BUFFALO, NY (WIVB) It was June of 1984 when the movie ‘The Natural’ made its debut. Two thirds of the iconic baseball movie were filmed in Buffalo. Western New Yorkers are celebrating the 35th anniversary of the movie by sharing their memories about what an impact it had on the area.
Aside from being lifelong friends, and making a career out of playing and working with baseball, Buffalo Bisons color commentator Duke McGuire and official scorer, Kevin Lester both appeared in the iconic baseball movie.
“It was a great experience. I got to meet a lot of cool people,” said McGuire, who played number 33, standing right next to the managers in the dugout when Robert Redford’s character hit that famous home run at the end of the movie. “Fireworks came down and that stuff burns,” said McGuire. “They put some burn holes in my hat and everything like that. But that was very cool right there, I mean that was the big home run to win the game and the place goes crazy.”
“I guess everyone’s got fifteen minutes of fame in their lives and that was mine,” said Lester. “I enjoyed every day of it.” Lester played number 20, the catcher, who hands Robert Redford a note indicating his character, Roy Hobbs, has a son.
That famous baseball bat Redford uses all through the movie was actually Lester’s. “Redford liked using that bat. So I went home and I hand sanded the bat down, brought it in the next morning and they put Wonder Boy on it and that bat that he used during the movie was the bat I modified.”
“There were some major motion picture actors and actresses that were in that film that stayed here that summer,” recalls former Buffalo Bisons general manager, Mike Billoni, who notes that Glenn Close, Kim Basinger, Robert Duvall and Wilford Brimley all played roles. “They ate dinners at local restaurants, they stayed in rented homes and were out and about, and what it did for the psyche of Buffalo is immeasurable.”
It was 1983, the same year that Bethlehem Steel announced it will lay off thousands of Western New Yorkers when the Buffalo Bisons Marketing office got the phone call from a movie maker looking for an old baseball stadium like the old rockpile, the former War Memorial Stadium at Jefferson and Best Street. “He asked questions, ‘Do you have a big stadium?’ Yes. Do you have natural grass? Yes.” So he came p here the following Monday and you know we drove down Best Street here and he looked and he’s like Oh My Gosh, we found it, we found it.”
Mcguire was also there for the tour. “I hit some balls over the fence out there, and the guy goes ‘Oh, this is awesome.’ I’m a left-hander like Redford and they were getting camera angles and stuff like that.”
That summer, the movie crew converged on Buffalo shooting several scenes inside the Ellicott Square Building, the Central Terminal, All High Stadium, the Masten Street Armory and Parkside Candy on Main Street.
“Dayton, NY is where the fields and the train scene and the final scene of the movie where Redford is playing catch with his sone, who turns out to be Robert E. Rich III,” according to Billoni.
The biggest scenes were, of course, at the ballpark, and then became harder to get extras to fill the seats of the stadium, they used these cardboard cutouts of fans, according to Billoni. “They strategically put these in the stands with people around them and it looked great.”
McGuire reflects on the impact it had in Buffalo. “Who would have thought 35 years later that they’re still playing that movie. There’s not a day that goes by somebody doesn’t say, ‘I saw the movie the other day, I just saw you last week. It’s on all the time. It’s crazy how that movie is everywhere.”
Billoni feels one of the best quotes was from Robert Redford himself who noted ‘Buffalo is about its people.’ “Really, that’s what everyone who passes through here says is the people are our greatest asset.”
The Natural was nominated for four Academy Awards and generated $47 million at the box office.