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'The King of Staten Island' visits the Yankees

Davidson, Burr bond at the ballpark in new Apatow movie
Pete Davidson, Bill Burr and Steve Buscemi on location at a Staten Island Yankees game (Robert M. Pimpsner)
@BensBiz
June 18, 2020

If stadiums received acting credits, Richmond County Bank Ballpark would have one of the most impressive IMDb pages in all of Minor League Baseball. Home of the Staten Island Yankees since 2001, Richmond County Bank Ballpark has been featured in a variety of commercials, television shows and independent movies. In

If stadiums received acting credits, Richmond County Bank Ballpark would have one of the most impressive IMDb pages in all of Minor League Baseball.

Home of the Staten Island Yankees since 2001, Richmond County Bank Ballpark has been featured in a variety of commercials, television shows and independent movies. In 2018, it even made a cameo in the dystopian horror film "The First Purge," but that sliver of screen time pales in comparison to the role it plays in the new Judd Apatow vehicle, "The King of Staten Island." The movie, loosely based on the life of its star, Pete Davidson, features a key scene that takes place during a real-life Staten Island Yankees game.

T.J. Jahn, general manager of the Yankees' Class A Short Season affiliate, said the team usually accommodates between two and four TV or film productions each year. The ballpark's New York City location -- and Manhattan skyline backdrop -- make it particularly appealing to location scouts.

"Usually, how this works is a location scout will call or email us," Jahn said. "They'll come down to the ballpark, take pictures and show them to the director. Sometimes it's the field or stands they want to use, sometimes [the ballpark] underbelly: a long hallway, that sort of thing.

"But this time was different. In January of 2019, we had a meeting with one of our vendors, a representative for a sign company. He came out to talk about signage for the season. He walks in for that meeting and says he ran into Judd Apatow outside the ballpark. He wanted to come in to see the ballpark. Like, what? So we go out and there's Judd Apatow. He had some other people with him. They were scouting locations on Staten Island for a movie they were thinking about doing. There could be a baseball scene in it. So they came in, took some pictures inside the stadium, asked questions and the location manager said he'd be in touch if they wanted to use the ballpark."

Filming took place on July 26, 2019, as the Staten Island Yankees hosted the Lowell Spinners.

At the time, the fledgling film was referred to as an "untitled Judd Apatow-Pete Davidson project." It became "The King of Staten Island," released last week via a variety of streaming platforms (its theatrical release was canceled due to COVID-19). Davidson plays Scott, a depressed and aimless 24-year-old who still lives with his mother, Margie (played by Maria Tomei). Scott's New York City firefighter father died when he was 7, and the specter of his death hangs over the family. Scott's life is thrown into greater turmoil when Margie begins dating Ray (Bill Burr), who's also a firefighter. Scott is hostile to the very idea of Ray, but Ray is determined to win him over and invites him to a ballgame.

"I'm a Yankees' season-ticket holder," says Ray, briefly impressing Scott before adding, "I think it's Staten Island's year."

"Oh, Staten Island Yankees. Minor Leagues," replies a contemptuous Scott, clearly ignorant of the joys of New York-Penn League baseball. He nonetheless agrees to the ballpark outing, which is also attended by a cadre of Ray's firefighter friends (including Papa, played by former real-life firefighter Steve Buscemi). The resulting scene, in which awkward bonding gives way to deep-rooted tension, was filmed over two days and nights at the ballpark. The Yankees were home on the second night, July 26, taking on the Lowell Spinners. The finished product is a hybrid of the two nights of filming, some of it shot during the game itself and other portions shot both before and after.

"With these situations in the past, a lot of the time they wanted to film in December or February," Jahn said. "We'd be shoveling snow off of the field to make it look halfway decent for filming. But for this, they wanted to film during a game, to have it look like it's alive. That comes with its own set of challenges. When they were still fairly early in process, I was pushing them to find a date for when they'd actually want to do it. We wanted to be able to block seats off, so that we didn’t have to move people. We had to block off entire sections, which would be filled with extras.

"On the day where we didn’t have a game, they came in, set everything up and filmed a couple of the smaller parts. Then on the second day, we had the game. We didn't just block off seats. We also had a bunch of suites that we used as a holding areas for the actors or used by different departments. The costume department had a suite and the props department. They all had separate areas to go to during the game to get ready, all that fun stuff. It was a wild ride leading up to it."

Richmond County Bank Ballpark first appears in the film as part of a montage showing Ray's courtship of Margie; an outing at a Staten Island Yankees game is one of their early dates. Ray and Scott's night starts outside the ballpark, in front of the home plate entrance.

"Four of our staff members were hanging around and all four got can be seen handing out programs. That's probably the only time we had four people handing out programs at the same spot," Jahn said. "They also had an on-field host who was an actor, emceeing a between-inning contest. The contestants had to field as many ground balls as they could in 60 seconds. That didn't make it into the movie. They had to film the skit after the game was over because I told them we only had 90 seconds between innings and we couldn't extend that."

Portions of the scene were filmed after the game, with extras playing the roles of players on the field.

Astute Minor League observers will find a few elements of the scene to nitpick. Why was Ray, a die-hard Boston sports fan, rooting against the Spinners, a Red Sox affiliate? And a stray derisive remark about "having to send these guys back to Single-A" is inaccurate, as the Yankees are themselves a Class A Short Season team. (Regarding that first faux pas, Jahn said the script originally had the Yankees playing their interborough rival Brooklyn Cyclones.) But on the whole, the Staten Island Yankees fit seamlessly into "The King of Staten Island's" panoply of local flavor.

"It was fun experience for our staff and our fans. Not a lot of other teams have these things happen," Jahn said. "Judd Apatow, Marisa Tomei, Pete Davidson, Bill Burr, Steve Buscemi -- it was neat to see how they get it done. It changed up a normal game for us, that's for sure."

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.