Eastwood plays scout in 'Trouble with the Curve'

Eastwood plays scout in 'Trouble with the Curve'

LOS ANGELES -- A year ago at this time, the talk of the movie and baseball world was "Moneyball," an Oscar-nominated film based on real-life events in 2002, in which Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane -- played by Brad Pitt -- defies his scouts and rebuilds his team using sabermetrics and computer analysis. This year, "Trouble With The Curve" is the polar opposite of "Moneyball," where the old scout strikes back and tells the whiz kids what they can do with their computers.

The film stars Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood as Gus Lobel, an irascible longtime scout for the Atlanta Braves, who, as one character puts it, "couldn't even turn on a typewriter let alone a computer." But Lobel knows baseball better than anyone in the game and talent when he sees it.

"Gus is probably the best scout the organization has," said actor John Goodman, who plays Pete Klein, Gus' friend and the scouting director of the Braves. "He's been out there forever, and he's starting to have a little trouble, but he still has those intangibles you can't teach people. He knows talent. He knows when he hears it, he knows when he sees it and he's got the eye."

"Gus is a crusty old guy, who believes in the old-fashioned way of doing things," said director Robert Lorenz, a longtime producer for Eastwood who made his directorial debut with the film. "He trusts his instincts, works from his gut and really doesn't see much point in changing. In terms of his profession, that's what he knows. That's what works for him, and he sticks to it."

The only problem is Gus' eyes are failing him, and the Braves want him to scout a high school phenom days before the Draft. Klein enlists Lobel's somewhat estranged daughter -- Mickey, a lawyer who is in line for a partnership at her firm, played by Amy Adams -- to go to North Carolina and help. While there, the two meet up with one of Gus's former draft picks, Johnny Flanagan -- a pitcher-turned-scout, played by Justin Timberlake -- who is in town to scout the same player.

Timberlake, a singer and actor, is no stranger to the game, having spent summers watching Minor League games near his hometown of Clearwater, Fla., where his uncle was the general manager of a baseball stadium. Timberlake said that he enjoyed seeing another side of baseball through the film.

"There have been a lot of iconic baseball movies, 'Eight Men Out,' 'The Natural,' 'Field of Dreams,' 'Moneyball,' 'Major League,'" Timberlake said. "With this film, I really thought it was the first one that really was about the people that had something to do with the game."

"Trouble with the Curve" was shot on location in Atlanta, and it gave the cast and crew a deep respect for baseball scouts and what they do to supply new talent for the game.

"These guys are amazing" said Eastwood. "They spend basically 300 days out of the year in hotels. Because [a team] is going to invest in a kid, who is maybe 17 or 18 years old, they have to vet him all the way down the line -- they have to go to the neighborhood, stay in the neighborhood, talk to the neighbors and ask, 'Would you like your daughter to go out with this guy?'

"They also talk to the parents and find out really what the kid is made out of, because a lot of them have been burned, and they told us some amazing stories, where they had guys who they thought were terrific, but as soon as they were signed by a team and given millions in a signing bonus, they'd start drinking and run off with some other guy's high-school sweetheart. They take big risks, and I guess if you make too many mistakes, you're out of a job."

Adams hails from an athletic family from Colorado and said she cheers for the Rockies, but she said she had to go through a crash course in baseball to prepare for the film. Luckily, she had some experienced teachers.

"We got to talks to a lot of real scouts, who were there. They played some parts in the film," Adams said. "The education, the research they have to do -- just the amount of legwork they have to do, just going and scouting the games -- is just really remarkable. It's just something I never thought about. So just on a human level, to open my eyes to someone's life experience was really great and we had some old-school guys there that were really great to talk to."

"Amy was a joy to work with," said Eastwood, who was equally impressed with Adams' skills on the diamond. "Mickey's a girl who was raised on baseball, and one thing I admired about Amy is that she can sprint like a guy, wind up and throw a ball like a guy and take a real swing with a bat. So she was perfect for the part of a woman who isn't an athlete but who grew up around a sport, who has it in her blood."

Which brings us to the title of the movie. In the film, Gus's instincts kick in, and he realizes, with Mickey's help, that the phenom the Braves covet might have a problem hitting a certain type of pitch. A tug of war ensues between old-school Gus and new school computer wiz Phillip Sanderson, played by Matthew Lillard, who has crunched his numbers and assured the team the kid is a can't-miss superstar.

"I think at the end of the day, there is only so much a computer program can do," said Adams. "[Scouts] have to go on instincts, and it's important for us all to learn at the end of the day that we're all so dependent on technology, but if it all broke down, it's really important to look someone in the eye and know who you are talking to."

"To me, this movie is about the life of a scout. What is a life of a scout like? I don't think we've seen that before," said Timberlake. "It's not based on sabermetrics and analytics. It's based on knowing how much heart or instincts that a player has. Baseball players become good because they are talented and gifted, but the other variable is that X factor, that heart and soul they have."

In the end, the heart of "Trouble with the Curve" is not only baseball, but also the relationship between a father and daughter and how the game helps bring them closer together.

"Trouble with the Curve," produced by Warner Bros. opens nationwide on Friday.

Ben Platt is a national correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.