When opening day at Camden Yards comes around, our thoughts turn to Ron Shelton, the veteran of the Baltimore Orioles' farm system who became a great American movie writer-director with credits like "Bull Durham," "White Men Can't Jump,' "Tin Cup" and "Dark Blue." Over the phone yesterday from somewhere on the road outside Ojai, California, Shelton was happy to report that he'd seen a recent baseball film he'd liked a lot: Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck's "Sugar," the story of a pitcher from the Dominican Republic who advances to spring training in Arizona and Single-A Ball in Bridgetown, Iowa. (That's Algenis Perez Soto in the title role, above.) Even though "it didn't have an ending: it just stopped," he thinks Fleck and Boden struck a resonant chord.
Shelton says, "With the globalization of professional athletics, the world of sports -- not just baseball -- is full of stories of men and women who leave their homes for worlds that are different and don't make any sense to them." (Shelton is fascinated, for example, by the saga of Stephon Marbury, the star point guard who "wore out the coaches and the owners in the NBA" and then went to play for the Chinese Basketball Association. "Gangsta goes to China. What is he thinking? What are they thinking?")
Baseball is at the center of a couple of Shelton projects in development, including "Q School," about the PGA qualifying school. He hopes to direct Dennis Quaid as 49-year-old Wesley "Warhorse" Walker, "a great life-embracing character based on guys like Johnny Bench and Mike Schmidt, first-ballot baseball Hall of Famers who took up golf and devoted their lives to it and maybe had a hard time giving up being on top."
And then there's "Our Lady of the Ballpark," Shelton's celebration of Mexican baseball. It would star Eric Dane as an American ballplayer south of the border, Salma Hayek as the woman he falls for there, and Kurt Russell as an expatriate American pitcher who has built a satisfying career and family based partly on the exuberance and relative innocence of Mexican baseball. Russell gave his two best performances as a dirty cop in Shelton's "Dark Blue" and as Herb Brooks, the legendary 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey coach in Gavin O'Connor's "Miracle." With a subject and milieu like "Our Lady of the Ballpark," Shelton and Russell could create another kind of dream team.
What are some of your favorite baseball movies?
(photo courtesy Sony Pictures Classics)