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CHEECH MARIN: BASEBALL GURU

The suspenders...yea, we dig them. Getty Images

You wouldn't expect a guy whose early career consisted of a seemingly never-ending series of pot jokes to be a big baseball fan, but Cheech Marin was born in East LA, a.k.a. Dodger country. There he grew up a fan of the Brooklyn, then L.A.. Dodgers. Still is, in fact. This Friday, his latest film, The Perfect Game (about a 1957 Little League team from Monterey, Mexico) opens up. Marin—ok, Cheech—discusses his role, his lifelong love of the game and the priesthood.

The Mag: So let's talk plot a little.
Cheech: It's an incredible story that starts in Monterey with the 1957 Little League team that overcomes incredible odds, mainly poverty, and somehow makes it all the way to the Little League World Series. Thing is, you see it all the time now, but this was the first-ever team from outside the U.S. to win it.

So we got Cheech working with kids.
Yeah, I know, right? (laughs) The thing is, they are some great kids, and some of them can really play ball. Every now and then you gotta' grab them so they don't wander off into something.

When we talked to Ron Shelton and Kevin Costner about Bull Durham, they said they had to find actors who could play ball. Costner even hit a couple homers on the set. Where do you stack up here?
I can step in there, man. I actually was a big time Little League player, so I can identify with them. I was on the All-Star team in Little League, man. I could play.

Just Little League?
No, I kept playing. I was a shortstop and played second base right on through high school. Baseball has always been a huge part of my life. I can really identify with the kids.

How is that?
Well, for one, in my role in the film I'm sort of this Grandfather-type who helps the kids get organized. And the kids are Brooklyn Dodgers fans just because that's what they can get on radio. And for me, when I was that age I was the same kid up in East LA. I grew up in the Catholic church like them, and I'd spend time with my Grandfather and listen to Dodgers games and talk baseball all the time. To get into that role I was channeling parts of my own Grandfather.

So you're the old man now?
I'm actually a priest. In Mexico, the priest can be community leader, and he sees these kids and organizes them, tries to give them some sense of hope, whether it's God or baseball. Mostly baseball.

So we got Cheech of Cheech and Chong playing a priest?
Yeah man. It's a trip. I think like three of my most recent roles are of a priest.

Maybe in the next movie you could be a Cardinal.
Yeah, man. Or the Pope. That would be cool, Pope Cheech!

So you're sort of a leader in this movie; most of your roles have been as sidekicks, in Nash Bridges, Tin Cup...
Yeah, I really am. But, like I said, in acting you just find things you can build your character off of. In this role, mine is my Grandfather, and those are vivid memories for me, so it was great.

Where does this stack up in sports movies?
People are going to love it. I don't just say that. It's really got a heart and these kids are the real thing. You're talking about kids that came from terrible poverty, to the point that when they show up in America to play, they are 30 pounds lighter than the American kids. It's an amazing story.

Better than Tin Cup?
Hey, that's—and I'll say this—that's the best golf movie ever made in my opinion. This is a good one though.

What are your own favorite sports memories?
Well, I was at the game where Koufax struck out 18 batters, and I was also at a game where Koufax threw a no-hitter. I also remember going to the '91 NBA Finals in LA when Jordan switched hands in mid-air, a play you see a replay of every day. Crazy.

And this all led you to become a priest.
Yeah. I'm moving my way up in the priesthood.

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