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Maine baseball star portrays Nolan Ryan in new documentary

The 25-year-old MLB hopeful spent part of last summer in Austin, Texas filming the documentary 'Facing Nolan.'

BANGOR, Maine — Bangor native and Maine baseball star Justin Courtney can add a new title to his resume: actor.

The 25-year-old made his big-screen debut last month in the release of a new documentary called "Facing Nolan." The film looks back at the legacy of one of Major League Baseball's most well-known pitchers, Nolan Ryan. 

"When I first got the call from the production company, I didn't really know what to expect," Justin Courtney said.

Courtney made a name for himself in Maine as a pitcher all through grade and high school before accepting a full scholarship from the University of Maine where he would continue his pitching career. 

He was signed by the Los Angeles Angels farm system in early 2021 and has since been picked up by the New York Mets' farm team, the Brooklyn Cyclones.

Shortly after his phone call with the production team, Courtney was boarding a plane and making his way to Austin, Texas.

"We shot the movie from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. and I'm out on the mound throwing pitches at 2:33 in the morning, you know, just [to get] the right shot," Courtney said. "There was just one narrow path that you could throw the pitch to and all the things were off until they turned all the lights on in your face, and it was just like, 'Oh, alright we're here now.' Just to see the detail that goes into making a movie — it was incredible."

"Once I told my teammates about this, they were just blown away," Courtney said. "Once they saw the trailer had just come out and you can see me looking over the glove, and you can tell clear as day that it's me throwing the pitch, they were so fired up," Courtney said.

The opportunity to portray a young Nolan Ryan came as a complete surprise, and was initiated by a new friend and coach, Tom House. House has been called the 'father of modern pitching mechanics' and has worked with names like Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Nolan Ryan. 

"His resume is pretty impressive in itself, but I connected with him after college and did some training out in San Diego with him and started throwing a little bit harder," Courtney said.

Courtney's silver screen debut has people in his hometown and former coaches over the moon.

"I've seen him and talked to him when they were winning championships and doing a pig pile on the middle of the field," Dale Duff said. Duff first met Courtney when he was a young boy playing for Bangor's Little League. "He just worked at it harder probably than most players. He kind of knew he wanted to play ball and you could see the sky was going to be the limit for him."

"He is a go-getter and this whole situation — that doesn't happen to just anybody," David Morris said. Morris coached Courtney in High School. "So, he's a great example for a lot of really young kids in Bangor; particularly, just don't ever give up."

It's safe to say the loudest cheers will be coming from the home Courtney grew up in. Over the years, his parents have saved everything from newspaper clippings to game balls, but they said their main focus as parents was raising a well-rounded kid, not a pro-athlete. 

"If you have three boys playing three different sports, it was a tag team who is taking who where," Debbie Courtney said. "So, we were never, like, hyper-focused thinking Justin was going to play baseball. We were: 'Let's get them all to where they need to be' and that was that."

"We didn't really do a ton of travel ball or travel teams with him — it was really just staying local and being with his friends and having fun, that was the main focus," Jeff Courtney said. "It was never the end goal to play professional baseball. It just kind of worked out."

His mom, Debbie, said Justin isn't just great out on the field but he's also an incredible big brother and an outstanding student. Both she and her husband are very proud of their son and so is his entire community.

"There's a lot of people watching and everybody is excited," Debbie Courtney said. "We're all excited. We're happy for him."

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