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“Often bumpy roads lead to beautiful places. And this is a beautiful place.”
Washington Nationals Manager Dave Martinez

If you like comebacks and reversals then the 2018-2019 Washington Nationals are your team. There aren’t too many people in May 2019 who would have predicted that the Washington Nationals at the end of October would be World Series champs. After all, their record at that point was 19-31 and one predictor gave them a .05% of winning the World Series.  Forget the playoffs, just finishing with a winning record seemed a long shot. A common question debated was when Nationals’ manager Dave Martinez would be fired.

But last Wednesday the Nationals came back in game 7, just like they had all year, to win that game—and their first World Series championship in franchise history. And on Saturday they celebrated with a parade in Washington, D.C.

Since this is a blog with a focus on screenwriting and filmmaking, let me look at the Nationals’ accomplishment from that perspective. As I’ve mentioned before, Martinez and I went to the Lake Howell High School with him beginning to attend the year after I graduated. I was in my first year of college and working for the Sanford Herald and covered some of the games Martinez played.

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Here’s an article published on March 15, 1981 where I wrote “Martinez, a pitcher-left fielder, transferred from New York two weeks ago. [Coach Birto] Benjamin has high hopes for his left-handed junior.”

In a recent interview Benjamin thought Martinez could play college ball and even had  the big league potential, but he never envisioned Martinez would have the wild success he’s had as a coach and manager. Martinez turned down a lowball pro offer to play baseball at what is now Valencia College.

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Dave Martinez at Valencia College in 1982

In 1983 Martinez signed with the Chicago Cubs and played briefly with the Iowa Cubs in the Quad Cites. In 1986, he did something that every Little League player dreams of doing—he was playing baseball in the major leagues.

He had a 15-year career as a player, and that alone is a major accomplishment. In the whole history of Lake Howell only two players have made it to the major leagues. The second being Eddie Taubensee—who I also covered working for the Herald.

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Eddie Taubensee a few years before he was a 6’4″ MLB player

The thing that both Martinez and Taubensee have in common is that long before they were playing Major League Baseball, they were honing their skills in Little League. Martinez in Long Island and Taubensee in Altamonte Springs. I imagine both of them were playing competitive baseball for a 10-12 years before they stepped on a major league field.

They had small victories along the way. Their talent, skill, accomplishments, hard work and potential became to shine over the rest. I don’t think screenwriting and filmmaking is any different. Except screenwriters and filmmakers sometimes think they are going to spring up to the Oscar stage from a dream they had yesterday. (Even Diablo Cody, who is the rare screenwriter who did win an Oscar in her first screenplay—Juno—said that she had been writing poetry and short stories everyday since she was 12. That was a 15+year overnight success.)

I enjoyed my year of working as a sports reporter and photographer. I watched a lot of talented players—none better than Tim Raines who in 2017 was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

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In 2009 I compared working screenwriters to NFL player in the post How Much Do Screenwriters Make? that has now been viewed more than 100,000 times. It was a comparison I now here a few times a year, but one I’d never heard or read before. Check it out if you’ve never read it before.

Some closing encouraging advice comes from one of my acting teachers back in the day. He actually used a baseball metaphor to encourage young actors, “Just because you can’t be Babe Ruth, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy playing the game.” You can unpack that in any way you want. But without Little League coaches enjoying the game, Martinez probably wouldn’t have honed his baseball skills at a young age. There’s not going to be another Steven Spielberg, but there are going to be filmmakers creating theatrical and streaming entertainment. And there’s going to be others all around the world that take what they learn and become content creators and making a living with their technical and creative skills.

My biggest dream at 19 years old was to be a photographer some day for Sports Illustrated magazine. But by the time I was 20 I began to tire of doing sports photography. I remember clearly thinking after one year that I didn’t want to be taking pictures of people sliding into home when I was 30-years old. (When you’re 20 you tend to think of 30 as ancient.) But looking back it was a great experience. And Dave Martinez’s success gave me a good excuse to revisit that era of my life. (An era where I didn’t have the benefit of auto focus lens or an auto-winder to take the photos below.)

