplay scenes are going to look so crisp when they come together because it’ll be real gameplay done by the actors rather than stunt people.”

Karsun Barrett, who is batting as Daryl “DJ” Green added that Candice was up front and honest.

“You could tell from the moment she started talking she is very passionate about the show. The audition process was very upfront and honest; you knew what to expect and Candice was true to her word,” Barrett said. “My experience was great; it was very collaborative as we would work together to see what looks best while playing. They tested many different angles, shots, and movements to achieve the best look on camera.”

Barrett also wanted to focus on the fact that the audition was the real-thing – filled with the unmistakable passion of the game.

“This audition was different because we actually played a baseball game and ran through drills.

There was a big focus on the chemistry of the team and the mechanics of baseball,” he said. “This audition felt very hands-on versus other auditions where there is no feedback or barely any direction.”

As for Travis Doughty who is putting on the uniform of Brendan Savage, the audition process has been nothing short of surreal.

“This month-long journey from taping for multiple characters, scrimmaging, and coming back for tryouts has made the end deal of being cast that much more exciting,” he said. “Usually in an audition room, it’s you and the team you’re auditioning for; or more often now, just you in your living room with a backdrop and ring light. So, to come in and be able to be around not only the artistic team, but also the guys trying out, who are all starting to build that sense of camaraderie and competition was something I’m grateful to have experienced.”

Doughty also commented on the crew that worked with Cain to bring the bats to life.

“The Gemelli team was great. It was apparent that this was a passion project for the whole team from the jump, and that passion was immediately infectious for me on the pitch,” he said. “I’m thrilled to be a part of this series, and to be welcomed so thoroughly by Candice and the team at Gemelli. I think as actors, there’s little more you can ask for than to play a role in making someone’s passion come to life on screen, or stage. It’s transparent how much passion is being brought to this project, and that only makes me want to bring my character – and the team – to life that much more effectively.”

Playing the part of Andy Gilroy is Matthew Drinkwater, who will be taking the field with his “mirror twin” John in the role of Ken Gilroy. According to Matthew, in many ways the audition process was like trying out for a team, and Candy was the head coach.

“Candy’s theory, that I completely agree with, is that oftentimes the lack of success and longevity of a sports show or movie (particularly baseball) has a lot to do with the fake nature of what it looks like when actors are trying to fake the sport,” Drinkwater explained. “There is a flow and finesse that baseball is played with and it can’t be faked. As someone who has played and watched a lot of baseball in my life, it is very easy to spot someone who is a baseball player vs one that is not. And because a large part of the callback process is baseball talent related, I think the baseball being played on the show will be so exciting to watch for any baseball fan.”

Drinkwater added that as a kid who grew up on Long Island dreaming about being a professional baseball player and a movie star, this project is truly a dream come true.

“I couldn’t be more excited about the team, the cast and the vision for Heavy Hitters,” he said. “I’m really proud to be a part of making that dream a reality, and I think all the pieces of this puzzle are going to come together to create something very special.”

Joining this groundbreaking project are Adam Huss (General Hospital) and Jason Frederick (A Jar Full of Christmas), two names that are already generating waves in the world of movies and television. Huss, known for his powerful duality and charismatic presence, and Frederick, a defensive powerhouse with a knack for dramatic flair, are set to continue their legacy in both baseball and film. Their inclusion in “HEAVY HITTERS” signifies a bold new direction for sports entertainment, where the raw talent of athletes meets the compelling storytelling of Hollywood.

Cain, the creator of “HEAVY HITTERS,” shared her vision of a series that would showcase the grit, passion, and authenticity of baseball. Unlike traditional sports dramas, this series would feature real games, real plays, and real stakes, with each actor-athlete bringing their A-game to the diamond. The result is expected to be a thrilling blend of competitive sports and captivating drama, with stars being born right before our eyes. “HEAVY HITTERS” is more than just a show; it’s a game-changer.

As the cast was named one by one, the sense of history in the making was palpable. These athletes are set to redefine how we see baseball, not just as a sport, but as a rich connection of human stories, triumphs, and dreams.

“I don’t see myself trying out for the Yankees anytime soon, but it’s always good to build the feeling of a team and go out and compete, scripted or unscripted. There’s going to be very real moments in this series and so many people to learn from,” Perkins concluded. “Having a

leader/director/coach who believes in this project and believes in the team around her makes a world of difference. It ignites a fire around the whole project and really makes you want to go out and perform well. Heavy Hitters 2024! There’s no place I’d rather be.”

Gemelli Films is an independent production company based in Brookhaven, New York. Since November of 2015, Gemelli Films has produced twenty-one feature films, three half-hour series and one short-form series.

For more information, please contact the film’s publicist, Serina Marshall, at dappervisionmedia@gmail.com or (423) 398-1678.

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