Beane's story comes to life in 'Moneyball'

Beane's story comes to life in 'Moneyball'

Beane's story comes to life in 'Moneyball'
OAKLAND -- The bantering -- a charming back-and-forth sequence of witty chatter between an actor and a baseball man -- begins within seconds.

Brad Pitt and Billy Beane have obviously taken a liking to each other, and they've just entered a makeshift press conference room -- otherwise known as the seats in Section 244 at the Oakland Coliseum -- on a pleasant, cloudless day in the Bay on Monday.

Beane, the A's general manager, is at home. And Pitt, who plays Beane in the film "Moneyball," looks at home despite being miles away from his assumed Hollywood life. They're at the ballpark to promote the aforementioned project, which shares the story of Beane's unconventional way of fielding a winning baseball team on a small budget -- visualized through a 2002 A's club that won 20 straight games.

The story, initially chronicled in Michael Lewis' bestselling book -- from which director Bennett Miller drew both the inspiration and title -- is set to hit theaters Friday. It will further exploit Beane's visionary beliefs in computer-driven statistical analysis that was long ignored -- and since, emulated -- by the baseball establishment, showcasing his knack for handpicking undervalued players.

The results of such a formula don't need to be retold, as they've been well-documented. Beane, helped by the aide of Yale-educated Paul DePodesta -- played by Jonah Hill as "Peter Brand" in the film -- fields a team built not just on the strength of aces Tim Hudson, Barry Zito and Mark Mulder, but via complementary players, such as the underappreciated Scott Hatteberg, who hit the walk-off homer to cap the winning streak in a 103-win season.

The A's didn't win a championship that year, demonstrating the flaws in Beane's groundbreaking system. There's no happy ending, and the film doesn't even attempt to create one. Rather, there is seemingly no concrete conclusion -- just an unspoken message surrounding values and perspectives Pitt hopes his audience explores long after the credits have rolled.

"What these guys did at the time, I have great respect for," he said. "I never looked at baseball or sports beyond the fan. I never looked at it in terms of economics, in terms that it's not a level playing field. My feeling is, the best team wins, so these guys had to start asking new questions, had to attack conventional wisdom.

"It's a tough wall to get over, but they had to by necessity in order to survive. They knew if they fought the other guys' fight, they were just not going to compete, and I think that takes incredible realism and incredible smarts to figure your way out of the box. It changes the way we look at things, and I think that's one of the big points of the story."

For Pitt, his baseball career admittedly ended with 18 stitches after he took a popup to his left eye at high noon. Beane's lasted slightly longer as a highly touted Mets prospect who turned down a joint football and baseball scholarship from Stanford, only to watch expectations get the best of him on a Major League field and instead direct him toward a scouting job.

The humbling narrative provides a second storyline in the film, not to mention yet another reason for Pitt to jest with Beane.

"In this story, we have a terrible professional baseball player," he jokes.

"Well," Beane later said, "I was never particularly a great player, but I didn't realize how bad I really was."

The duo's relationship is special, one largely built on Pitt's instant taking to the persona of Beane, who is portrayed as volatile, innovative and not in the least bit intimidated by the big spenders around him. He keeps junk food close by, chewing tobacco even closer and his daughter, Casey, the closest.

"I just felt a kinship to the Billy I read and the Billy I met, and I felt a great fire to achieve that," said Pitt, who carried on with the project even after the original studio halted production.

In doing so, the actor learned a few other things along the way -- "I think he has incredible fashion sense. I enjoy that the most. And hell of a dancer," Pitt said of Beane -- and also garnered a permanent interest in the team he fictionally manages.

"I feel a bit romantic about the A's," he said.

Hill's presence was largely overshadowed by that of his mega co-star, but words weren't necessarily needed, as his genuine excitement for the film and what it stands for was largely apparent on Monday as he sat beside Pitt.

The same could be said of Chris Pratt, who entertains the crowd as Hatteberg. A longtime Mariners fan who spent six weeks to learn how to hit left-handed for the film, Pratt was once unaware of the historic happenings in Oakland. Luckily the "Parks and Recreation" star caught the "Moneyball" bug from his director -- a baseball enthusiast -- and soon felt tears streaming down his face after reading the script.

"I remember coming in thinking this was going to be a baseball movie," Pratt said, "and then walked away so moved, I teared up. I thought, 'This is such a beautiful human story, I have to help tell this story.'"

"I think this was a really peculiar moment in sports history, where there was actually an intellectual moment to be had, and they seized it," Lewis said. "I don't think it happens all that often in such a big way."

Beane remains humble about his feats and has essentially become desensitized to the fact they're being immortalized on the big screen. But the A's executive, who is in the midst of his 14th year at the helm in Oakland, has become quite at ease with his newly gained public face.

"I'll answer that," Pitt said, interrupting with a smile. "He loved it, and he was thrilled to have me."

"How comfortable was I?" Beane said. "Listen, it's Brad doing it. Who's going to complain?"

Both Beane and Pitt took to the red carpet -- turned into a green carpet -- hours later for the film's national premiere at the renowned Paramount Theater in Oakland, where they were joined by a multitude of co-stars, including Academy Award winner Philip Seymour Hoffman (who plays manager Art Howe) and Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. Moreover, there was a strong showing from the current A's squad and a grab bag of guests that included former Oakland infield coach and Rangers manager Ron Washington and agent Scott Boras.

A crowd of several hundred gathered across the street from the theater, combining for loud chants of "Let's go, Oakland!" as celebrities arrived. It marked a triumphant scene for the city and for the team, one Pitt will forever cheer on.

"These guys who were in pursuit of something and would not let it go at any cost," he said. "And they were the same animal at the end of the film as they were at the beginning of the film, but the world around them changed, just shifted a degree or two."

Jane Lee is a reporter for Read her blog, Major Lee-ague, and follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.