Mix politics and baseball, says Orioles pitcher Tommy Hunter, and you’ve got the potential for some awkwardness. At least that’s what Hunter gleaned from a day at Camden Yards earlier this week, portraying himself in an episode of the forthcoming HBO comedy “Veep.”
Hunter, teammate Jake Arrieta and other O’s staffers spent almost six hours on the ballpark field shooting an episode that will air next March, when the O’s are at spring training at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarastota, Fla. The TV gig occurred in the middle of a week that started with Hunter spending a few days in Las Vegas and was to end with him at the college football showdown between two undefeateds, LSU and Alabama, in Tuscaloosa, Ala., where the right-hander played in college.
“I got a phone call asking me if I wanted to come to Baltimore (to film),” said Hunter, who was acquired with infielder Chris Davis by the Orioles in the July 30 trade that sent reliever Koji Uehara to the Texas Rangers. “I didn’t really know a whole lot about the show or anything, so I did it pretty much on a whim. But it turned out to be a whole lot more than I expected.”
As a longtime fan of “Seinfeld,” Hunter was intrigued by the opportunity for a guest shot in “Veep,” which stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus as a former U.S. senator adjusting to life as the vice president. Louis-Dreyfus’ iconic Elaine Benes character from “Seinfeld” grew up in Towson before heading to the Big Apple, but remained a die-hard O’s fan. She once got George Costanza in trouble for wearing an Orioles cap in the Yankee Stadium box seats.
“She’s a beautiful woman and I’m a big fan,” said Hunter, acknowledging that the wacky Cosmo Kramer was his favorite character on the sitcom. “I mean, who doesn’t like ‘Seinfeld’? We were in make-up and I was wondering how they were going to do anything to make her look any better. She was a lot of fun to work with.”
Hunter and Arrieta were cast as baseball players who meet the vice president, but weren’t told much more about their interaction before filming at Camden Yards. And that, said Hunter, was by design.
“They really didn’t talk to us a whole lot or tell us what the scene was about,” he explained. “That’s what the whole scene was - they wanted it to be awkward, a couple of baseball players meeting the vice president of the United States. They didn’t tell us much, other than to ask the questions we were asked. It was Tommy Hunter and Jake Arrieta playing Tommy Hunter and Jake Arrieta. We were ourselves.”
But as the cast and crew moved around to different portions of the field, Hunter found it difficult to adjust to the hurry-up-and-wait mentality that’s a part of large-scale television productions.
“Put me on a baseball field, put a ball in my hand, and, well, it’s where I’m most comfortable. It’s what I do, right?” said Hunter. “They were trying to tell us to stay here and do this and - how can I say this? - I’m not the kind of guy who stands around and stands still a whole lot. I’m not good at being quiet either, especially when I’m told I have to be.”
But Hunter and Arrieta did well enough that the HBO crew got its desired shots. The series continues to film in Baltimore - the Hilton hotel across from Camden Yards was also used as a recent location - and “Veep” has already been picked up for a full-season run on the cable network.
Hunter enjoyed his day in the Hollywood limelight, carrying on a tradition that has seen Camden Yards take a leading role in other major productions. “Dave,” a feature film starring Kevin Kline as an everyman forced to double for the president of the United States, shot a faux first pitch during the stadium’s infancy, and TV shows including “The West Wing” and “Homicide: Life on the Streets” have used Camden Yards as a production site.
“It’ll be interesting to see what parts they use from what we shot. I think we did like 18 takes,” Hunter joked.
Hunter’s been getting some ribbing from family members in his native Indiana about his star turn, which he called “an eye-opening experience.”
“My mom was joking with me, telling me I’d gone all Hollywood on her,” he laughed. “But I’m about as far away from Hollywood as you can get.”