'The Battered Bastards of Baseball' a true underdog story

Chapman Way, Kurt Russell and Maclain Way. (AFP photo)

Chapman Way, Kurt Russell and Maclain Way. (AFP photo)

Sean Fitzgerald, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:04 PM ET

Sometimes it pays to help your grandparents with chores.

Four years ago, two brothers from Thousand Oaks, Calif., visited their grandmother to help her organize her house. That visit led to a discovery of a baseball photo, which eventually led to the feature-length documentary The Battered Bastards of Baseball — and a premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, a distribution deal with Netflix, an Oscar-qualifying campaign and an upcoming Hollywood adaptation.

So, co-directors Chapman Way, 27, and his brother Maclain, 23, are pretty happy that they decided to stop by their grandmother’s place that day. It basically launched their documentary filmmaking careers.

The Battered Bastards of Baseball, which hit Netflix this past weekend, follows the short, remarkable history of the Portland Mavericks, an independent baseball team — and actually the only independent baseball team in the U.S. at the time, with no major league affiliation — that operated between 1973-77.

The team was owned by Bing Russell, a baseball-obsessed actor who starred in films like The Magnificent Seven and TV shows like Bonanza. Russell, the grandfather of Chapman and Maclain and the father of actor Kurt Russell, passed away in 2003, but his wife left his messy office in their house intact.

“It was still kinda crazy, with papers everywhere and stuff,” says Chapman, who had to organize the office. “But behind his desk, I saw this old framed photo that was leaning against the wall, and I picked it up, and it was the 1975 Portland Mavericks team roster photo. And immediately when you look at it, you start laughing, because there’s guys drinking beers, and there’s a dog running around in the photo, and some of them have their jerseys on backwards. It was very different from team photos of today.

“So I immediately showed it to my brother, and we had a good laugh, and then we had that eureka filmmaker moment, like, ‘Hey, maybe there’s something more to this story.’”

Since the team had no major league affiliation, Russell filled the Mavericks with players that had been overlooked or cast aside by the other teams — talented men that had been rejected and had something to prove. These were ordinary men; mostly thirty-something with potbellies, messy beards and mischievous senses of humour.

And because players didn’t get called up to the major leagues, fans got to know the individual personalities on the team. This sense of familiarity, coupled with the fact that the Mavericks started dominating other teams in the Class A Northwest League — teams that had access to higher payrolls and major-league talent — led to multiple attendance records.

“There was somebody for everyone,” says former batboy Todd Field in the documentary. Field, who ended up directing the acclaimed films In the Bedroom and Little Children, also mentions that Russell’s approval meant more to him than anything — including being nominated for an Oscar.

“This was not just a baseball team for a lot of these guys,” says Maclain. “This was a very pivotal moment in their lives that would contribute a lot to the success they would go on to have in very different fields.”

At Sundance, the Way brothers sold the documentary’s narrative remake rights to Justin Lin, known for his work on the Fast and the Furious franchise, who has an indie production company called Perfect Storm. The adaptation will be written and directed by Field, the batboy that grew up to become an Oscar-nominated filmmaker. Kurt Russell will also likely be involved in some way.

Kurt, who helped his father set up the Mavericks and briefly played on the team, didn’t know about the documentary until his nephews had already spent nine months researching the project.

“We wanted him to know that we were taking this story seriously, and that we wanted him to do it,” says Chapman, who brought his uncle to a soundstage for a three-hour chat on camera. “He really opened up, and talked about his father, and talked about his experience up in Portland, and just gave us this really incredible interview.

“And the first time he saw the film was at the premiere at Sundance. I think it was a really emotional experience for him, to see his dad again, to see him on the big screen. To see his father come back to life like that, in a crowd with 600 people, I think it was a really powerful experience.”

Twitter: @SeanDFitzgerald

sean.fiztgerald@sunmedia.ca

 


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