‘A League of Their Own’ star Molly Ephraim steps up to the plate
As a kid growing up outside Philadelphia, Molly Ephraim was a “Phillies girl.” Her dad watched the baseball team on TV, and her grandfather took her to their games, where she cheered for mullet-sporting first baseman John Kruk.
“I had a big childhood crush on John Kruk,” Ephraim told The Post. “Not my type now, but I loved him.”
Still, despite her enthusiasm for her home team, Ephraim didn’t care much about the sport itself.
“I couldn’t tell you what was actually happening,” the 36-year-old actress admitted. “I was more keen on the hot dogs.”
So Ephraim really had to step up to the plate for her role in the upcoming Amazon series, “A League of Their Own,” a spinoff of the popular 1992 movie about a World War II-era women’s professional baseball league. Ephraim plays Maybelle Fox, a fiery, fun-loving blonde who plays centerfield for the fictional Rockford Peaches and is named after real-life legend Maybelle Blair.
Ephraim, a natural brunette, had the pleasure of getting to know the feisty Blair, who appears in the pilot. She asked the 95-year-old if she had any tips to help get her in the zone or any superstitions she had surrounding the game?
Blair’s answer: “Hot dogs, hot dogs, hot dogs.”
“I thought, ‘This girl knows how to live,” Ephraim said. “We should all be 95 years old and that sassy and just downing hot dogs. What an absolute dream.”
Maybelle’s not the star player, but Ephraim still had to learn to bat, catch, throw and run bases like a pro, attending four weeks of training camp with her cast-mates, including writer and star Abbi Jacobson, another Phillies gal. Ephraim focused on perfecting Maybelle’s batting style.
“I was really practicing my swing, trying to make it really sassy, get a little wiggle in it,” she said.
But by the time she got to bat for the camera — due to production delays — Ephraim was nearly eight months’ pregnant.
“I was humongous,” Ephraim said. “I think I did it three times, and I was like, ‘Oof, okay, and we’re done.’” Still, one of those takes was winning enough to make the second episode. “I was feeling very proud I got that in there.”
The actress is used to taking big swings. She moved to New York City from Bucks County, Penn., at 15 to make her Broadway debut. She put her acting career on hiatus to study religion at Princeton. And she filmed not one but two TV series — “League” and Peacock’s “Angelyne” — while pregnant with her first child,
“The one difference with ‘Angelyne’ was that in one of the scenes I actually get to play a pregnant person,” she said. “I come from theater, and I like to act with my whole body … It was definitely a challenge to be like, ‘Oh, no, I can only be shot from here up, or I have to find an angle [where the bump doesn’t show].”
Ephraim was born in 1986 in Philly, hen moved to nearby Doylestown, Penn. Her parents ran a pet-supply store, and she and her brother kept an assortment of animals — birds, dogs, a snapping turtle, amphibious waterdogs — and went to 4-H shows. “Small town stuff,” she said.
She got into acting through dance, eventually taking musical theater classes. For her 10th birthday, Ephraim asked her parents for an agent.
“They were like, ‘Oh no, this is bad, this is very bad,’” she recalled. “They were very supportive, but also that’s terrifying.”
Ephraim started doing community theater at the Bucks County Playhouse, playing Bielke, aka daughter No. 5, in “Fiddler on the Roof.” The actor who played Tevye, Eddie Mekka, actually had a small part in the original “A League of Their Own,” as Madonna’s swing-dance partner. “We were mucho impressed,” Ephraim said. “It was like, ‘Oh my God, this guy who plays our dad danced with Madonna!’”
When she was 15, the actress and her mom temporarily moved into a relative’s spare Manhattan studio so Ephraim could make her Broadway debut as Little Red Riding Hood in a 2002 production of “Into the Woods.”
“It was very soon after September 11, and there was this sense of unease,” Ephraim said. “I remember getting on a subway car, and my mom was still on the platform, and we got separated. I had never been away [from home], I was in this city, and we didn’t have cell phones.” She was petrified. “But then she found me at the next station, and all was well.”
It was: Two years later, she returned to the Great White Way in “Fiddler on the Roof,” even staying by herself for a couple nights in Manhattan. After getting a religion degree at Princeton, she landed on the Tim Allen sitcom “Last Man Standing” straight away.
Early in 2021, Ephraim and her now-husband, Evan, who works at a software company, decided to try to have a baby. “I think for a lot of people, the pandemic sort of altered the sort of timing of things and the trajectory of life events that they were thinking about doing,” she said. “And for us it was like, ‘OK, I’m ready to have a kid.’”
She had already shot the pilot for “A League of Their Own” and had a few months off before the series would resume filming in early May in Los Angeles: “I didn’t want to be too big [when filming], but I also wanted to be mostly past my first trimester in case I was sick.”
Ephraim timed it perfectly, but then the production was moved back to late July in Pittsburgh, far from her home in LA. “Which is how I ended up with four bags in front of my stomach for most of the shooting!
“They just kept giving me more and more bags, and more and more jackets and sweaters and knitting supplies,” Ephraim recalled. It’s also why her character is so often seen in the dugout, cleaning her glove. “Luckily, they didn’t have to sort of adjust my placement on the team too much. And I had some amazing stunt and body doubles.”
Despite all the time on the bench, she really felt like a player. “We did become sort of teammates on and off the show,” she said of her co-stars, adding that they took a river cruise and she attended a Pirates-Phillies game with Jacobson and fellow Philly-native cast-mate Melanie Field. “We creamed them,” Ephraim boasted. “We were this bawdy group of Philly girls up there just screaming and all these Pirates [fans] looking back at us angrily.”
In September, Ephraim — then about seven months pregnant — and Evan decided to tie the knot. Her co-stars threw her a surprise bridal shower before she went to her parents’ beach house for the ceremony. “We called the drive back to western Pennsylvania — dinner at a rest-stop Subway — our ‘honeymoon,’” she recalled. She continued filming in Pittsburgh until her doctor ordered her back to LA before the baby’s birth.
“I didn’t finish up all of the shooting that I had intended to, but I also was like, ‘We got to go! I don’t want to have a baby in midair!’”she said. Her daughter, Zia, was born Dec. 1.
“I was so lucky to work while pregnant and work so much while pregnant, so it’s also been nice to just have some time with my kid,” she said. Ephraim has also wrapped up Season 2 of HBO’s gritty Perry Mason reboot, and in the meantime is hoping for another season of “League.”
“I don’t know when, where, how that would happen, but I think we’re all keeping our fingers crossed for that,” she said. “I think people will really like it. You know, you get all the fans that are sort of grandfathered in from the original movie, but it definitely speaks to a newer crowd.”
Photos: Joe Schmelzer; Stylist: Gaelle Paul/A-Frame; Hair: Ericka Verrett/A-Frame; Makeup: Loren Canby/A-Frame; Location: Dream Hollywood, 6417 Selma Ave