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Local University of Maryland Alumnus Produces Million Dollar Arm

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Mark Ciardi may not have had a million dollar arm when it came to playing baseball; however as a movie producer, he keeps hitting one home run after the other.

A graduate of the University of Maryland, Ciardi recently attended a premiere showing of his newly produced movie, “Million Dollar Arm” at the Hoff Theater in the Adele H. Stamp Student Union Center. A reception was held afterwards with members of the administration and Board of Trustees. JB Bernstein, the scout who was portrayed in the movie, was also at the reception.

Ciardi’s sister, Cindy Whittington of Chantilly, VA, and his brother, Scott Ciardi, attended as well. All five Ciardi children attended the University of Maryland and Mark Ciardi continues to be a big supporter of the University. Their parents helped to put all of them through college and Million Dollar Arm was dedicated to Dominic Ciardi, their father who recently passed away.

The movie, which opened on Friday, May 16, is based on a real American sports agent, JB
Bernstein, who used a competition to find athletes in India who could become major league baseball pitchers. Given the fact that no one in India plays baseball, the obstacles seemed insurmountable but the tenacity of the two players selected effects a change not only in themselves, but in Bernstein as well.

“It was a real transformation – how those boys affected him,” said Ciardi. When asked about the actuality of the love story, Ciardi said, “They really met and fell in love and had a child. The writers spent a lot of time talking to the characters to get it right.”

Retracing Bernstein’s journey during the scouting, filmmakers visited real sites, including the area surrounding the Taj Mahal; backstreets of New Delhi; and small villages outside Lucknow. Ciardi said that there were plenty of challenges filming on site but they got it done.

This was Ciardi’s first time in India and in an earlier interview, Ciardi said, “India evokes a wide and varying list of emotions. It’s hard to describe. It would take days. It’s good, it’s bad, it’s loud, it’s quiet, it’s insane, it’s hot, it’s beautiful, it’s sometimes not so beautiful, but it all added up to just an unbelievably incredible experience.”

Movie making is not new for Ciardi. "The Rookie," starring Dennis Quaid, was his first movie and won the 2002 ESPY Award for "Best Sports Movie." Ciardi had developed a relationship with the movie's inspiration, Jim Morris, during the time they spent together in the Brewers' minor league system, and said, "It was my favorite film, and the one I am most proud of because it told the story of my good friend, Jim Morris."

Ciardi’s affinity and love of sports comes from the time that he spent playing baseball.

Drafted out of the University of Maryland in the 15th round of the 1983 draft, Ciardi made his way through the organization's minor league system before landing in Milwaukee for the 1987 campaign. He played for the Milwaukee Brewers in 1987, opening the season on the Milwaukee Brewers roster in which they started the season with 13 consecutive wins. Ciardi was the losing pitcher in their first loss of the season, a 7–1 loss to the Chicago White Sox. Appearing four times with the Brewers, he gave up 17 earned runs in 16.1 innings for a 9.37 ERA before being demoted to the minor leagues.

Ciardi, who modeled to make extra money during the off-season, continued to model and take acting classes in Los Angeles. He had a few small roles as an actor but felt that he would be more successful as a producer. He connected with his current business partner on the West Coast, Gordon Gray. Using the money he made from modeling and acting, they started a production company called Mayhem Pictures.

“I knew that I wanted to do something else,” he said. “I like inspiring stories both on and off the field.”

After “The Rookie” Ciardi went on to produce "The New Guy," a 2002 comedy starring Lyle Lovett and Eddie Griffin; a 2003 TV series called "Miracles"; and the 2004 blockbuster hit "Miracle," which resulted in his second ESPY. He also produced “Big Shot,” “Secretariat,” “Invincible,” “The Game Plan,” “Tooth Fairy” and “Arabian Nights.”

Mayhem Pictures has become known for those ‘feel-good’ stories that combine sports and an element of overcoming something that is universal and very powerful. Ciardi says that people send him story ideas from all over that have these similar themes.

Ciardi is currently working on an assortment of projects. They recently finished filming “Fallen” a movie based on the popular teenage series of books that has a large fan base. Unlike many of his prior movies that were part of the Disney label, “Fallen” is an independent movie.

“The movie came out really well,” said Ciardi. “The advantage of an independent movie is that we have more control, but we also have more responsibility in promoting in. it’s a different kind of movie from what we’ve done in the past.

He’s working on a movie, “McFarland” featuring Kevin Costner as a cross-country coach who works with immigrant field workers, as well as some other films.

Ciardi, who lives in Los Angeles with his wife and children, said, “It’s fun, but exhausting.”

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