Sammi Kane Kraft, whose real-life baseball skills landed her the role of the pitching ace in the only film she ever made, 2005’s “Bad News Bears,” died early Tuesday in a car accident in Los Angeles. She was 20.
She was a passenger in an Audi that was speeding on the westbound 10 Freeway near Crenshaw Boulevard about 1:30 a.m. when it rear-ended a big rig and was then struck by another car, according to the California Highway Patrol.
Kraft was pronounced dead at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, said her brother, Frankie Kraft.
Molly Kate Adams, the 21-year-old driver of the Audi, was treated for moderate injuries and arrested on suspicion of felony drunk driving, the CHP said. The two other drivers escaped without major injury.
Kraft was discovered on a baseball diamond in Los Angeles, where her family had moved from New York so she and another brother could play ball year-round.
She secured the part of Amanda Whurlitzer, played with gusto by Tatum O’Neal in the 1976 original film, after throwing a 75 mph fastball during a casting call in Encino, the Daily News of Los Angeles reported in 2005.
“Amanda is such a character that you can’t ‘out-Tatum’ Tatum O’Neal, so we wanted to get a real girl who could do it,” “Bad News Bears” director Richard Linklater said in the 2005 interview. “I didn’t want to keep cutting to some boy with a wig on who could throw.”
Only 13 years old when the film was released, Kraft portrayed the sole girl on a misfit baseball team coached by Billy Bob Thornton’s character. He gave her acting tips and helped her with the crying scenes, she later said.
“I could never fill Tatum O’Neal’s shoes, but I tried to make the role my own,” Kraft told the New York Daily News in 2005. “I added a bit of the New York in me. A little toughness, a little bit of smart-ass.”
She didn’t care about acting as a career but “was just kind of enjoying all of it,” Frankie Kraft said. “She always wore a smile and was hilarious. She loved characters, did amazing Robert De Niro impressions and never took anything too seriously.”
Born April 2, 1992, in Livingston, N.J., Sammi grew up with two brothers in a baseball-playing family.
As an 8-year-old pitcher and the only girl on the Toluca Lake Titans baseball team, she once threw nine strikes in the final inning to win the game. The tough-as-nails performance was vintage Sammi, said Frank: “She was just that kind of chick.”
At El Camino Real High School in Woodland Hills, she played varsity girls softball. After graduating in 2010, she studied at San Francisco State and started a folk-country-rock band called Scary Girls.
After returning to Los Angeles earlier this year, Kraft enrolled at Santa Monica College and often performed as a solo singer-guitarist at small venues. On the last night of her life, she attended a show and was trying to network with bands, her brother said.
For the last year, Kraft had collaborated with her brother on a musical called “Funerals” that was inspired by their grandmother’s death. She had spent a week in January in New York work-shopping the production with actors.
“Now I know I need to complete this for her,” Frankie said. “It was our baby, and it’s nothing to be wasted.”
One of the songs she wrote for the musical is called “Time” and includes the lyric: “Time slows without warning.”
She is survived by her parents, Shelly and Lulu Kane Kraft of Marina del Rey; brothers Frankie and Bobby; and a grandfather, Syd Kane.
Services are pending.