In the Disney movie "Secretariat," Kevin Connolly, left, plays Bill...

In the Disney movie "Secretariat," Kevin Connolly, left, plays Bill Nack, a former Newsday sports reporter, and Eric Lange plays Andy Beyer, a former reporter with the Washington Daily News. Credit: Disney Enterprises

'How awesome is that?'' Kevin Connolly said, showing off a picture on his cell phone of him sitting on the SportsCenter set.

Pretty awesome!

But no more so than when he threw out the first pitch at a Yankees-Dodgers game or dropped the puck at an Islanders game or rang the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange.

For the formerly struggling actor from Medford who hit it big on HBO's "Entourage,'' awesomeness has become commonplace - but not so common that he doesn't savor every moment.

"You do these little things that might not seem like a big deal at the time, but to me it's great,'' he said Wednesday over an iced tea at a Manhattan hotel. "I appreciate it in such a big way.''

Now this: He gets to play Bill Nack - the former horse racing writer for Newsday, Connolly's hometown paper - in "Secretariat,'' which opens today.

It climaxes at Belmont Park, where he spent many afternoons in his youth picnicking with his family, and where he remembers Alysheba's failed run at a Triple Crown in 1987.

He also remembers smoked-filled visits to OTB with his late father, and waking up every Sunday to the sight of him reading the Daily Racing Form "circling things like he had some system.''

As he described all this, Connolly spoke quickly and excitedly, as befits a Long Island kid who has been living a dream starring on "Entourage,'' much as his fictional character, Eric Murphy, and his pals from Queens are doing on the show.

"What it's done for me is hard to put into words,'' he said. "I've been acting for 30 years. It's a grind. I finally have something to show for a lot of trips on the Long Island Expressway sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic next to those damn [Elmhurst Gas] tanks.''

Yup, even after 18 years based in L.A., Connolly, 36, still thinks about those late, unlamented Elmhurst tanks, a staple of New York traffic reports for decades.

But other than his family - his older brother, Tim, is a Suffolk County police detective who lives in Hauppauge - nothing ties him to his old home quite like his embrace of the Islanders.

Connolly, who attends about 10 games a year, regularly has sneaked Islanders items into "Entourage'' episodes, from a cap to a T-shirt to a computer screen-saver. Does anyone complain?

"The boss man, Doug Ellin, is from Merrick, and he was a season- ticket holder, so no argument out of him,'' Connolly said.

What about the actors who play his friends, all of whom are from the city or Westchester?

"Nobody would ever, ever get even remotely lippy about the Islanders with me or there'd be bloodshed on the set of 'Entourage,' " he said. "Everybody knows that you don't even go there.''

No sense messing with a guy serious enough to have had a French bulldog named Bossy. When that dog died, he got another and named it Gillies.

Or a guy whom owner Charles Wang invited to announce the Islanders' selection of Brock Nelson at the NHL draft at the Staples Center in June.

But as much as wins and losses mean to Connolly as a fan, his support of the team and his tributes to it on "Entourage'' carry added meaning.

"It's more than just the Islanders,'' he said. "It represents like a shout-out to Long Island in general. Look, I live in L.A. and love L.A. and you couldn't drag me out of there kicking and screaming.

"But I'm really proud to have been from Long Island. I love it.''

Connolly also is a Yankees fan. He extended his visit to promote "Secretariat'' through the weekend and has tickets to Game 4 of the ALDS Sunday.

Attending Game 3 Saturday was not an option. He'll be at the Islanders' opener.