Tim Wakefield, baseball star? Sure. Tim Wakefield, movie star? That, too.
Wakefield, who pitched for the Red Sox for 17 seasons, from 1995-2011, and R.A. Dickey, of the New York Mets, are the two main figures in Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg’s new documentary, “Knuckleball!” It has a gala public screening Tuesday, at the Regal Fenway, then opens Friday at the Coolidge Corner Theatre.
Stern and Sundberg’s previous documentary was “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work” (2010). So they have some experience with peculiar subjects. Baseball offers few if any odder than the knuckleball. Gripped with the tips of the fingers, it floats and flutters once released. Because the pitch is so unpredictable, it’s the bane of those who try to hit it, those who try to catch it, and, yes, those who try to pitch it. That’s one reason so few pitchers have made it their specialty.
Earlier this month, Wakefield sat in a luxury box at Fenway Park to talk about the documentary, the pitch that gives it its title, and his involvement with both movie and pitch.
Q. So how does it feel to be a movie star?
A. [Laughs] I don’t know if you can call it “movie star.” I’m a subject of a documentary. It’s a pretty cool movie, and I hope everyone enjoys it. It was a long process, obviously, with Rickie and Annie following R.A. and me around for a whole year, allowing them into our lives, personally and professionally. I was very pleased with how the movie turned out.
Q. What did you think when the movie was first proposed to you?
A. I thought it was a great idea. It was a good forum to talk about the knuckleball and the mystique of it — and the fraternity among all of us who throw it: the ups and downs of the pitch, the way we’re looked at as a kind of circus act or freak show sometimes. It was a good proposition to get the full story out there.
Q. Did you have much input into the making of the movie?
A. I did. Not as much as the girls. They did a fantastic job, putting a poetic twist to it. Most documentaries about sports are about sports itself. But here there’s a huge human element, the inside story of my story and R.A.’s story and how close-knit the [knuckleball] community is. It came out perfect.
Q. Fraternity really is the right word. It’s so touching how across the generations you guys connect with each other.
A. Absolutely. Going as far back as the ’50s, with Hoyt Wilhelm, then Wilbur Wood, the Niekro brothers [Joe and Phil], [Tom] Candiotti and [Charlie] Hough: It is a close-knit fraternity. It’s something nobody else knows about, and when you get a chance to sit down and talk to guys before you who accomplished what you’re trying to accomplish, it means a lot. You run into a problem, OK, who’s going to fix me? There’s only one person I can call, a former knuckleballer, and that’s what makes it so nice to have a fraternity like that.
Q. Do you have a favorite moment in the movie?
A. There’s quite a few. The way my story unfolds, some of the photos of me when I was younger, trying —
Q. You look so young!
A. I know, I know, and seeing that was amazing. R.A.’s story, of being a first-rounder in the draft, then having the offer pulled by the Rangers [because of a health issue]. The ending was sad, having to relive those moments [at the end of Wakefield’s career], but the special times I had with my family that are in the film — my birthday party, helping my son with his homework — those are special moments you can’t take away.
Q. Did you learn anything watching the movie?
A. Yes and no. I learned how special the pitch was. I mean, I knew, but to see others respond to it. Some of my friends, their first impression after seeing the film was, “Wow, I never realized what you’d gone through.” The whole course of my career I was in survival mode. To have the movie come out right after I retired, helped me reflect on my career, made it easier to handle the fact I’d retired.
Q. Is it fair to say the knuckleball is more cinematic than other pitches?
A. I think so. It has a mind of its own, that’s for sure. The awesomeness of its movement, how effective it can be when it works well. You could say it’s cinematic, yeah.
Q. You must be very pleased how this season has been going for R.A.
A. I’m very happy for him. To use his words, he’s on a mission to make the pitch authentic. Because it’s something we’ve struggled with our whole careers, the legitimacy of the pitch. People think it’s a fluke, a trick pitch.
Q. At one point in the documentary you refer to a scene in “Bull Durham.” Do you have any favorite baseball movies?
A. They all are. I think my favorite is “Field of Dreams.” The poetic-ness of the film about the love of the game between the father and the son, just the pureness of the game itself. That’s something I prided myself on. I never took for granted being able to play in the big leagues. To play in one of the cathedrals of baseball [gestures toward the field], this is the ultimate. When I first walked out of that tunnel, after I got signed and called up, you see the Green Monster over there, “Wow, I’m in heaven.”
Q. If they made “The Tim Wakefield Story,” who should play you?
A. [Laughs] Good question. I don’t know. It’s up in the air between Kevin Costner, probably, and Tom Cruise would be another one.
Q. I could see Viggo Mortensen.
A. That would be a good call, too, yeah.
For ticket information for Tuesday’s screening, go to knuckleballbostonpremiere.eventbrite.com.
Interview was condensed and edited. Mark Feeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.