Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Battered Bastards of Baseball Review

The Battered Bastards of Baseball Review

Kurt Russell has always been a favorite actor of mine. I think he is charming and charismatic, and he capable of real cinematic thunder. He has had a career that has included action, historical, romance, comedy and drama; and film after film; he has created something human, original and unforgotten. What makes Kurt Russell so absorbing to watch is because, you can just tell he loves what he does. When you love what you do, and you care about the movie you are making and how the outside world will react to it, it shows. If Kurt Russell was recorded telling ghost stories around a campfire for two hours, I would watch it and I would be delighted by it. It is always pleasing to see someone so committed to their craft. With all of that said, did any of you know that at one point, Kurt Russell played baseball?

Such a fact I learned this evening when I viewed the documentary “The Battered Bastards of Baseball,” a remarkable true story brought to life by Netflix. I have to say that Netflix is on a roll right now, with their original television shows and their documentaries. If this is any indicator that Netflix will rule all when they bring Marvel’s Daredevil to life, it was made loud and clear. I was never a fan of baseball growing up, I thought it was boring to watch and even more boring to play. That always dumbfounded me because baseball had always been referred to as an all-American kind of sport, but it is a sport I simply cannot stand. With all that said, I absolutely loved “The Battered Bastards of Baseball,” an unbelievable true story, a classic underdog story, a story that illustrates Americans when we are at our best and when we demonstrate what it means to be free.

The documentary centers on Bing Russell, the real-life father to Kurt Russell who became famous for his role Deputy Clem on television’s “Bonanza.” In 1973, Bing Russell created the first independent baseball team in America at the time, the Portland Mavericks. Even though the city of Portland was considered a vastly unpopular city to host a baseball team, Bing operated outside of Major League affiliation. Tryouts where open to the public and several men from all across the country who had been rejected by the Major Leagues came by the handfuls to try out for the team. Among the players who received a spot on the team was Bing’s son Kurt Russell, who eventually became Vice President of the team. While the country to skeptical of the team’s success, Bing broke all the rules and had grand successes. The team destroyed attendance records, and they even had fairly decent year of baseball for team that was made up completely by the public.

But it was not just attendance records Bing’s team was crumbling; he was changing everything about the sport, anything that may have been considered taboo at the time. Bing hired the first female general manager of baseball, he hired the first Asian American manager in a sports arena, the Mavericks had the first ever ball-dog, they relaunched several controversial careers; such as Jim Bouton. The teams batboy was Todd Field, who would become a film director, Fields film “In the Bedroom” would go to receive five Academy Award Nominations in 2001. Suddenly going to a baseball game was going to some kind of special event. There was a player who would burn brooms, yes literally burn brooms and he was just one of the many quirky characters who played for the Portland Mavericks. There was a kinetic energy that seems to cast itself on each Mavericks game, and there was no doubt that it appealed to the city in a big way.

A great actor is, in some ways, a great storyteller. Watching Kurt Russell reflect upon his time with the Portland Mavericks is part of the reason the documentary so watchable. You can see the nostalgia written all over Kurt Russell’s face, and you can see the same nostalgia all over Todd Field and everyone else that stops by for commentary. This was clearly a shifting, different and entertaining time for baseball and we certainly learn why. Russell in particular allows you to feel the energy he had, making you apart of his river of memory. It made the documentary all that more convincing and worthwhile.

I think something like “The Battered Bastards of Baseball” is important because it is a representation of America. A man had a dream and he did not allow the big business to control that dream, he made that dream come true. The idea of an independent sports team was unheard off, and it was heresy to think about. Despite its instant popularity and its need to shatter everything the country new about a business model, the Major League Association tried to take what was not there’s. I can respect somebody like Bing Russell enormously for never playing anybody’s ball game except for his own. He also seemed to have made a good point, perhaps going the independent route is not a bad thing, and maybe that is why most “professional” sports are so lackluster to sit through. The men that made up the Portland Mavericks were not just ballplayers, they were characters. They breathed new life into a sport and gave it new meaning. Today, many professional sports are so business oriented that it seems most players forgot what inspired them to pick up a ball; the fun of the game. These guys made baseball fun again, which is what it was always about.

As I said already, Netflix is killing it with their original pieces so far. This is an outstanding documentary in a year that has been exceptional for the genre. Hats off to all involved for telling a story worth telling and knowing exactly how to tell it. 


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