Laid off from work, a former Lexington high school baseball standout was looking for job possibilities in the want ads of his morning newspaper, the Birmingham (Ala.) News. He came across a casting call for extras in a movie: Come dressed as a fan circa mid-20th century, it said. When he was a minor- league umpire, Andy Roberts had worked so-called turn-back-the-clock games for the Birmingham Barons. He knew the style the movie makers wanted. He had the time.
Thus, an entry into movie making.
Roberts, who played Little League baseball at Ecton Park in Lexington and later played catcher for Henry Clay High School, is an umpire in the new movie 42, which chronicles how Jackie Robinson integrated Major League Baseball in 1947. He's behind the plate for important scenes that depict Robinson (played by Chadwick Boseman), who wore No. 42, being hit in the head by a pitch and late in the same season (and movie) hitting a home run off the same racist pitcher.
42 is currently playing in theaters.
The movie people hired Roberts as a consultant, showing director Brian Helgeland where to position the umpires and how they made calls a half-century ago.
"Because we're trying to be as authentic as we possibly can be," he said.
Roberts had an advantage over others who came to the casting call. An uncle, Doug Roberts, is a professional actor whose credits include the movie Best Friends (1982)that starred Burt Reynolds and Goldie Hawn. Kathleen Turner tipped a piano out a window and onto Doug Roberts in the movie Serial Mom (1994).
His uncle advised Roberts about how to handle the casting call and a follow-up audition. Once hired, Andy Roberts learned from his uncle that the pay dramatically increases for an actor who has dialogue.
For calling out "Ball one!" and "Ball two!" during Robinson's climactic at-bat late in the movie, Roberts' pay increased from $65 to $1,500 per day, he said. Hence, his billing as "Ball One Umpire" in the credits.
Roberts, the son of Fayette County Attorney Larry Roberts, convinced movie makers to hire one of his former teammates at Birmingham Southern, Brian Hale, as another umpire. During their three days of shooting, they met several actors, including Max Gail ("Wojo" in the 1970 television comedy Barney Miller) and Toby Huss (he played "The Wiz," one of Elaine's boyfriends in the TV series Seinfeld).
When asked about becoming an actor, Roberts laughed. He said he works as a brokerage director for Mass Mutual.
"To me, there wasn't much acting to it," he said. "By no means would I think I'm an actor or pursuing an acting career."
One of the actors, Linc Hand, who played the racist pitcher, complimented Roberts. "He was very good," Hand said. "It's always fun working with people who take it seriously."