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'Little Big League' turns 20: A chat with actor Luke Edwards aka Billy Heywood

Sometimes people approach actor Luke Edwards, knowing they recognize him from one of those baseball movies of the mid '90s.

"I can't tell you how many times people have come up to me and made a joke about about my throwing arm," Edwards says, "and I go, 'Oh, that's awesome, but that's another movie.' "

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He's not Henry Rowengartner, the kid with the bionic arm from "Rookie of the Year," He's Billy Heywood, the 11-year-old who inherited the Minnesota Twins from his grandfather in "Little Big League" then made himself manager.

It's not uncommon to confuse the two, the gimmick is similar — kids in baseball situations beyond their years. Both were part of a string of kid-friendly baseball flicks in 1993 and 1994, most of which have come upon their 20-year anniversaries recently.

"Little Big League" turned 20 this week. The Stew already talked about the anniversary with Ken Griffey Jr., whose cameo in "Little Big League" made it memorable for baseball fans of the era. And now, we're talking to Edwards, who we must admit, had it pretty good back in the '90s. Before "Little Big League" he was in "The Wizard," playing a video-game prodigy in a movie rich with Nintendo product placement — including the Power Glove and the debut of "Super Mario Bros. 3."

We asked Edwards, 34, about "Little Big League," working with Ken Griffey Jr., whether he had a beef with Henry Rowengartner and we snuck in a video game question too.
 

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Mike Oz: The All-Star Game is in Minnesota this year, don't you think you should be throwing out the first pitch?

Luke Edwards: Well, I kind of do. I'm actually, going to go out there. I don't think I'm going for the All-Star Game, but I'm going out in some point in July. The Twins asked me to guest-manage a game with a young fan and then also Ronald McDonald Charities is doing an additional event that I'm going to be a part of.

MO: Guest-manage … what exactly does that mean?

LE: I have no idea what they expect from me. I don't think it's actually managing. I've heard that their manager is, I don't know, maybe not the most friendly guy in baseball. So we were thinking about staging an epic dirt-kicking contest. I really don't know what I'm going to do. Maybe it's just hanging out on the bench for a game.

MO: You could, at the very least, do a pitching change. That's easy.

LE: Unfortunately, I have a life-long throwing injury and I can no longer throw a baseball. I can, but I pay for it a week afterward and I might end up looking like 50 Cent out there.

MO: Doctors think the elbow injury that requires Tommy John goes all the way to when some pitchers were young. Maybe you need Tommy John surgery because of "Little Big League."

LE: Yeah, I don't know what that is.

MO: Back to the All-Star first pitch. If Big League Stew started a campaign, would you be in favor of it?

LE: Oh hell yeah. My friend Andrew tweeted something about it. But they might have somebody lined up.

MO: How does it feel hitting the 20-year anniversary of the movie?

LE: It makes me feel old. It's crazy to me because it was a long time ago and I was obviously a kid when it all went down. I guess more than anything it's a trip to me that people are still talking about it. I know that it plays a lot — it plays on MLB Network. I get a lot of people still hitting me up saying, "Oh my God, I saw your movie." It's strange to me all these years later that people are interested.

MO: That was an era of kid-friendly baseball movies, did you enjoy the other movies that came out at the time? Or did you have a beef with Henry Rowengartner?

LE: There were little rivalries for sure. It was all around the time of the strike. I remember there being some politics about it. The studios were going 'Oh, fans are going to be hurting for baseball, and we're going to get people to show up because they're going to be hurting for any baseball content.’

But I was friends with Thomas Ian Nicholas [who played Henry Rowengartner in "Rookie of the Year."] We would audition for the same stuff and see each other. At some award show, we were asked to present an award together because we were both in baseball movies. I never got to hang out with Joseph Gordon-Levitt [from "Angels in the Outfield"], but I've heard he's a really nice guy.

MO: Do you ever run into Ken Griffey Jr.

LE: Ken! No, I don't. Where is that guy? [Laughs]

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Actors Tim Busfield (left) and Luke Edwards shared the screen with Ken Griffey Jr. in Little Big League. (Columbia)

Actors Tim Busfield (left) and Luke Edwards shared the screen with Ken Griffey Jr. in Little Big League. (Colu …

MO: I talked to him recently and he told me he still watches the film about once a year. Does he watch it more than you?

LE: He definitely does. I have a weird thing about watching my own movies, mostly because I've watched them so many times at this point. But I'm glad that he watches it. I always wondered if it was just sort of a footnote for him. He was great. He was a good actor. He totally did his thing. On top of that, he was a really nice guy. He was really nice to all the cast and crew. It was really fun to be a part of that.

At one point, he gave me a shaving-cream pie to the face. I was being interviewed by a Minnesota TV crew and he came up behind me and he gave me a pie in the face. As I remember it, at that time, he was the biggest star in baseball. We were all pretty excited to meet him and have him read lines and stuff. It wasn't just that he showed up and hit a few homers. He was actually on set for a few days. I had him sign a whole bunch of gear. I don't know if it's worth anything. He signed a jersey and a bat and rookie card.

MO: Looking back, considering the era, what's the best thing about Little Big League? I thought it was the most real-baseball of all the movies.

LE: It's definitely that. Not that a kid managing a baseball team is approaching realism in any way. But the intention of the filmmakers was that they wanted the baseball to feel real. They wanted the sequences to feel snappy. I think they did a really good job of that. In comparison to some of the other baseball movies, it's pretty obvious.

We had a lot of real ballplayers. Blackout was a real pitcher [Brad Lesley, who played in MLB from 1982-1985 and died in 2013]. Kevin Elster, who was the shortstop, had a decent career after the movie. If you check out the sequences, in a lot of them, he's the guy – we could ask him to do something and he could make it look good. If you can suspend disbelief long enough to buy that a kid is going to manage the team, otherwise it is pretty real.

MO: What would you do if you were the manager of the Minnesota Twins in 2014?

LE: I don't have the baseball mind that Billy Heywood did. I don't know that I could really help them in any serious way. I'm definitely on the sidelines.

MO: What if you went there to be a guest manager, they won and they went on some season-long winning streak. Would you stick around and be the good-luck charm?

LE: Oh man, if they get to go on a run like that, of course. I also love Minnesota, so I wouldn't have any problems hanging out there.

MO: Is it a bigger point of pride to have managed the Twins or being the first kid to discover the warp whistle in “Super Mario Bros 3?”

LE: Equal. Although, I didn't actually get to play [Super Mario 3]. It was all taped. It's someone else playing it. It was torture for me. I loved "Super Mario Bros." and I didn't get to play it. I just have to go on the record here: The producers to that movie promised me a copy of "Super Mario Bros. 3." I never got one. I had to go to the store and buy one.

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Well, it's pretty obvious what needs to happen here. Luke Edwards needs to throw out the first pitch at the MLB All-Star game. And he needs to wear a Power Glove while doing it.

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Mike Oz is an editor for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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