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Thomas Ian Nicholas Looks Back on ‘Rookie of the Year’ 25 Years Later (Exclusive)

Thomas Ian Nicholas initially struck out during his Rookie of the Year audition — but luckily, he was nudged to go out for the role of Henry Rowengartner a second time.

“When I first auditioned, I actually didn’t get called back. I was in the midst of switching agents and my new agent sent me an audition to go for the same job,” the American Pie actor, exclusively tells Us Weekly. “And I was like, ‘I already went on that and they didn’t call me back.’ She goes, ‘Well, they obviously don’t remember you, so go again.’ So I inadvertently auditioned twice. Now you have to understand, they had been searching for people to play that role in L.A. and Chicago and New York. By the time all was said and done, they had auditioned probably like 3,000.”

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Nicholas, now 38, would go on to lead the beloved 1993 baseball movie, which centers on a middle schooler who remarkably becomes a major league pitcher for the Chicago Cubs after he breaks his arm.

The Red Band Society alum starred alongside Amy Morton (Mary Rowengartner), Gary Busey (Chet Steadman) and Daniel Stern (Brickma), who also directed the film. In addition to taking off his cast, one of the most memorable scenes of the comedy was when Henry realized he had been playing with his mom’s old glove — and not his dad’s.

“I remember when I was going to shoot that they had someone on a ladder for my eye line and Amy wasn’t working that day. I look into the stands to look up and say, ‘Mom, it was you,'” the frontman recalls to Us. “So I did the rehearsal and the camera blocking; everything was ready to go and I wasn’t paying attention. And when I looked up, they had put my actual mom on the top of the ladder as my eye line.”

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He adds, laughing: “I definitely got pretty emotional about it and mad at my mom. And she was like, ‘I’m sorry, they told me to do it.'”

Thomas Ian Nicholas on dugout bench with Gary Busey in a scene from the film 'Rookie Of The Year', 1993.
Thomas Ian Nicholas on dugout bench with Gary Busey in a scene from the film ‘Rookie Of The Year’, 1993. 20th Century-Fox/Getty Images

In honor of the film’s 25th anniversary, Nicholas looks back at his time on the field in our Now and Then series:

Us: Does it feel like it’s been 25 years already?
TIN: It does and it doesn’t. I would say sometimes it does, but time also kind of goes quickly. So there’s moments where it feels like it’s yesterday.

Us: Are you actually a fan of the Chicago Cubs or baseball?
TIN: I would have to be heartless if I wasn’t a fan of the Chicago Cubs because we spent a month filming out there on Wrigley back in 1992 when we shot it even though it didn’t come out until 1993. I don’t really follow baseball but I follow the Cubs because of that film. And my wife [DJ Colette] is from Chicago, so I don’t think she would have married me if I wasn’t a Cubs fan!

Us: Was she a fan of the movie before you met?
TIN: She hadn’t seen it before we met, to be honest with you, which was kind of strange. It’s probably why I married her, actually. She kind of watched everything after we started dating because she wasn’t really the target demographic when it came out. Maybe she didn’t know that it was the Cubs actually winning since she had spent her whole childhood watching them lose.

Us: Did you play baseball when you were young? Have a good arm?
TIN: No, when I got the job, I had to learn the mechanics of pitching and everything. So I got a neighbor to go out to a local baseball field and show me the mechanics of throwing so I could learn how to throw 60 feet, six inches. I pretty much had the skills of Henry Rowengartner in real-life when he was on the Little League team, not after he broke his arm.

Us: What initial memory comes to mind when you look back on the film?
TIN: The first time that we shot on Wrigley Field, which was in-between a double header; going out to the mound in front of 35,000 fans and we had 10 minutes to shoot the scene. It was the only time that the stadium was actually full. Daniel got on the mic and he told all the fans what the story of the movie was, and of course, they lost their minds. So they were like, “Wait, you’re making a movie about the Cubs and how they’re going to win the World Series?” When I actually walked to the mound, all 35,000 people were chanting Henry. The funniest part of that story is actually after we left. I guess the Cubs were down in the second game. I want to say it was September 12, 1992, Cubs versus Cardinals. So in the second game when the Cubs were down, the fans started chanting for Henry.

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Us: Was it nerve-wracking filming that scene?
TIN: I didn’t have to pitch that day. I just had to go out to the mound. It was just Henry’s first approach to the mound with a 360 shot, and the coach saying, “Throw the heat” and all that. That’s why I think it sticks out in my mind so much as my first initial memory because there was 35,000 people watching me do something. But as far as doing the film, I just had a great time. As weird as it sounds, I already had six years under my belt as an actor. That was my first lead role in a feature film, so I was super excited, but I had already been taking acting classes for five years and gone on countless auditions and done a handful of jobs.

Us: Have you returned to the stadium since?
TIN: I’ve been throwing out the first pitch every year since 2008. And singing the 7th inning stretch! I’ve been trying to pick a date with them. My schedule has been a little crazy this year.

Us: Have you crossed paths with any of your former costars like Amy Morton or Gary Busey?
TIN: I ran into Amy randomly years and years ago; maybe like 15 years ago at this point. I’ve been hoping to run into her in Chicago since obviously she’s there and still working [on Chicago P.D.]. I haven’t seen Gary since probably like 2002, and I remember I ran into Daniel in 2006 at the Bruce Springsteen concert at Dodger Stadium. He was there with his son, Henry, who he almost hired to play Henry in the film when they couldn’t find the person they wanted.

