Minor League slugger finds opportunities for himself in entertainment
By Josh Jackson / MiLB.com | January 3, 2017 10:30 AM
Two days following the 2016 presidential election, Cody Decker stood before a crowd of four dozen people at a West Los Angeles bar and recited some stats.
"Hillary: 0-for-2; Decker: 0-for-11," he called. The room erupted in applause, hoots and hollers.
The meaning of the first number was obvious to all. The second referred to Decker's hitless eight-game stretch in the Majors with the Padres in 2015. (He did record an RBI.) This was the beginning of "Antihero Trivia" -- a multimedia pub quiz Decker has produced and hosted off and on since he was in college. "Hillary: 0-for-2; Decker: 0-for-11" was a team name, and it received louder cheers than any other that night.
"You're all dead to me," he told the audience. "Most of you don't even get that."
Nonetheless, "Hillary: 0-for-2; Decker: 0-for-11" won the best name prize, a package Decker described as "a box of a bunch of useless [stuff] you do not want," which included a "bobblehead of baseball player Cody Decker" (which Decker signed upon request from one of the winners), a WWE action figure, a VHS copy of Mrs. Doubtfire and a bottle of tequila.
That box was a reasonable microcosm of what one can expect at Antihero Trivia. It's a pop-cultural hodgepodge with a dose of adult-oriented mischief. But hosting a trivia night is just one of Decker's off-the-field entertainment endeavors. The corner infielder and outfielder, who belted 19 homers while splitting 84 games between three systems this year, has had an interest in showbiz even before his days starring on the stage at Santa Monica High School, the alma mater of Rob Lowe, Sean Penn, Maya Rudolph and other Hollywood luminaries.
"I have a lot of fun doing it," he said, "and it sounds funny -- Jenn [Sterger, a comedian/actress and Decker's fiancée] hates it when I say it -- but I actually am a trained actor. I grew up learning the Stanislavski method. I was a Stanislavski method actor for six years."
He was also a standout on the diamond, of course, and he played four years at UCLA before being drafted by San Diego in the 22nd round of 2009. Because of the demands of the Bruins' baseball program, he majored in history and settled for a minor in film.
"They wouldn't let me into the film school. I was like, 'I have a sterling resume,'" he said. "Looking back, at UCLA or at any Division I baseball program, I never would have had the time to do that. If I'd tried, I would have ended up in a mental hospital after my fourth nervous breakdown. At the time, I was heavily offended. Now I totally understand."
How could he not? He's tried to nurture an acting career since turning pro, but his year-round dedication to improving as a ballplayer has kept him from considering the entertainment field as anything other than a side gig.
"Most Minor Leaguers need some jobs on the side. It's a very unique backup," he said, adding a crack about Hollywood beauty standards. "I'm not as handsome as I once was, but I still have the strong jawline. And I have to stay large and muscular for baseball."
"The entertainment industry requires a tenacity only lifelong Minor League Baseball players know."
-- Cody Decker
Initially, he thought he'd be able to focus on acting and making movies during the offseasons. To some extent, at least some years, that's worked. Players do have more free time from November to February or March than they do during the spring and summer months, but...
"Not as much time as you might think," said Decker. "My offseason is almost entirely dedicated to getting ready for the next season, especially right now as a free agent. I'm doing as much work as I can. I still write. I still do odd jobs. I still do my entertainment stuff as much as I can.
"I don't want to take my eye off the ball. The last thing I've wanted is for other people to think I'm distracted," said Decker, who spent time in the Royals, Rockies and Red Sox systems in 2016. "I've heard in the past from shortsighted individuals that it's perceived as a distraction. I said, 'It's not a distraction.' He said, 'I know, but it can be perceived as a distraction,' and I said, 'Well, that's absurd.'"
It's no secret that the Minor League life involves lots of down time in-season, no matter how hard a player works, and the Santa Monica native has been able to do some entertainment-related work while on a roster. For one thing, he's been known to amuse teammates with his trivia shows on bus rides, hooking a DVD into the main multimedia system.
