ST. PETERSBURG — Fiona Joy was shocked to learn that Babe Ruth practiced with the New York Yankees at Crescent Lake Park in her hometown.
Then again, the 15-year-old St. Petersburg resident laughed, that shouldn’t be shocking.
“I don’t know a lot about baseball,” she said.
Yet Fiona was cast as a baseball television announcer in the movie The Kid Who Only Hit Homers, which is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
“I had to learn enough that I didn’t sound like a robot reading lines,” she said.
Fiona’s father, baseball fanatic Matt Gootson, served as her tutor.
“To teach her to be an announcer, I had her watch Bob Uecker clips from Major League,” he laughed.
“Seriously,” Gootson said. It also helped that the movie is based on one of his favorite childhood books.
“I related to the book because I was a lot like the main character,” Gootson, 42, said. “I was always that undersized gritty player more likely to win the most improved award than MVP.”
The book, written by Matt Christopher and also titled The Kid Who Only Hit Homers, follows Sylvester, a boy who loves baseball but is not good at the sport. With the help of a mysterious stranger named Mr. Baruth, every ball he hits flies over the outfield fence. Will Sylvester learn teamwork or will success go to his head?
The movie is a modernized version of the story. The identity of the mysterious stranger is not so mysterious in the film. He is outed early on as the ghost of Babe Ruth.
And the book, published in 1972, does not have television announcers.
Fiona initially hoped to land the role of Sylvester’s best friend on the baseball team, despite never having played the sport.
“I could have learned,” she said with a giggle.
The producers thought her energy was better suited for the role of Becky Sloan, one of the two announcers. They had her read lines with Jimmy Soos, their top choice for the second announcer.
“Our chemistry was fantastic,” Fiona said. “We had so much fun together from the start.”
Both were cast. For Fiona, it was her first acting role outside of local theatrical productions.
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Filming took place in February 2020. A month later, all Florida productions were suspended when COVID-19 first began spreading throughout the state.
“We just got it done in time,” Fiona said. “We were lucky.”
Her father also feels lucky, but for a different reason.
“She wasn’t into sports, and I wasn’t into anything theatrical,” Gootson said. “It was nice to have this experience that brought the two together.”