Bangor native Justin Courtney, a pitcher for the minor league baseball team the Brooklyn Cyclones, has played pro ball for two years, after four years spent pitching for the University of Maine Black Bears.
But now, the 25-year-old athlete has another skill he can add to his resume: film actor.
Courtney can be seen in the upcoming documentary, “Facing Nolan,” about legendary Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, portraying Ryan when he was a young superstar in the late 1960s and early 70s, playing for the New York Mets and California Angels. The film will have a limited theatrical run beginning June 24, before it becomes available on streaming July 19.
The documentary, directed by Bradley Jackson, details Ryan’s incredible 27-year career, as well as his personal life, and features interviews with the man himself as well as luminaries including Roger Clemens, Cal Ripkin Jr., Pete Rose, Rod Carew and former President George W. Bush, whose partial ownership of the Texas Rangers coincided with Ryan’s tenure on the team.
While there was ample footage of Ryan’s later career, there was less footage available for his early years, particularly in the 1960s. The filmmakers opted to hire an actor to re-enact some of those games, and Courtney, at 6 foot 5 inches tall, not only was the right height, but also looks a bit like Ryan.
“At first, I was just approached for the pitching stuff — they weren’t looking for the faces. But once they found out it was me, they started to realize that me and Nolan actually do resemble each other early on in his career,” Courtney told Minor League Baseball News last week. “I’ve gotten to see the documentary and you can tell it’s me, clear as day, for the young Nolan parts.”
Courtney said he had absolutely no prior acting experience, but that luckily, his part did not involve any dialogue. He did have to train to learn some of the specific ways in which Ryan threw a pitch — particularly his high-leg kick.
“I wish I could tell you I’m throwing 105 [mph] now,” Courtney said. “In my own delivery now, I have a higher leg kick and I can credit that to being in the film and trying to replicate Nolan’s mechanics. He would just come at you so quickly and the ball would just explode out of his hand. So, the higher leg kick and moving faster on the mound were the two things that kind of translated into my own delivery.”
Courtney, a standout player for Bangor High School, graduated from the University of Maine in 2019, and went on to sign with the Los Angeles Angels organization to play for their low-A team, before signing with the New York Mets organization last year to play for the Brooklyn Cyclones.