The following story first appeared in Visions, the alumni magazine of Tennessee Tech University.
By Rob Schabert, Sports Infomration Director
Nobody ever accused Jamie Ruehling of being a “star” on the Golden Eagle baseball team. A walk-on for coach David Mays in 1996 following two seasons at Cleveland State Community College, Ruehling (rhymes with grueling) played in just five games and went 0-for-3 with two walks.
Not necessarily Hall of Fame credentials.
But that one season on the Tennessee Tech baseball roster, coupled with a few years of coaching, were instrumental in a more recent episode that has rewritten Ruehling’s baseball resume.
Currently the assistant principal and athletic director at Grundy County High School, Ruehling tried out for, was chosen, and played the role of Brooklyn Dodger third baseman Spider Jorgenson in the Warner Brothers movie “42” about the courage and major league debut of Jackie Robinson.
“I guess coach Mays knew what he was doing when he moved me to third base,” kidded Ruehling when he returned to campus for the annual Baseball Legends Day in May.
Ruehling played second base his entire career before Tech, but that simple adjustment by the Hall of Fame coach 16 years earlier gave Jamie a chance to learn a new position and new skills.
“The tryouts for the movie were in Atlanta,” Ruehling said. “I just gravitated toward third base.”
He said more than 300 players were invited to the casting call in Atlanta, and from that pool 170 were invited back to a two-day, weekend tryout camp at the East Cobb Baseball Complex.
“On Monday I got a call that said I made the team,” Ruehling recalls. “The team would make up all of the Dodgers’ opponents.”
From there, he was invited to read for the part of Spider Jorgenson, and a few days later got a call from legendary Hollywood stunt coordinator Allan Graf, the second unit director, that Jamie had gotten the part.
“Allan had done all of the great football movies in the past 15 years, but he didn’t really know anything about baseball,” Ruehling said. “He had the role because of all his success with the football movies, and he made it work.”
The cast and some of the crew assembled in Atlanta for a two-week training camp before heading out for filming.
“All of the actors came in an treated me great, they treated me like one them,” Ruehling said. “They were all asking me what movies I’d been in.”
Filming began in Birmingham for a week, then moved to Chattanooga
for a couple weeks. From there, the entire cast and crew went to
Macon, back to Chattanooga, back to Macon, and finally to Atlanta
for complete the filming.
The original script had one line for Ruehling, but he was asked to ad lib whenever he thought he should say something. There was one scene featuring actor Chadwick Boseman, who played Robinson in the starring role, and Jamie. It took place on the platform of a train station as the pair was moving up from the minor leagues to Brooklyn.
“They told me to just talk with him, but like it was 1947,” Ruehling says. “The first cut of the movie was three hours long, so they had to cut a whole hour out, and my lines all got cut.”
The movie depicts a friendship between Spider and Robinson.
“Spider was from California, so he really hadn’t experienced racism,” Ruehling said. “He didn’t see what the big deal was about Jackie playing in the major leagues.”
The pair came up together, and appeared in the Dodger lineup on April 15, 1947.
“When Spider got called up, his equipment had all been sent to the next minor league park so he had to use Jackie Robinson’s infielder’s glove at first.” Ruehling said.
“I’m anxious to see the director’s cut,” Ruehling said, hoping to see the lines that were trimmed from the movie.
A native of tiny Gruetli-Lager, Tenn., Ruehling wanted to be an actor when he was younger, playing the lead role every Easter and Christmas in the plays at the First Baptist Church in his hometown.
“Growing up, I wanted to be a baseball player,” he said. “I always liked the movies and wanted to be an actor, too, so it was really a incredible to be able to play a baseball player in a movie.”
Jamie and his family joined the cast in Hollywood for the premiere at Mann’s Chinese Theatre.
“I got to walk the red carpet. It never seemed real. I had to pinch myself, and I just wanted to soak it all in,” he says.
He knows Hollywood is not going to come calling.
“If I want to do it again, I’ll need to put forth some efforts,” he said. “And if I get to do it again, it will just be a blessing.”
Left: Ruehling and Harrison Ford
Photo at the top: Ruehling and actor Chadwick Boseman (Jackie Robinson) take a break during filming