Fall has arrived. The days are growing shorter. Leaves are preparing to unhinge themselves from their moorings, thus completing their evolution from green and shady…to breathtakingly colorful…to some poor slob’s yardwork. It’s the annual pageant of autumn.
Every four years, that pageant contains an additional component for those of us with a fondness for under-covered sports: the post-Summer Olympics hangover. All of the archers, fencers, runners, divers, and paddlers that we’ve gotten to know so well will disappear from the face or the earth…or at least that part of the face of the earth that gets media coverage.
Casting about today for something to satisfy my “for the love of the game” craving, I remembered a friend telling me about a must-see documentary.
I had been sharing with him my experience of being bum-rushed out of Angels Stadium recently for having the temerity to remain in my seat soaking up baseball-field ambiance (and the rest of my beer) after the game had ended.
“I’m surprised they didn’t hit you with a Premium Ambiance Package fee on the way out,” he chuckled.
“Or an Additional Ushering Services surcharge,” I added.
“You know that would’ve never happened at a Portland Mavericks game.”
I had to cede the point, mostly because I had no idea what a Portland Maverick was. I was about to find out, though.
Evidently, back in the mid-seventies an actor named Bing Russell—father of Kurt Russell—pursued his own life-long love of the game by ponying up $500 to establish an independent minor-league baseball team. He then petitioned the Single-A Northwest League for entry, which at the time was an outlandish idea. Back then every team in the NWL was affiliated with a Major League Baseball team, and existed for the sole purpose of grooming players for eventual ascension to the “bigs.” In fact, that was the case with every single minor-league team in the country.
But then came Bing Russell’s Portland Mavericks, whose sole purpose was to provide players that hadn’t caught on elsewhere with the opportunity to play pro baseball. They weren’t there to move up the ladder—there was no ladder for them. They played for the love of the game. And against all odds and conventional wisdom, they played extraordinarily well.
All of this happened right underneath my baseball-loving nose, for while I grew up hanging on every pitch of the grand old game, I knew nothing of the Portland Mavericks. Fortunately, Maclain and Chapman Way captured the whole story in the Netflix original film, The Battered Bastards of Baseball.
So I poured a cup of coffee this morning and queued up BBB, not quite sure what to expect. For an hour and twenty charmed minutes I sat transfixed—my unattended coffee turning cold. I had to keep reminding myself I was watching a documentary, and I was so thankful that I had no prior knowledge of how this story had actually played out back in the day. It was funny. It was heart-warming—and I’m not a guy whose heart gets warmed that often by what movies and television have to offer. It was downright life-affirming.
Trust me on this: if you have a genuine love of a game—any game—you will relate to The Battered Bastards of Baseball. And if, in the pursuit of that love of a game, you’ve ever done anything that would otherwise qualify as crazy, you will cherish this film.
Find it. Watch it at least once. Hey, you’ve got the time—Olympic coverage doesn’t resume for another 17 months.