With the Chicago Cubs' season on the line Wednesday, the ball club will turn to a familiar face in hopes of inspiring a miraculous turnaround -- Henry Rowengartner.
Thomas Ian Nicholas, who played the rocket-armed 12-year-old who lifted the Cubs to a World Series championship in the 1993 film "Rookie of the Year," will be in attendance Wednesday at Wrigley Field for Game 4 of the NLCS against the New York Mets. Nicholas, now 35, has thrown out the first pitch and sung "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" several times at Wrigley, but this latest appearance, which has been hastily planned, won't feature either. He will, however, do something he hasn't done since filming the movie more than 22 years ago.
"Usually when I go to the game, I wear the jersey the Cubs made for me with my last name, Nicholas, on it, but I called the team and I said, 'Can you make a Rowengartner jersey for me?,'" Nicholas told ESPN.com late Tuesday night. "I've never done that. I haven't worn a Rowengartner jersey since the movie, but I feel like we kind of need it right now. It's kind of like my rally cap."
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Nicholas would have been at Tuesday's Game 3, but he had prior obligations. He was at Disneyland for most of the day celebrating his 4-year-old son's birthday. But Nicholas said he will be flying out of Los Angeles early Wednesday morning and arriving in Chicago in the afternoon.
"The last thing I want to do is spend the day at Disneyland and get on a plane at 7 a.m. to go to Chicago, but I'll do it for the Cubs," Nicholas said. "I wasn't planning on going out for the postseason, but after they won the wild card and then beat the St. Louis Cardinals, the excitement started to build with fans of the Cubs who are also fans of 'Rookie of the Year.' My Twitter feed started to get busier and busier during the postseason, and people started getting excited. I got excited, too."
In the film, the Mets are the main antagonists for Rowengartner and the Cubs. They are the first team Rowengartner faces after signing a contract with the Cubs upon discovering a newfound pitching ability after suffering a broken arm. They're also the last team he faces with a trip to the World Series on the line.
"When we found out the Cubs were going up against the Mets, it was amazing," Nicholas said. "It's just like the movie. It's like art imitating life, life imitating art. The parallels are uncanny. I wanted to be there, and now I feel like I need to be there. I need to bring some good luck to Wrigley Field. I don't know what the heck is going on with the Cubs."
The film was shot in the fall of 1992, and Nicholas still vividly remembers shooting scenes at Wrigley Field between games of a Cubs doubleheader against the Cardinals on Sept. 19, 1992.
"The first time that Henry walks to the mound against the Mets and they do a 360-degree shot of me and the stadium is full, those are real fans in the middle of the doubleheader," Nicholas said. "[Director and actor] Daniel Stern had gotten on the mic and told them the story of what we were doing and what we were going to shoot, and they of course went nuts. So he said, 'When he walks up to the mound, I want you to chant, 'We want Henry!' So 35,000 people were chanting, 'We want Henry!' as I walked to the mound. If 35,000 people tell you your name is Henry, your name is Henry for two minutes."
It was a chant that continued on into the second game when the Cubs trailed the Cardinals and several fans began the chant, "We want Henry!" again. The Cubs ended up dropping the second game of the doubleheader 11-10 in 10 innings.
Nicholas still hears fans bringing up various rule violations and inaccuracies in the film when talking to him, which always makes him laugh when considering the movie's premise.
"There are a lot of people that will argue that Henry balked in the final sequence in the final game against the Mets," Nicholas said. "So you're going to haggle with me over the fact that Henry balked against the Mets but not over the fact that he has a 100-mile-per-hour fastball as a 12-year-old in the major leagues?"
The Cubs' veteran ace in the film is Chet "Rocket" Steadman, played by Gary Busey, who has gone on to have a, well, interesting career over the past two decades.
"At the time, he was still able to pretend to be normal on camera," Nicholas said. "He was always crazy. He's always been crazy. I'm watching him now, and that's how he was on the set. He's just a little older and a little crazier now. Gary was the nicest to me, and he once carried me by my underwear across the lunch room in front of the entire cast and crew. Again, I repeat, Gary was the nicest to me."
The last time Nicholas saw Busey was in 2000, but he said, "I wasn't quite sure if he remembered me ... but he was nice." He saw Stern -- who directed the film and played the Cubs' bungling pitching coach, Brickma -- at a Bruce Springsteen concert at Dodger Stadium in 2003. And he recently saw Neil Flynn, who played the Cubs' first baseman, Okie, in the Ricketts family suite when the Cubs visited California to play the Los Angeles Dodgers. Flynn, who is from Chicago, has gone on to prominent roles as the janitor in "Scrubs" and is currently playing Mike Heck in "The Middle."
"When the [Rickettses] come out to Los Angeles once a year, they get a suite and they invite their friends and people from Chicago and Cubs fans, and I've been invited the past few years," Nicholas said. "It's funny, the 'American Pie' films are known worldwide, so anywhere in the world I go people recognize me from those movies. But in Illinois and particularly Chicago, they care more about 'Rookie of the Year' than they do 'American Pie,' for sure. I love that."
Nicholas was born in Las Vegas and raised in Los Angeles, but he became a Cubs fan after filming the movie. Eight years ago, he married Colette Marino, a DJ from Chicago, furthering his ties to a city that has become a second home for him and his family.
"My wife grew up in Lincoln Park, and we go back often," Nicholas said. "I don't think she would have married me if I wasn't a Cubs fan."
Nicholas continues to act--- he played Walt Disney in "Walt Before Mickey," which was released in August -- and continues to tour with his rock group, the Thomas Nicholas Band, which has released four albums since 2008. Nicholas' band is scheduled to play across from Wrigley Field after Wednesday's game, and Nicholas hopes it will be a rally party and not a season-ending show.
"There are a lot of superstitions in baseball, so I'm just hoping that throwing on the Rowengartner jersey is the lucky rabbit's foot that we need in this series," Nicholas said. "Hopefully this is the turnaround."