Wednesday, 23 July 2014

The Battered Bastards Of Baseball (2014)

You may know Bing Russell as a hard-working actor, arguably most famous for his recurring role in Bonanza, playing Deputy Clem Foster. Or you may know him as the father of a fine actor named Kurt. If you're a baseball fan, or hail from Portland, Oregon, then you may even know him as someone who caused a bit of a ripple, to put it mildly, through the world of baseball in the 1970s. I was, sadly, unaware of Russell, other than his connection to Kurt, but this documentary has made me into a big fan of the guy.

It's a story of a kind that has been turned into movies on more than one occasion. The story of a man (Russell) who loves his chosen sport - baseball - and continues to love it, even after injury puts an end to his potential career. Over the years he sees the sport being worn away, eroded by the quest for the almighty dollar. Independent teams start to die off, with every single one of them turning to a bigger name, a major team that will keep the smaller teams around simply to pick up the great talents that appear every so often. Russell saw an opportunity, and opportunity that everyone else sneered at, and he took it. He created an independent baseball team - The Portland Mavericks - at a time when a) no other independent teams were around, and b) Portland had fallen out of love with baseball. What's more, he created a team that started to win. It started to win and it started to remind people of how much fun could be had from a day out at the big game. Of course, this soon saw him marked out as a threat to the status quo.

Directors Chapman Way and Maclain Way take this golden story, illustrate numerous moments with archive footage and talking heads interviews (including people who played in the team, sports commentators who watched everything unfold, and Kurt, of course), and let viewers gradually warm up to the optimistic, perhaps slightly naive (though no less wonderful), fairytale that played out in the most unlikely of environments. IF this was a movie (and I think I've already heard whispers of it being turned into one) then you might roll your eyes, laugh at some of the cliches, yet still enjoy yourself. The fact that it's real allows you to revel in just how great life can be at times, and to enjoy the whole thing with the same degree of optimism, as you start to see Russell and his team defy the odds again and again, seemingly at every turn.

Trust me, even if you hate baseball, or are pretty ignorant of it (as I am, being a Brit who doesn't tend to watch many sports anyway) then you will still be able to love this documentary. It's such a fantastic tale that all but the most hard-hearted of viewers will spend most of the runtime with a large grin stuck on their face. This is well worth your time. A real . . . . . . . . wait for it . . . . . . . diamond in the rough, as it were. Thank you, I'm here all week.


The documentary is only available at Netflix just now, so enjoy some more Russell-related sports with Touchback -

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