He may be a Minor League mascot, but Parker of the Fresno Grizzlies is now a major motion picture star.
"Star" might be a bit of an overstatement, but the rotund yellow bear does have some screen time in Parental Guidance, a family-friendly comedy that opened on Christmas Day and is playing in theaters nationwide.
The film stars Billy Crystal as Artie Decker, a broadcaster for the Grizzlies who still clings to the fading hope of one day getting the proverbial callup to the parent Giants. That dream, however dubious, is shattered early in the film as Crystal gets fired by the Grizzlies for his inability to adapt to an increasingly tech-savvy society. ("We need someone who's wired in!" snipes his boss as he unceremoniously dismisses Crystal after the final game of the season).
Artie's job situation quickly becomes a secondary concern in Parental Guidance, which revolves around a different sort of generational disconnect: The domestic chaos that ensues once he and his wife, Diane (Bette Midler), agree to babysit their three finicky and thoroughly overcoddled grandchildren. The film has plenty of merits in its own right, but fans of Minor League Baseball -- and especially the Grizzlies -- will no doubt delight in the film's opening scene at Fresno's Chukchansi Park. An aerial shot of the sold-out stadium quickly gives way to a montage of typical Minor League hijinx, including a Parker dance routine, the Kiss Cam and a marriage proposal -- all of which is detailed by Crystal with irrepressible gusto before he simply declares "I love my job."
Grizzlies media relations coordinator Chris Kutz explained that the team owes its inclusion in the film to a fortunate local connection. Samantha Sprecher, vice president of development for Crystal's Face Productions, grew up in Fresno and often would drive past Chukchansi Park when she visited her family.
"Once [Sprecher] began working with a baseball-centric movie, one thing led to another and we ended up filming at a game here in 2011," said Kutz, who noted that the film's score was composed by Fresno native Jeff Atmajian.
The scene at Chukchansi was shot on Aug. 27, 2011, during a game the Grizzlies lost to Sacramento, 5-4. The team had been able to extend advance word that the film would be shooting there that evening, and a robust crowd of 12,161 ended up packing the park. Crystal threw out the first pitch in character as Artie Decker and later spent an inning on the radio with Grizzlies broadcaster Doug Greenwald as well as River Cats counterpart Johnny Doskow.
The crew stayed after the game to film a poignant scene of Crystal walking out of the ballpark for the final time, as the stadium lights go dark around him.
"For that scene, [director of event operations] Matt Studwell was in charge of flipping each section of the lights off," Kutz said. "When he went to see the movie, he stayed until the end to see if he'd be listed in the credits and then walked out of the theater with his head down because he wasn't."
Parker was more fortunate, however.
In September 2011, approximately a month after the Chukchansi Park scene, additional crowd and stadium interior footage was shot at Coolray Field, home of the Gwinnett Braves. Parker (or, perhaps more accurately, mascot coordinator Troy Simeon) was flown in for the occasion and does appear in the Parental Guidance credits.
"He has his own IMDb page now," marveled Kutz.
Parental Guidance has been a boon for the Grizzlies, creating buzz around the team in the dead of winter, which certainly isn't an easy thing to accomplish in the world of Minor League Baseball. But, in true Minor League spirit, they're trying to incorporate their newfound Hollywood stardom into a unique giveaway item.
During one scene early in the film, Crystal clumsily tries to establish a rapport with his grandkids by presenting them with bobbleheads that had been made in his honor. Will those Artie Decker bobbleheads one day be part of the Grizzlies promotional calendar?
"We're working on it," Kutz said with a laugh. "[Real-life announcer] Doug Greenwald might not be too happy about it, but it'd be a lot of fun to do."