Thursday, January 26, 2012

Star athlete Sample takes on new role

The former major league outfielder, a member of the inaugural class of the Salem-Roanoke Baseball Hall of Fame, wants to make a baseball movie.

Billy Sample (right), shown with Casey Stern, is hoping to produce a movie about minor league baseball.

Photos courtesy Billy Sample

Billy Sample (right), shown with Casey Stern, is hoping to produce a movie about minor league baseball.

Former Andrew Lewis star Billy Sample is now a grandfather.

Former Andrew Lewis star Billy Sample is now a grandfather.

Billy Sample has been a major leaguer and a broadcaster.

The Salem native's newest roles are screenwriter and movie producer.

Sample, who will be back in his hometown today as the guest speaker for the Salem-Roanoke Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony and banquet, has written a low-budget movie about baseball that he hopes will be shot partly in Salem.

The former major league outfielder is using his own wallet to help finance the independent film. Actors have committed to the project - although none have big names - and Sample hopes filming will take place this year.

The Andrew Lewis High School graduate is a rookie when it comes to the movie business, but he is one of the film's producers and would also be a co-director. The production would cost less than $200,000.

"I think I'll get it done," Sample, 56, said in a phone interview.

"Reunion 108" is a satirical comedy about the reunions of two editions of a fictional minor league baseball team on the East Coast - one group who played for the team in a recent year and another whose members are now in their 50s.

"It kind of gives you a little glimpse of the locker-room nature of the humor in the minors and the majors," said Sample, who lives in Washington, N.J.

The screenplay features flashback scenes of games. Sample has talked with Salem civic facilities director Carey Harveycutter about filming those scenes at Kiwanis Field and Salem Memorial Ballpark. Harveycutter said he likes the idea.

Some hotel scenes might also be shot in Salem. The rest of the film would be shot in the New York area and in North Carolina.

Sample had never written a screenplay before, but his script won the "best unproduced screenplay" award last summer at the Hoboken (N.J.) International Film Festival.

The co-director, James Suttles, who lives in North Carolina, would be the one actually calling "Action" and "Cut" on the set. But Sample, who has formed a production company with his son Ian, would coordinate with him.

If Sample succeeds with "Reunion 108," he would like to write and produce a movie about his first-grade teacher at George Washington Carver Elementary School, Lucy Harmon. Sample has interviewed Harmon, who was once taught by Carver himself.

Sample might also be returning to the broadcast booth.

He is a finalist for an announcing vacancy on the New York Mets' radio broadcasts. He has been out of full-time broadcasting since working as an announcer, host, narrator and reporter for MLB.com from 2001 to 2008. He was previously a color commentator for the Atlanta Braves (radio and TV), Seattle Mariners (radio), California Angels (TV) and ESPN.

Sample played in the majors from 1978 to 1986 for the Texas Rangers, New York Yankees and Atlanta Braves.

He not only played baseball for Andrew Lewis, which is now a middle school, but also played for the 1971 Andrew Lewis football team that made it to the state title game against T.C. Williams of "Remember the Titans" fame.

His fondest sports memory remains a football game between Andrew Lewis and E.C. Glass.

In the 1971 state quarterfinals, Andrew Lewis trailed E.C. Glass 14-0 with just over six minutes left. The Wolverines scored three touchdowns in a 1:45 span to win the game.

Sample caught the winning touchdown pass from Eddie Joyce Jr. Sample can still remember the words and numbers of the actual play that Joyce called out in the huddle before that pass.

After calling out the play, Joyce said "Curl man, look out." Sample was the curl man on the play.

"I'm just telling you and I get chills," Sample said. "I guess it just shows you what kind of a nondescript major league career I had when I can still remember high school football games. But it's almost surreal to me, that whole game."

Andrew Lewis lost to T.C. Williams 27-0 in that season's state title game at Victory Stadium.

In the "Remember the Titans" movie, T.C. Williams beat a team called "Marshall" in the title game. The movie version of the game featured a last-second win for T.C. Williams instead of a lopsided shutout.

"We had an early touchdown called back and had no offense after that," Sample said.

Sample was a member of the inaugural class of the Salem-Roanoke Baseball Hall of Fame in 1992.

This year's class includes youth coaches Dave Christianson and Fred Corbett, former Virginia Tech pitcher Ron Shockley and former William Byrd and University of Richmond pitcher Mark Sweeney. R.B. "Red" Phillips will receive the Wayne -LaPierre Community Service Award.

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