David Justice was warming up for a game at Candlestick Park years ago when a young fan beckoned him over. It was Stephen Bishop, a Bay Area native and aspiring ballplayer, who wanted to share a personal connection with the Braves star. "My friends all say I look like you," Bishop told Justice.
To this day, Justice isn't so sure.
"Well, we're both light-skinned guys and we're tall," he said with a laugh. "Other than that . . . "
Hollywood, though, sides with the kid. Bishop -- now all grown up -- portrays Justice in the "Moneyball" movie that opens Friday. The graduate of Moraga's Campolindo High depicts the three-time All-Star in the final season of his career, when Billy Beane and the A's were trying to milk every last drop from the veteran's high on-base percentage.
In an early incarnation of the movie, to be directed by Steven Soderberg, Justice was going to play himself. But when director Bennett Miller took over the project, the production team called upon Bishop, a rising actor and uniquely qualified pinch hitter.
For one thing, there's the look: Sporting a goatee for the role, Bishop makes a convincing double for a player once listed among People magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People."
For another, there's the swing: Bishop recreates Justice's almost imperceptible mannerisms in the batter's box. "I knew that swing like the back of my hand," Bishop said. "The look on his face. The way he talks to himself. The way
Bishop, 41, got a serious head start on the role not long after that Candlestick chat. A ballplayer before turning to acting, he signed with the Atlanta Braves as an undrafted free agent in 1992, while Justice was a premier player in the organization.
Bishop and Justice were never teammates, per se, but they crossed paths during spring training when established stars mingled with the newcomers.
"I wasn't that much older than him, but at the time it felt like I was a lot older because I had been in the big leagues," Justice recalled. "Like I do with a lot of young players, I took him under my wing and tried to show him the way."
Because of the resemblance, Justice would often introduce Bishop as his "little brother" whenever they were around town. Bishop said there were times when he walked around in his uniform and little kids would clamor for his autograph, thinking he was the 1990 Rookie of the Year.
Alas, there was little resemblance on the stat sheet. Over three minor league seasons, Bishop hit .261 with three home runs and 32 RBIs. And for you "Moneyball" disciples, he posted a respectable .336 on-base percentage. "I wish Billy Beane had been around a little sooner," Bishop joked.
He peaked in Class-A ball, playing for High Desert of the California League in 1995, before his career hit the end of the line.
"God was telling me to get off the baseball train and to get on the train that would take me to the ultimate destination," Bishop said.
Having had some dramatic training while at UC Riverside, he made the transition quickly and began popping up on such shows as "Friday Night Lights," "Brothers & Sisters," "Lost" and "CSI: Miami."
But no role was more physically demanding than playing Justice in "Moneyball," because for all their physical similarities, there is one important difference: Justice is left-handed.
Bishop, a right-hander, had to reinvent his stroke. He did so under the tutelage of former big league catcher Chad Kreuter, who served as the official baseball adviser for the "Moneyball" movie. For three weeks straight at USC, Kreuter ran actors through a baseball boot camp to get them to look like big leaguers.
Among the actors was Chris Pratt ("Parks & Recreation"), who plays the role of Scott Hatteberg. "Chris was getting really good toward the end there. He was able to pick things up pretty quickly," Bishop said. "I wouldn't say he would ever play professional baseball, but he made some plays. He was very impressive."
Bishop, meanwhile, managed to evoke Justice's sweet left-handed swing. There's a scene in the movie in which Justice and Beane talk while the hitter takes rips in a batting cage. He looks like a natural.
"Once I had that, all I had to do was worry about executing my craft as an actor," Bishop said. "You don't ever want to hold up production of a Brad Pitt movie because you don't know your lines."
Bishop always was coachable. He blossomed as a ballplayer in Lafayette while playing for American Legion Post 517 under the guidance of hard-charging coach Don Miller.
Miller says now that "I just had to toughen him up" -- and Bishop agreed.
"He turned me into a man," Bishop recalled. "He allowed me to see what I have. I was a late-bloomer. I wasn't as aggressive as I should have been. The thing (Miller) always said to me was, 'Put a tiger in the tank.'
"That stayed with me for the rest of my life."
Contact Daniel Brown at email@example.com.