STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Joe Manganiello is no stranger to Pittsburgh sports. A Mt. Lebanon native, he makes it back often to check up on his favorite teams. He also has ties to the community, spending considerable time at Children's Hospital, where he sits on the board of trustees.
I had the chance to talk to him today about his new film, Bottom of the Ninth. In the picture, Manganiello plays Sonny Stano, a can't-miss baseball prospect who winds up serving a 19-year jail sentence for a mistake made as a teenager. Now released, Stano goes about putting the pieces back together as baseball and a lost love come back into his life. You can hear the full interview on my podcast, The Buccocast, below.
Manganiello let me in on what he thinks constitutes a great sports movie.
"I think baseball movies are unique, and certainly this story could only be told in a baseball movie." he began. "There's something mythic, or something magical about baseball movies, for whatever reasons. Field of Dreams and The Natural being two that spring to mind."
[caption id="attachment_858435" align="aligncenter" width="584"] Joe Manganiello plays Sonny Stano in 'Bottom of the Ninth' - BWR PR[/caption]
"If you look at baseball movies, I think a lot of them are about redemption. If you look at The Natural, it was about redemption, I think Major League in many ways is about redemption ... the simplicity of Bull Durham, when Crash breaks the home run record and no one is there watching ... there's something simple about that that gets the point across. Nothing captures the magic of American sports the way baseball does."
Manganiello threw himself into preparing this role with endless batting practice, and modeled his baseball swing after someone you might not expect.
"I went back to Bo Jackson, who was one of my heroes growing up," he said. "Bo had a big leg kick before he swung. And, a lot of those guys back then had that big leg kick. If you watch my swing, I modeled it after one of those late '80s/'90s big home run power hitters. That was actually something I really thought about a lot."
I couldn't let Joe go without getting some thoughts on the current states of our city's three professional sports franchises. We started with the Pirates, and he did not hold back.
"It's heartbreaking, if I had to choose a word," Manganiello said. "It's hard to root for a team that ... on an organizational level isn't committed."
"That's not to say that we don't have great pieces right now, and that there aren't some great players. It is a fun team to watch, it's just that I want a team that's committed to winning and I think that starts at the top."
On the team's other franchises, Joe firmly believes that the Penguins' championship windows are still open.
"As long as you have Crosby, you have a chance." Manganiello said about Pens captain Sidney Crosby. "And I think he's going to be top shelf, pardon the pun, until he stops playing."
It was then that our conversation turned to another of Manganiello's passions: Dungeons and Dragons. Time for me to raise my hand and out myself as a closet nerd who played his fair share of D&D growing up. I couldn't resist the urge to ask him about character alignment. Please do consider taking some time to geek out and learn about it, but in a nutshell, this refers to which side of the spectrum of good and evil (and in between) your character lands on. I gave Manganiello some recent Pittsburgh sports figures, asking him on which side of the alignment chart he thought they landed on. Here's how he saw it:
On Crosby: "Lawful Good. He's the Paladin if you're playing Dungeons and Dragons. The knight."
On Antonio Brown: "Man. So you know, I was friends with Antonio. And he was such a humble, great, hard-working young guy when he first came into the league. But to me, he's turned 'oathbreaker,' if you will. He was that Sidney Crosby-esque just, you know, great, hard-working dude ... but on his way out the door became Chaotic Evil."
Manganiello added "You know, I just think, [Steelers GM] Kevin Colbert, how can you go after that guy? He's maybe the nicest guy in the entire world. He turned villain. That's my final answer."
On Evgeni Malkin: "He's like ... oh God ... I would put him in the neutral range somewhere, but, no... maybe he's Chaotic Good. He's a good guy, but maybe a little wilder than Sid."
On Andrew McCutchen: "Oh man! McCutchen is one of those Lawful Goods again, one of those stand-up guys. Such a boon to this city."
Throughout the entirety of our conversation, Manganiello's love for the city of Pittsburgh shone passionately through the affection heard in his voice while talking about his teams and his city. The man knows his sports, which should make his latest film ring as true to baseball as one might think.
Bottom of the Ninth is playing at the historic Harris Theater on East Liberty Avenue. For ticket info, please visit the theater's website or call 412-681-5449
HEAR THE FULL INTERVIEW:
To continue reading, log into your account: