By Miki Turner
Special to Page 3

Matthew Modine, Kristin Davis
Matthew Modine is Honus Wagner and Kristin Davis ("Sex and the City") plays his fiancee Mandy Henton.
On Sunday night Golden Globe winner Matthew Modine will take viewers out to the ballpark in TNT's "The Winning Season." But before you go grabbing the beer and pretzels, you need to know that this film about Honus Wagner and his famous, and now extremely profitable, baseball card is not a Hall of Famer biopic. Rather it's a present-day fictionalized account of a boy who stumbles upon the card and then dreams about going back in time and meeting Wagner.

Sports movies are nothing new to Modine, who was also one of the stars of "Any Given Sunday." However the 45-year-old California native admitted to Page 3 that this role took a toll on him physically.

Where's a pinch-runner when you need one?

During a telephone interview, Modine, now a New Yorker, shared his thoughts about his local baseball teams, his own glorious hardball past and what it's like to toil in the minor leagues.

1. Are you a big baseball fan?

Matthew Modine: I love baseball. I live in New York so it's difficult to pick the Yankees over the Mets or the Mets over the Yankees, so I just say I'm a New York fan.

2. How difficult could it be picking the Yankees over the Mets though?

Well, I've got two friends who play for the Mets.

The Yankees are looking good; how do you feel about the addition of A-Rod?

I never second guess anything George Steinbrenner does. I think he's on his way to the Hall of Fame. I'm just curious about what they may have given up to get him --defensively. I don't know about the pitching with the Yankees. You can't win a World Series without pitching.

3. What was appealing to you about "The Winning Season?"

It began with an incredibly flattering letter from the producer of the show, David Rosemont. It wasn't that he just needed a good actor or a good athlete; he felt like he just needed to find somebody who embodied the strength of character that he believed Honus Wagner possessed. So, he sort of had me from that letter. Then I got into the script and found it to be a really sweet story, so I set out to learn something about Honus Wagner. And then I realized not only did he have the most valuable baseball card, but he's arguably one of the best players to play the game.

4. Did you have to workout or train to get into shape?

Shawn Hatosy
Actor Shawn Hatosy plays the young man who travels back in time and meets Wagner.
Yeah, I knew I had to get into shape, so I had met Cal Ripken a few times through a mutual friend and felt that if there were anybody who sort of embodied what I imagined what Honus Wagner embodied, that guy was Cal Ripken. So I contacted him and he said he'd love to have me pick his brain and also invited me to come out and play with his farm team in Aberdeen, Md. It was one of the greatest fantasy baseball camps that anyone could ever hope for.

5. Was he able to give you some insight into Honus' character?

Not Honus, but insight into the character of a baseball player. After six weeks of playing baseball, the Lou Gehrig record that Cal Ripken passed -- for consecutive games played -- I had an appreciation for that, that I'd never had before. All of the things that can happen to a baseball player -- besides just the shear number of games they play during a season -- the hits they take and all the injuries takes a toll. I pulled two hamstrings while making the movie.

6. Did you play the game as a kid or in high school?

Yeah, I played Little League and then I always played in the pickup games during the summer and softball games in high school.

7. What position do you typically like to play?

When I was in Little League they had me play catcher, but I like to play third base.

8. Was there anything that you learned about Wagner that kind of surprised you?

Well, the oddity, the curious thing that people have for Honus is the baseball card. Why did he choose to have the baseball card destroyed? A lot of people think it was because he didn't approve of smoking. I tend to think that it was the fact that they had printed the card and then they came to him with the money. I think he felt like he was being bought and sold. In those days I don't think that people were so easily bought and sold. There was an integrity and a different type of mentality.

Matthew Modine
According to Modine, if given the right environment, he coulda been a pro baseball contender.
9. This movie is basically about a kid's fantasy, it's not really a biography. What do you think goes into a good baseball movie?

I think that element of fantasy in all of them makes it good whether it's "Field of Dreams," "Pride of the Yankees" or "The Natural." There's something mythical about the game of baseball and the American character.

Now that you've had a chance to play an athlete on screen, was that a fantasy come true?

That's the thing about baseball ... because it's a sport that just about everyone can play -- boys and girls alike -- it's a sport that everyone believes that if they had the time or the talent, they could have been a professional athlete. It's much more difficult for me to imagine myself playing in the NBA. But baseball, I think had I been in the right environment and not moved around so much as a kid, I think I could have been a professional baseball player. When I first saw the film I couldn't believe how slow I looked rounding the bases. I think it was the big, flannel uniform that made me look slower!

10. Did you do any additional research other than chatting with Cal?

Just spending time on the bench with the IronBirds (Ripken's farm team), going to practices and hanging out in the locker room. They feed them horribly! You have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, maybe a slice of watermelon. And they get paid nothing! For dinner they have the old hotdogs and hamburgers that the stadium couldn't sell. There's a big rush on the corndogs because there's never a lot of corndogs leftover. I didn't digest food properly for about two weeks afterward.

Miki Turner is a day and night laborer in L.A. She can be reached at dmiki@aol.com.