THE NATURAL airs on Sunday, Sept 2 @ 5P | 4C. Enhanced version at 8P | 7C.
Robert Redford, at 46, was 27 years removed from his days playing baseball in college, and had to learn to hit and throw all over again. He visited former Yankee pitcher Frank ‘Spec’ Shea’s training camp to work on his pitching motion, and also worked out with a minor league team, taking endless hours of batting and fielding practice.
"Two hours is all we had with ‘Spec’ Shea," said Redford." The throwing came back to me pretty quickly. I’d done so much of it as a kid. But I had to learn the double-pump windup that pitchers used in the ‘20s.”
“When I first started playing ball, about 1946, I used a big Trapper mitt at first base,” Redford recalled. “I’d snag everything one-handed. In 1939, they used those small gloves with the five stubby fingers and no webbing. In the movie, we use the same kind. So just about the first ball hit to me in the outfield, I wave everybody off and yell, ‘I got it.’ It looked like an easy catch. The ball bounced off that little glove and hit me right on the head.”
“It was a very small glove, not much bigger than your hand,” Redford described.
“When the ball would come to you, you’d put that glove on it and that thing went through the fingers… and a couple good bounces on the head taught you to be very careful you didn’t put your glove out in front of your face. You caught it on the side and you took it.”
By many accounts, during rehearsals Redford slammed a few pitches into the upper right field deck of the filming location, Buffalo ’s War Memorial Stadium. Screenwriter Roger Towne confirmed that Redford was a formidable batter in real life. “
It was really a thrill to see Bob hammering that ball,” Towne said. “Seeing him step up to the plate and poke those babies out there.”
“You know, until we made this movie, I hadn’t realized how much I liked coming up to bat,” Redford mused. “I’d forgotten how oddly peaceful it felt. It was great being able to do my own hitting, even hit my own home run.”
David Falkner, “The Actor as Athlete: A Subtle and Complex Portrait,” New York Times, 2/7/88
Ron Fimrite, “A Star With Real Clout,” Sports Illustrated, 5/7/84
The Natural DVD, “When Lightning Strikes: Creating The Natural” Featurette
Peter Rainer, “It’s a Natural,” Vanity Fair, 5/84
Army Archerd, “Redford’s Plans For Future Pics,” Variety, 11/16/83