Twenty-two years ago, Thomas Ian Nicholas became a part of Chicago Cubs lore when he starred as Henry Rowengartner, the Little Leaguer who makes the leap to the majors in Rookie of the Year.
As any child of the Nineties will tell you, it was Rowengarten’s pitching abilities – which he discovers while recovering from a broken arm – that helped the Cubbies win the World Series. And whenever he’s asked about the team (which happens more than you’d think) he likes to say he was there for their last world championship, in 1993.
“People get so upset and immediately correct me about how it’s been since 1908 blah blah blah,” he laughs. “It takes a second, but then they finally realize who I am and that I’m just messing with them.”
Nicholas would go on to star in films like A Kid in King Arthur’s Court and the American Pie franchise, and is currently touring the U.K. with the band that bears his name. But with the Cubs in the midst of a remarkable resurgence, he’s still fielding questions about Rookie of the Year…and he’s totally fine with that, as he told Rolling Stone.
Your current tour is called the ‘American Pie Frat Party.’ Does that mean you’re playing beer pong on stage?
The U.K. is weird in the fact that American Pie is just lastingly relevant over there, so we’ll cover some songs from the soundtrack. I don’t normally do Lit covers, but I will for these shows [laughs]. It’s still this big thing in the U.K. – just like how throughout the state of Illinois, people still love Rookie of the Year. I am not mad. I am ecstatic that both of those movies still resonate with kids.
Speaking of ‘Rookie of the Year,’ because of that film, you’ve become a permanent part of Chicago Cubs culture. Have you been following the team this season?
I’m involved with the current franchise because I’m friends with the Ricketts family. I’ve been able to throw out the first pitch for the past seven years or so and will sing the seventh-inning stretch. And the Ricketts will always make a trip to L.A. during one Dodgers series, and they’ll load their suite with Cubs fans. So this last time, Tom Morello and Jack White were up there with Jamie Foxx – and then it was, like, my wife and Vince Vaughn being the only ones who were actually from Chicago [laughs].
I recently interviewed Jake Johnson about the Cubs, and he told me that singing ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game’ during the seventh-inning stretch was a horrible experience. How was it for you?
I went with my band at the time and got to go in the dugout and everything. That first time I also threw out the first pitch and I made it to the plate, but when I got back to my phone, I had a text from my wife’s aunt that said, “You throw like a girl.” Then, when I sang during the stretch, I tried to do a Harry Caray impression and I think everyone just thought I was drunk. No one really caught the reference. I needed the glasses or something.
Throwing out the first pitch is nothing. You’ve been on that mound before.
It’s still such a big deal to me, man. I hold so much good nostalgia for Wrigley Field and the Cubs. I just love the fact that it’s one of the only old stadiums actually left in baseball. I’m so happy the Ricketts family kept it in the city of Chicago and didn’t move the stadium to a suburb or something. I vividly remember being 12 years old on the field.
Yeah, the Schaumburg Cubs doesn’t really have the same ring to it. So when you were cast in ‘Rookie of the Year,’ were you a Cubs fan?
It all came from being in the film. I was just a mama’s boy and didn’t really follow sports. I’m just a music guy I guess, but obviously I’m always up with the Cubs because they hold such a special place in my heart. When I got the role they had interviewed, like, 5,000 kids in Chicago and New York and L.A., and I actually auditioned twice for the role. After my first time I had gotten a new agent and she got me another audition and basically said, “Well they don’t remember you so just try again.” It worked out the second time.
So when you got the gig you weren’t playing baseball in Little League or anything?
Oh not at all. After I got the job my neighbor had to teach me pitching mechanics. When I found out I’d really be throwing in the movie I had to actually learn how to do that. It’s funny, I thought by the time I was 35 I’d still have dudes calling me “Rowengartner,” but I didn’t know. I could have been angry and washed up, waiting tables in L.A.
What’s your favorite memory of filming ‘Rookie of the Year?’
The first time I set foot in Wrigley Field, we were filming between games of a doubleheader. We were shooting me walking from the bullpen to the mound. Daniel Stern [the film’s director] got on the PA and told the sold-out crowd to really cheer. So I’m a 12-year-old kid walking out there with 35,000 people screaming “HENRY HENRY HENRY” for two minutes straight, and that energy was so powerful. I was just like, ‘OK cool, my name is Henry now.’ I will never forget that. I will always have a strong affinity for the Cubs. I’d have to be a sociopath not to after having an experience like that.
Is there a certain line that you get hit with most from the movie?
One of my first shows in Illinois was in Bloomington, and the guy who booked it, such a sweet guy, but he had never seen the movie. So during the show, it’s a packed house with a thousand college kids going nuts and this group of ten guys start chanting, “HEY ROWENGARTNER, YOU SUCK” for a solid two minutes. The booker runs up to me on stage all worried and confused about these hecklers, but I’m loving it. He asks me if everything is OK and I just tell him like, “Yeah dude, it’s just a line from a movie.” He asks me, “What movie?” and I tell him. He just says, “Oh, I never saw that one.”
So what’s your prediction for the Cubs this postseason?
As funny as my joke about them winning in ’93 is, I really hope Back to the Future Part II is correct. I mean, we already have hoverboards so let’s hope they get the Cubs part right as well.