"That is a distraction," he joked. "It's a distraction from a brutal eight-hour bus ride. I've always done that on bus rides. We have fun with it."
It was also during downtime with the team that Decker created some of the most well-known short films that stream on his YouTube channel. One of them, On Jeff Ears, is a 2014 documentary about an elaborate, month-long prank on then-teammate Jeff Francoeur. It's been seen nearly 1.5 million times.
Another hit, Brad (2013), also played with the documentary form, telling the story of a visit to the Triple-A Tucson facilities from Brad Ausmus, who at the time was a special assistant in the San Diego front office. That film was noteworthy because it showcased Decker's ability to direct not only non-actors but also inanimate objects. A cardboard cut-out played the part of Ausmus.
Decker revealed to MiLB.com that a Brad sequel is in the works.
"I have about three things written, ready to go. I will tell you, I have Brad 2 ready to go. I was going to work on it, but I'm going to Israel with the team [ahead of the World Baseball Classic]," he said. "I have another movie about the offseason -- Brad 2 is about the offseason -- but the other thing is just a matter of whether or not I can convince another guy to do it. It has a part for a guy who's a little more famous than me."
In addition to creating his own entertainment work in and out of the season, Decker looks for industry opportunities as often as his schedule allows, sometimes auditioning for commercials and TV roles. He's been a guest on the LA-based radio show "Mark in the Morning" and has appeared in videos for Screen Junkies, the online movie magazine. Last year, through his friendship with producer and director Joe Carnahan, he landed a small one-time role on the TV show State of Affairs, playing a security guard who perishes in an explosion.
"Joe called and said, 'I've got a role for you. Let's see how you do,' and I killed it," Decker said. "Literally, pun intended. I had a great time doing that. As small as it was, it was great to be on screen. It'd be great to get on screen again. I have a beard right now, and I want to shave, so I'm hoping somebody will give me a reason to shave."
But this offseason, after a winter ball stint in Venezuela and between training and travel with the Israeli WBC team, appearances with Screen Junkies and his trivia show, Decker hasn't had a lot of time to hunt for Hollywood work. There may come a point when he focuses on acting and filmmaking with the same intensity and dedication he currently gives to baseball, but he doesn't see it happening soon.
"I love this game. I love playing playing baseball. I would love to [devote more time to acting and filmmaking], but I can't sit here and say that's what's going to happen," he said. "I wish I could meld the two after I'm done playing, but I've got some years left. I hate even saying that, because it makes me sound older. I'm not a 35-year-old Crash Davis who's been in the Majors a lot. I'm 29. I have a lot more years, and I have some really big years left in me.
"You're always thinking about it, because if there's one thing playing pro baseball has taught me, it's that you need a backup plan, and your backup plan needs a backup plan, and your backup plan for your backup plan needs a backup plan. There's no such thing as a sure thing. There are no guarantees. [Playing in three organizations] this last year has taught me that."
If the day ever comes when showbiz does take center stage in Decker's life, he'll have a wealth of relevant experience -- and not just from acting, filmmaking and hosting gigs.
"You learn by failing. It's like baseball. You're not going to be a better hitter by doing great. You get to be a better hitter by going 0-for-10 and learning from it. That's how you build, and it's no different in film," he said. "The entertainment industry requires a tenacity only lifelong Minor League Baseball players know. It's hard work. It takes endless perseverance just to get anywhere."
That's one attribute Decker undeniably has in spades, even as it's often overshadowed by his sense of humor. Antihero Trivia will continue at Bru Haus on Wilshire Boulevard on Jan. 19 and run through the end of February, and Decker will be on the lookout for other opportunities.
"It's all odd jobs," he said, keeping his mind fixed on his ultimate goal. "I want to get back to the big leagues, badly."
Josh Jackson is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @JoshJacksonMiLB.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.