I can live without baseball during the winter. It isn’t easy, but I cope. There’s the intrigue of the hot stove, projections, roster dreaming, season recaps and various other things to keep me occupied baseball-wise. Plus there’s basketball and football and my rugby league to whet my actual sports appetite. So winter sucks, but baseball fans deal with it much like we might deal with rain or snow; we work around it and manage as best we can.
I say this to point out just how sad the dead days after the All-Star game always are for me. The saddest phone screen I can imagine is the At-Bat app’s “No Games Scheduled” message where the day’s slate of games should rightly be. Most of the trade intrigue is past or yet to come. The more exciting bits of basketball free agency are done, the World Cup is over and the Tour de France is on in the middle of the night. It’s a sports desert folks, what can we do about it? Of course, we could probably spend more time with our loved ones or catch up on world events or read that book we’ve been meaning to. But that still doesn’t provide summer’s required daily dose of baseball.
Well, the folks at Netflix have the solution. Last week they released The Battered Bastards of Baseball, a documentary about the Portland Mavericks. The Mavericks were an independent baseball team that operated in the 1970′s, founded/owned by Bing Russell (Bonanza deputy and father of Kurt Russell). They played A-ball with a bunch of MLB affiliated teams in the Northwest League and at the time were the only independent pro team in the country.
The Mavericks held tryouts and put together a team of misfits and washouts who came together to become fan darlings and a dominant team for several years. The team gave a chance to a lot of guys who missed their opportunity or never got one to start with, and even gave baseball’s bad boy Jim Bouton the stage he needed to work back to the majors after being blackballed for his book, Ball Four. Not only is it a great story, but I thought it was extremely well done, particularly given the lack of film-footage from that era. I should note that the film has some strong language and a few locker room scenes with man-butt, so it’s not exactly an all ages experience.
I suppose I have an extra bit of interest in the documentary because it takes place in the city I call home, but you don’t have to be a Rose City citizen to enjoy the film (other than the pretty humorous trend for Portland’s young people of 2014 to groom themselves like many 70′s baseball fans, lots of mustaches). Actually, the team reminded me a lot of our Oakland Athletics.
Brandon Moss was almost out of the league before he came to Oakland, Josh Donaldson might have been stuck in AAA forever after a pair of disappointing stints with the big club. And this has been the team’s M.O. for a long time; Scott Hatterberg’s transition to playing first base comes to mind, dramatized in a book and another movie you might remember. Over the years Billy Beane has gone out on a limb countless times for guys the rest of the league wouldn’t touch, but the current crew is particularly reminiscent of The Battered Bastards of Baseball. Both teams feature lots of facial hair and smiles in the dugout paired with a great group of crazy fans (I’m looking at you in particular, Section 149 and the rest of the RF bleacher crew).
Whether or not you catch the similarities between our team and the Maverick team featured in the documentary, I still think it’s a must watch for baseball fans. And besides, what else are you going to watch before first pitch on Friday night?