‘The Battered Bastards of Baseball’ a must-see

Netflix subscribers are encouraged, make that urged, to watch “The Battered Bastards of Baseball,” a documentary about the independent Portland Mavericks, who dominated the Northwest League in the mid-70s.

Founded by veteran character Bing Russell, dad of Kurt and grandfather of former Brave Matt Franco, to fill the void left by the departure of the Triple-A Beavers, the Mavs were a collection of coulda beens and never weres that Portland embraced. Jim Bouton started his comeback there.

The Mavs, competing against major league affiliates, set minor league attendance records but were eventually run out of business by the baseball establishment. They were just too damn enjoyable to last.



The Sixth Beatle

Just watched a fantastic Fernando Valenzuela documentary on ESPN (available  OnDemand for Comcast subscribers). It’s the first of the “30 in 30” series focusing on baseball that I found compelling. (ANOTHER tribute to the 2004 Red Sox along with some Steinbrenner ass-kissing by overrated documentarian Barbara Kopple!?!)

Director Cruz Angeles tells Valenzuela’s story from the perspective of a Latino kid growing up in L.A. Mexicans mostly resented the Dodgers until Fernando, largely due to the ugly roots of Dodger Stadium. Chavez Ravine was a community founded by Latino immigrants who were forced out by old school eminent domain. That is, the cops showed up with billy clubs then bulldozed their homes.

But Valenzuela changed that perception. Name a famous Mexican before Fernando? I’m talking Brad Pitt-famous, because Fernandomania was not overhyped. His debut in Atlanta, on a Thursday night in May, attracted 26,597 fans, more than the first two games of the Dodgers series combined. That was a huge crowd in those days. (Shockingly, the Braves gave Fernando his first major league ass-kicking, scoring seven runs in 3-2/3 innings. Biff Pocoroba hit second that night and played 3B, BTW.)

It doesn’t get more aberrating than that. El Toro threw 8 shutouts in a 110-game, strike-shortened season. By comparison, Mad Dog never topped five in a season.

Fernando’s greatest legacy? A loyal Latino following for the Dodgers. Visitors to Chavez Ravine  can attest: Fernandomania lingers.

Sugar’s a gem

Office readers had good things to say about “Sugar,” and you were right. What a great flick, free of the romanticism that tends to bog down most baseball movies. Great performance by Angelis Perez Soto in the title role. He’ll have you thinking twice the next time you boo the likes of Manny Acosta or Luis Valdez.

I’ve written before about my week spent at the Braves’ Dominican academy in San Francisco de Marcoris, which serves as a weigh station for budding prospects. Most of them wouldn’t make it off the island, and the pressure was evident, with one notable exception. Here’s what I wrote about Neftali Feliz, 17 at the time:

His body is built for mound success, lean but muscular with oversized hands. You’ll never meet a more affable kid; he’s always smiling, that is, until he takes the field.

That confidence doesn’t come easy, especially when the stakes are so high. For most, it’s a choice between baseball player and rice farmer. “Sugar” tells their story, and does so beautifully.


Baseball meets Patch Adams

(originally posted 1/08) 

If you asked me yesterday what I thought of “Field of Dreams,” I would’ve probably spoken favorably. God, I embarrass myself sometimes.

As I watched it I kept thinking of of the Christian Rock Hard episode of “South Park.” Record exec to Cartman: “You really, really love Jesus.” “Yeah, don’t you?”
Ray Kinsella, as played by Kevin Costner, really, really loved baseball. If Shoeless Joe Jackson’s jock had been available, he would’ve tongue kissed it.
The yuppie/hippie angst was even more nauseating, with its trite “I’m turning into my father” subplot. Now I’m recalling another “South Park.”
Just when you think “Field of Dreams” can’t get any more hackneyed, a black man rhapsodizes about the good ol’ days when African-Americans couldn’t play major league baseball. Terrence Mann, meet Clarence Thomas.
Finally, if you’re making a valentine to a game, get the details right. Nothing against Ray Liotta, but he’s no more Shoeless Joe than Johnny Depp is Babe Ruth.
And “Field of Dreams” is no more a classic baseball film than “The Slugger’s Wife.”