Originally posted on NESN.com  |  Last updated 4/11/13
In a lot of ways, Jasha Balcom‘s story sounds all-too familiar amongst the throngs on young ballplayers hoping to graduate from college to the minor leagues to The Show. However, it’s ended up with Balcom participating in a unique chapter representing the integral history of Major League Baseball. Since Balcom was six or seven years old, he knew he wanted to play professional baseball. However, unlike most kids who have that dream, Balcom actually made it that far, at least. Balcom transferred to the University of Georgia during college and joined the lauded Bulldogs baseball squad. He was then drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 33rd round, first being sent to the team’s rookie league affiliate in Boise, and eventually Low-A Peoria. After switching organizations to the Cardinals, and dealing with some family issues, Balcom’s career stalled, however, and save for some time in independent ball, he was done playing the sport competitively. After getting married and having a family, perhaps it was the prudent choice not to try and pursue the far-off dream. But Balcom’s baseball story doesn’t end there. “I had no experience in stunt work before this movie,” says Balcom about his experience as a stunt double on the upcoming Jackie Robinson biopic, 42. “The director saw some photos of me that a former teammate of mine in the Cubs organization had given him.” After professional baseball, Balcom eventually opened his own baseball instruction academy, and now spends most of his afternoons working with students in his 60,000 square foot space, known as Hitter’s Box Baseball. Hitter’s Box is located Duluth, Ga., just north of Atlanta, and it actually helped Balcom prepare for the role of imitating Robinson. “I keep myself in pretty decent shape, but I had to learn to hit right-handed,” says Balcom. To do that, he used the Pro Batter Simulator, a batting cage designed with video of a pitcher that is capable of simulating multiple pith types in any location. “I hadn’t seen pitches right-handed, but it actually didn’t take me very long to learn to hit from that side.” However, other parts of fulfilling the role of Robinson came easier. “Once I put on that uniform, getting dirty, diving and having to slide hard — it was how Jackie played the game,” says Balcom. “To feel in that moment, the emotion, the intensity, I knew I had to match Chadwick (Boseman, the actor portraying Robinson).” But beyond getting in the moment and portraying some of the action shots as Robinson, Balcom clearly has a great respect for the man and the role. He shares a story of how his parents’ college class was the first to integrate, and how his dad constantly talked about the greatness of Robinson. “It’s very personal, very humbling,” says Balcom. “The story needed to be told, not just reading about [Robinson's] legacy. You can’t understand the man unless you can connect with the moment, and history books can’t teach it the same way.” 42 will be released to the general public on Friday, and also stars Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey, the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers who signed Robinson. It figures to introduce the story of Jackie Robinson to a new generation who may not be as familiar with the civil rights figure. For Balcom, however, he’s just glad that his students get to actually see the story of Robinson portrayed in a way that’s easier to connect to, so that hopefully they have a new appreciation of the game and the man. While Balcom’s major league ambitions may not have been realized, ultimately his baseball story may have far more importance than the athletic accomplishments of one man. Photo via Jasha Balcom
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