James Caan knows his way around a baseball bat.
As Little League coach for his son's team, Caan describes his style as "extremely enthusiastic." Adding, "I got thrown out three times. I chased two of the umpires over the fence with a baseball bat."
And who can forget the brutal scene in “The Godfather” when Caan, as Sonny Corleone, uses a bat to beat the pulp out of his sister’s abusive husband?
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This fall, Caan returns to the plate — in a far less fearsome role — as a fallen baseball star in ABC’s new comedy, “Back in the Game,” which premieres Wednesday, Sept. 25 at 8:30/7:30c on ABC. The show marks the first comedic TV role for Caan, who is known on TV primarily for playing tough guys in shows like “Magic City” and “Las Vegas.” Says Caan, “I’m really excited about laughing a little bit.”
ABC is hoping audiences laugh along with him. At the Television Critics Association summer press tour in Los Angeles, Caan, showrunners Rob and Mark Cullen, and cast members, including Maggie Lawson (“Psych”) and Ben Koldyke (“Big Love”), shared some details about the new comedy.
“Game” follows the story of Terry Gannon Jr. (Lawson), a former All-Star softball player and single mom who’s forced to move back in with her beer-guzzling, ex-athlete dad “The Cannon” (Caan). When her athletically-challenged son doesn’t make the local baseball team, she decides to coach her own team of baseball rejects.
The Cullen brothers based the story on their real-life experiences both as kids and then as parent coaches.
"Somebody once said that they invented Little League to keep the parents off the street," says Cullen. "Over the five years that we coached, we saw divorces, drug arrests, anything you could imagine. It's beyond entertaining and we thought what a great little backdrop."
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They can laugh about it now, but playing baseball as kids in Philadelphia wasn't fun and games. They describe their dad, who was also their Little League coach, as a "horrifying person."
Case it point: Rob Cullen remembers being beaned by a pitch when he was 11 years old. "My dad pulled me aside and said, 'If you don't hit that kid in the face' - because I was pitching - 'you're not getting in the car, and you're sleeping outside tonight.' So I hit him in the head."
Some of that bitterness creeps through in the relationship between Terry and her dad, but for the most part, “Game” focuses on family humor over family horrors.
"It's about Terry learning how to be a single mom," says Cullen. "And learning to be a girl for the first time," adds Lawson.
What it's not about is a bunch of misfits in mitts becoming baseball superstars. In other words, don't expect an underdog "Bad News Bears" kind of story.
"A lot of the kids on the show have never picked up a ball before and can't throw and that's kind of exactly what we wanted. We wanted them to be horrible," says Cullen.
Caan agrees. "These kids will never play well. They will never win a game. I mean, they haven't got one gene that spells athleticism at all. So that was funny."
“Back in the Game” premieres Wednesday, September 25 at 8:30/7:30c on ABC.