This Friday night, one of Santa Monica’s truly original characters is inviting everyone into what is practically his front yard to celebrate the local community.
The night includes a screening of “Little Big League,” a visit from longtime Santa Monica celebrity Tony Todd and health screenings provided by a local hospital.
Todd is the guest of honor, both for his role in the movie and his time working on behalf of local youth.
Todd, a promising local sports star, gained recognition for his baseball and football prowess during his time at Samohi. However, his life took an unexpected turn when injuries scuttled his plans for a football scholarship and eventually derailed a comeback playing baseball. He found work with the City of Santa Monica but quickly found another outlet for his longtime love of sports.
One day at Marine Park, he stumbled upon an audition event organized by Rob Reiner and Billy Crystal for the baseball movie “Little Big League.”
The entertainment scouts were initially skeptical of his ability to audition and the producers questioned his ability to play the game.
“I told them I’m probably better than everyone you got up there and then they said, ‘we’ve been hearing that all day’ … So they gave me five swings. Everyone else had 10 swings. They gave me five swings. They throw the five balls, the first four go over the fence, then the last one, they told me to run to first base. I’m not going to say I can’t run a little bit so I didn’t stop at first. I just ran all the way around.”
That audition prompted a job offer and that job offer grew into a successful acting career with more than 30 national commercials and appearances in TV and film, notably in “Anger Management” and the Black Panther movies.
He has remained strongly connected to local youth, coaching the Samohi baseball team and working as a mentor for kids regardless of their dreams. He said he enjoys working with youth and helping to continue a tradition of mentorship that was passed down to him by his coaches.
“I lost a coach recently, James (Mac) McPherson who coached me at Santa Monica. He passed away last year. And I remember as a kid, you know, my mom and dad divorced when I was five years old and he basically took me under his wing, myself and this other guy named Aaron Brown because we were the better athletes in the area. But, he didn’t have much, he worked for the city, but he would just teach me how to give back and I’ve always done that. I’ve always given back to kids.”
Todd said he’s always happy to help a kid work on a scholarship, or give some pointers on a swing but he also wants local youth to know that whatever their dream may be, they can succeed even if their plans seemingly get derailed.
“If I can touch one kid from this, I think I’ve done my job, you know, just to let them know that anything in life is possible because that was not my path … because I always want everyone to do well and everyone cannot be a professional athlete. But there’s other jobs you can have, you know, that you love to do. You just have to find something that you’re great at. I think I found my niche.”
Outside the entertainment business, Todd said that niche is part local historian, part youth advocate and part community entertainer. He loves to chronicle the success of his friends and neighbors with a particular emphasis on tracking the many students that have crossed his path.
“I just like to give back man, to the kids, because I still feel like I’m a little kid. And I just want everyone to have fun. And that’s what it’s all about, it’s just paying it forward. And I just I love doing that.”
Todd will be on hand Friday to sign autographs and enjoy a screening of his first role. The family movie is about a kid who inherits a Major League baseball team from his grandfather and becomes the Team Manager. Todd will be on hand to talk to local kids and sign autographs.
While the movie night will be fun, there will also be some opportunities for free health screenings courtesy of the Providence Medical Group. They will be offering free hypertension screenings, colorectal cancer risk screenings and other benefits.
Mats and snacks will be provided for the first 150 guests but everyone is welcome to bring their own picnics, snacks, drinks and blankets.
For free tickets to the event, visit https://mitpvirg-prov.eventbrite.com. Movie night begins in Virginia Ave. Park (2200 Virginia Ave.) at 6 p.m.