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Let’s play Ball! – ★★★★★
The story of Bing Russell and his independent baseball team the Portland Mavericks is a classic tale of David and Goliath and possibly the best documentary you’ll see this year.
Bing grew up around the game of baseball being the batboy for the New York Yankees and got to meet the giants of the game like Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Lefty Gomez. He played for a time himself, but a ball to the head finished his career and he moved to California to pursue acting. While never setting the screen ablaze, he got regular work and was the town sheriff on the TV show “Bonanza”. When the acting work dried up, he decided to set up an independent baseball team in the recently dumped Portland and made history. Oh and he’s Kurt Russell’s Dad.
Directed by Bing’s grandsons Chapman and Maclain Way, what follows is a loving retelling of a truly amazing story. It’s a standard talking-head inter cut with stock footage and pictures from the time documentary. What makes it stand out is the warmth and affection each person has for Bing and what he did for the town, its people and the sport of Baseball. He brought pride back to a washed out city and made the rest of the country stand up and take note. The film is underpinned by the music of Brocker Way, the third grandchild, and captures the mood perfectly rising and falling with each trial and tribulation.
While the fact Kurt Russell is Bing’s son has certainly gotten the film more notice, it is more than able to stand on its own two feet with a raft of testimonies. The manager, team members and local sports writers of the time are all aware they were part of something special. No one captures this better than Todd Field who was the team’s batboy. Nobody could have known he would go onto become the Oscar-nominated writer and director of In the Bedroom, but Todd sites his time with the Mavericks as a pivotal moment in his life.
It’s the universal story of sport at the moment – everything is a business, with the players merely being a product with little or no regard for the spirit of the game. So while it is focusing on baseball, you can see the glaring similarities with all other major sports today. There are too many stand-out moments of the tale to mention them all and the joy is going in blind and letting one of the greatest sports stories unfold before you. While only available on Netflix, it is easily worth the subscription fee and perhaps a message in itself on the notion of the little guy taking on the big corporations.
The main song is titled “Make Us A Show” and the Way brothers have certainly done that, giving the Mavericks and Bing Russell their rightful place in the annals of baseball history.
The Battered Bastards of Baseball is only available at present to watch on Netflix.