Special Photo Jasha Balcom of Duluth who is featured as a stunt double portraying Jackie Robinson in the movie 42 poses for a photograph while on the movie set in Birmingham, Ala.
DULUTH -- Jasha Balcom easily lists the parallels between himself and Jackie Robinson, and then flashes a proud grin.
Balcom grew up in a small Georgia town, Dublin, similar to Robinson's hometown of Cairo.
Balcom was a self-described active and gritty player, who used his speed to steal bases like Robinson.
As a former Chicago Cubs farmhand, Balcom is also familiar with the long bus rides that Robinson also experienced in his baseball career.
So it's understandable, especially given Balcom's appearance, that he could be well-suited to play a role in the just released film, "42," about Robinson's life.
Thanks to a connection with a former minor league teammate who worked on the movie, Balcom was offered a role as the lead stunt man for actor Chadwick Boseman, who played Robinson in the film.
Balcom took some time away from his baseball academy, the Hitter's Box, in Duluth, which he opened about four years ago.
Although he had to rearrange his day-to-day work schedule, Balcom, 30, jumped at the chance to play a part in a movie about one of his childhood heroes.
"The role was kind of fitting for the way I played the game," said Balcom, who played in college at the College of Charleston and the University of Georgia. "Hard, always getting dirty, sliding, diving -- don't have no problems diving -- selling your body to make the play."
From a young age, Balcom's mother, Beverly Balcom, said he was determined to pursue a baseball career. But being a part of a movie like this, and the historical significance of Robinson's life, makes it more special to her.
"I felt like it gave Jasha, and other black baseball players the opportunity," she said. "Even here in Dublin, he was a lot of times, he was the only black on the team. Maybe one other black. That's why I'm real proud of him because he didn't give up, because he loved it so much."
Although he owns a baseball facility where he coaches kids from 6 years old to high school, college and pro, Balcom was initially expected to work in the Negro League scenes for about two months. Yet without any prior acting experience, Balcom eventually worked for a few months about a year ago as the film was made in Birmingham, Ala., Chattanooga, Tenn., Atlanta and Macon.
"That was kind of tough, but I sacrificed," said Balcom, who had help from colleagues to fill in his coaching obligations. "It's a lifetime opportunity to be part of something that's phenomenal."
Balcom said before he opened his own baseball business, he worked as a financial adviser for Merrill Lynch and E*TRADE Financial.
Work on the movie started in East Cobb when Balcom participated in a sort of baseball tryout. He said the stunt men were organized as if they were actually on a baseball team, and they held practices. Balcom said it was similar to a spring training camp, and several of the players shared a similar baseball path as him, they just hadn't played in a while.
"I had to show what I could do," Balcom said. "Most of the scenes they wanted to show: Run downs, diving, sliding, I was the guy."
During filming, Balcom said he broke three ribs and was asked if he'd like to leave the set and return home, but that wasn't an option at all.
Balcom said he would know which scenes he's in, but stunt men are by design meant to blend in.
"That's movie magic to show Chad, it looks like he's doing everything, but I'll know it's me sliding or fielding," he said, noted that he is in the movie credits.
While Balcom learned about Robinson's career as a child, he said his other baseball heroes were Hank Aaron and Ken Griffey Jr. Balcom eventually switched to bat left-handed when he was 7 years old to be like Griffey Jr.
"I wanted to emulate him and forgot how to hit right-handed," Balcom said. "That was who I wanted to be like."
While Balcom knew plenty about Robinson before the movie, he learned more from Boseman and the script. Balcom said the most difficult part of Robinson's life to him was the lack of camaraderie early in his career with teammates. Since his professional career ended after four seasons with the Cubs organization, the former .290 hitter said he misses camaraderie with teammates.
And while Balcom can identify with the heckling of Robinson, because he was heckled during his own career, it wasn't on the same level.
"I can only imagine under those circumstances," Balcom said. "Being a part of showing that part of the movie, it was tough. He really went through that."
That's one part that Balcom said sets "42" apart from other sports movies. He said Robinson did plenty for baseball, but perhaps more for the country as a whole.
"It's going to be a good movie," he said. "But a good movie for the classroom, too."
Boseman and the other actors didn't have extensive baseball experience, but Balcom said he was open to advice, and the blending of people on the acting side and baseball side was smooth.
"We were like a team," Balcom said. "The way we practice and trained, the actors were right there with us going through practice and becoming baseball players."
Since he worked on the movie, Balcom said he has a greater appreciation for Hollywood and how movies are made. One example was two days of shooting that he expected to result in about 30 seconds of "42." He quickly realized time was money, and it was important to not make an error during a scene.
He's also aware of potential residual income from the film if he signs up for the Screen Actors Guild. Balcom said he was told many actors and stunt men start off careers like this without much experience. While he's not sure if he would ever work on another movie, he has kept in touch with an assistant director.
"Just got to stay in shape and be ready when they call you," he said.