Naperville's Armstrong ready for role of lifetime, watching son at Wrigley Field

Matt Armstrong has completed quite a loop, from growing up in Naperville, moving to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career and now returning home to watch his son, Pete Crow-Armstrong, make his Wrigley Field debut with the Cubs this week.

Armstrong was an all-conference linebacker at Naperville Central High School before becoming a theater student at College of DuPage. His first on-camera role was in "Turks," a CBS police drama filmed in Chicago. It was life-changing in multiple ways, because he met his wife Ashley Crow while working on the short-lived series.

After roughly two decades in acting, Armstrong made another career change and became a high school teacher. He spoke to the Daily Herald about his journey from football star to baseball dad.

Q: Your longtime friend, Naperville Central baseball coach Mike Stock, made it sound like growing up on Chat Court in Naperville was quite an idyllic setting. What are your memories?

A: "It was great. It was one of those situations where, unlike today, in the summer we would disappear all day and we'd maybe come in and eat salami sandwiches and watch Cubs baseball for a while in the afternoon before we'd go back out. Morning and night, we were all running around. It was the most kid-friendly court you could imagine."

Q: Why didn't you play baseball in high school?

A: "Because I didn't have a crystal ball to tell me I was done growing when I was about 13½. Honestly, I thought football was my future. So I wanted to focus on increasing my speed, running track and all that. If I had it to do over again, I might have done the opposite. Or I might have stuck with football and baseball, I don't know. Hindsight's 20/20. but I think I would have loved to have a proper high school baseball career."

Q: Linebacker to actor feels like an unlikely transition. How did that happen?

A: "Probably starting somewhere around sophomore or junior year, I just became obsessed, first of all, with movies. During our study halls and things, we would talk movies. There was a one-act festival at our school where students could write, direct, act. I had a couple little parts in one of those. That was sort of converging with the fact that I was just pretty beaten up. Because of my size, I was a very high-energy player, and I didn't miss games probably when I should have. My body was not loving football any more."

Q: What were the movies that inspired you?

A: "For a while, I was obsessed with Marlon Brando after I saw 'The Godfather' for the first time. I was 15 or 16, so I went through much of his catalog - 'On The Waterfront,' 'Streetcar.' I took a film class my senior year where I was introduced to movies I hadn't seen like, 'Cuckoo's Nest' or 'Bonnie and Clyde.' I just wanted to be a part of it somehow."

Q: It's funny how there have been so many successful Chicago-based TV dramas over the years. "Turks" wasn't one of them, obviously.

A: "I ended up exactly on the right show, because that's where I met my wife. I'm still in touch with one of the producers and I told him last week, 'Kind of crazy if it wasn't for you and Robert Singer, who was the creator of that show, none of this would be happening.' I don't know if I ever would have met Ashley or not."

Q: What's it like living sort of the guest-star life in Hollywood, appearing on a lot of different shows? It makes me think about "Breaking Bad's" Jonathan Banks, who went through that and finally landed the role of a lifetime in his 60s.

A: "It's one of the reasons why I decided I wanted to do something a little steadier, because it is a bit of a ride. You're up, you're down, you're up, you're down. It's hard to walk away when you think that next job is right around the corner, like that Jonathan Banks opportunity is right around the corner. But I got to the point where my son was going into private school at Harvard-Westlake, do I really want to be on that ride anymore?"

Q: Was Pete able to get any of your Naperville-style experience growing up in the San Fernando Valley?

A: "We were lucky because before he was born, we bought a house on a street where the lots were big for L.A. We had a tiny house sitting on a quarter acre, so our backyard was actually quite big. Where he played Little League, if he had a game at 9 in the morning, he wanted to stay the entire day, so he did. He and his buddies would sort of run all over that park. That's where he got to experience that the most."

Q: Pete's your only child, you guys must be very close.

A: "That was one of the gifts of what I do and sort of the irregularity of it. Both Ashley and I were really lucky to get a lot of time with Pete when he was young and before he started kindergarten. We would take him to the park because he wanted to play baseball. The three of us managed to have a really nice experience. I was lucky I wasn't on some job that shot eight months of the year in Vancouver or something like that.

"When you get to be my age, you can look back and go, 'I should have maybe done this or that.' But then you realize, 'I am who I am and I'm sitting where I'm sitting right now because of every decision good and bad that I've ever made in my life.'"

There aren't many better seats at Wrigley Field than the one Armstrong will be sitting in this week.

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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Matt Armstrong and wife Ashley Crow show their support for son Pete's Cubbies. Courtesy of Matt Armstrong
Matt Armstrong takes a selfie at Principal Park, home of the AAA Iowa Cubs. Courtesy of Matt Armstrong
Chicago Cubs center fielder Pete Crow-Armstrong waits for his turn in the batting cage for the team's baseball game against the Colorado Rockies on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2023, in Denver. Associated Press
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