Rookie of the Year
Rookie of the Year 20th Century Fox

Us: Did you take home any memorabilia?
TIN: I don’t think so. Some of my uniforms ended up in Planet Hollywoods, and that’s about all I guess I could have kept! I don’t have the glove or anything. I wasn’t thinking in those terms. I don’t think memorabilia was in my mind at the age of 12.

Us: At such a young age, was it awkward filming scenes with your love interest?
TIN: No, it was just us having fun. And then obviously Colombe [Jacobsen] went on to be in The Mighty Ducks and she’s done a bunch of other stuff. She still lives in the Chicago area. I think she has a bakery in Chicago, too. I haven’t seen anyone in forever. I would love to, though. It’d be great to run into everyone or have a reunion of sorts.

Us: Where do you think Henry would be today?
TIN: I’ve been pitching [20th Century] Fox, but they’re kind of saying not right now, on the idea of doing a long-awaited sequel. There was this article that Sam Harper, who wrote the original screenplay, did for Sports Illustrated about how Henry suffered other injuries, like a leg injury, and was a kicker for the Bears and took the Bears to the Super Bowl to win. And then hurt his shoulder and was a bowling champion, and then he had a kid. So my idea for where Henry would be now is for the sequel that he would have a son who would befall the same fate and would be drafted by the Cubs.

Us: And obviously you would star in this?
TIN: Yeah, and I would hire my son to play my [6-year-old] son who’s following in my footsteps. He just did his first job on Zooey Deschanel’s show, New Girl. He played Zooey and Jake Johnson’s son on the final episode.

Us: Has he seen Rookie of the Year?
TIN: He loves the movie. I didn’t realize how funny Daniel really was until I watched my son watch the film, and he just thought Brickma was hilarious. Daniel’s a genius. And so since Fox is saying no right now, it kind of works out well. I guess they know that Nolan has to get a little older because he’s only six, so that’d be a little young to be recruited by the Cubs. He’s got to be at least 11 or 12. I figure because it’s the 25th anniversary this year maybe by the 30th we’ll revitalize the sequel and Nolan will be old enough to play Henry, Jr.

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Us: What was your favorite and least favorite scene?
TIN: I did love filming on Wrigley Field. But at the same time, it was really cold and we had to pretend it was warm, so it’s kind of a good and bad memory. I think there are a few scenes that didn’t end up making it in. There’s one that was Henry Rowengartner’s second at-bat because in the National League you have to do two at-bats during the season. They had it written in that Henry went to bat against the Atlanta Braves and then put his bat in one hand and used his pitching arm to hit a grand slam home run, but we never really shot that one. Then one of my least favorite ones we went up to catch the L-train and my friends gave me a rock. I throw a rock that’s faster than the train. [It was a] hollow rock because I had to throw it by a camera and obviously you don’t want to hit a person with a rock. If you’ve ever thrown an object that’s too light, there’s no field of resistance. So that was the beginning of my 12-year-old tendonitis. That was my least favorite take.

Us: What quote do fans recite to you the most?
TIN: The most common is all the mispronunciations of Rowengartner’s last name. Also in that scene when I’m throwing the soap tablets into the washing machine, that’s actually me going “Hen-ry Rowen-gartner.” So that’s my favorite line. Obviously that wasn’t written into the script, but I did that and Danny was like, “That’s cool.”

Thomas Ian Nicholas surrounded by teammates in a scene from the film 'Rookie Of The Year', 1993.
Thomas Ian Nicholas surrounded by teammates in a scene from the film ‘Rookie Of The Year’, 1993. 20th Century-Fox/Getty Images

Us: Is there something about the film you wish was different?
TIN: I guess now I think it’s pretty funny, but at the time I was bummed out. The squeakiness in my voice was something that was designed by Danny and me. Daniel wanted my character to be in that awkward phase of adolescence, and my voice never really did that. I did that a couple of times and Danny went, “Yeah, that’s what you’ve got to do.” So that was all me pretending to have that squeaky voice. When I was singing the Pepsi commercial I wasn’t doing that, and I guess when they saw the film, they said my singing was too good when I was imitating Ray Charles. So in ADR, I had to re-record my voice and make it sound bad.

Us: What’s a piece of trivia about the film that fans wouldn’t know?
TIN: Obviously the Cubs are doing well now and they have a great team, and they have a World Series ring in 2016. But at the time, when the producers went to meet with the Cubs owners — which wasn’t Tom Ricketts back then — they said, “When can we shoot here?” And they were meeting with them in May and they said, “Oh, October.” And they go, “Oh, well, what about the post-season?” And they’re like, “No, you can shoot in October here.” And they’re like, “But what if you guys make it?” And they’re like, “We can guarantee you that you can shoot here in October.” So that’s trivia that no one would ever know. They probably know the other stuff like it was so cold that all the ivy on the wall was dead. The props and set dressing department asked if they could spray paint it, and the Cubs were like, “No way.” So then they ended up bringing in camo netting and hanging it in front of the actual ivy so that the ivy looked green.

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