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Scott W. Smith

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“[Dave Martinez is] a fine role model for many. Just not, it seems, a very good big league manager.”
Thomas Boswell
The Washington Post, May 22, 2019
(A few months before Martinez led the Nationals to their first ever World Series appearance.)

“If the Nationals don’t turn it around soon, don’t be surprised if [Martinez is] the first manager fired in 2019.”
David Schoenfield,
ESPN article, May 8, 2019 

Last night, during game six of the World Series between the Houston Astros and the Washington Nationals, I continued a baseball tradition from my youth. As a Little League player in the era before the internet and even cable TV, I was so in love with baseball that I would listen to baseball games on the radio. I was a fan of the Cincinnati Reds when they were nicknamed The Big Red Machine.

When they played the Atlanta Braves I was able to follow the play by play commentary from a radio station out of Georgia. And for reasons I’m not totally sure of today, I had better reception from the radio in my mom’s car. So if you can imagine a 11-14 year old in Orlando, Florida sitting in a station wagon at night listening to a baseball game, that was me.

I’ve been listening to the 2019 World Series that way as well, but on my phone and in bed. If the game is uneventful I drift to sleep like listening to a podcast. But last night I stayed up for the whole game because of the drama.

With the Washington Nationals down 2-1 there was a controversial call against the Nationals that could have potentially changed the outcome of the game and the series. Nationals’ manager Dave Martinez was so upset with the call he ended up getting ejected from the game for yelling at the umpire. But managers often do that kind of thing to fire up the troops. If that was the case, it worked. After his ejection the next batter, Anthony Rendon,  hit a two run home run putting the Nationals ahead for good.

It’s all part of what I’m calling “The Dave Martinez Redemption.” Just a few months ago, The Washington Post ran an article Dave Martinez is a good man. But he probably shouldn’t be managing the Nationals. At that point, in May 2019, the Nationals were in a slump and the season was considered a wash and columnist Thomas Boswell pointed to  “The Martinez Problem.” There was a problem somewhere, because the Nationals started the year with a win/loss record of 19-31.

Since that May article, Martinez led a team that didn’t seem destined for the playoffs, all the way to their first ever World Series appearance. And facing a rock solid Houston Astro team that was highly favored to win the series, they are now locked three games a piece going into the final game tonight in Houston.  High drama indeed.

And to add an exclamation to last night’s victory, Juan Soto did a bat drop after hitting a monster home run that gave the Nationals some insurance runs.

Time will tell if the Nationals can complete the total Dave Martinez Redemption tonight by winning their first ever World Series, but Martinez has proven his worth as a manager. And if they do win the Series, that ejection will be become legendary.

And I’m pulling for Martinez, because as I’ve written before, we both played baseball at the same high school—Lake Howell. I graduated two years before him so we never played on the same team, but we both were part of conference championship teams under coach Birto Benjamin.

The year after I graduated from high school I attended what is now Seminole State College and did a paid internship as a sports reporter and photographer for the Sanford Herald. I happened to cover the first Lake Howell baseball game of the 1981 season and watched a skinny junior I’d never heard of hit a home run in his first at bat. I remembered the name Dave Martinez after that. And I’ve followed his career since then— from playing fall ball at Valencia College to being drafted by the Chicago Cubs.

Over the decades he’s continued to make a name for himself, first as a player, then as a coach where he earned a World Series ring while coaching with the Cubs in their 2016 winning season. I imagine Martinez made a name for himself last night to a new crop of people who follow baseball only loosely. Working out at the gym this morning he was mentioned several times on ESPN (complete with footage of his arguing with the umpire), and on my drive to work he was also mentioned several times as they discussed the controversial call leading to his ejection.

Update at 11:52pm—The Washington Nationals completed their incredible year by beating the Astros and finishing World Series champs

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LA vs. Washington
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Scott W. Smith

 

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“Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of American had better learn baseball, the rules and realities of the game and do it by watching first some high-school or small town teams.”
French-born American historian Jacques Barzun

It was a Muncy mash that ended the longest game in World Series history early this morning.  The drama of the baseball game climaxed when Max Muncy hit a solo home run in the 18th inning to give the Los Angeles Dodgers a 3-2 win over the Boston Red Sox.

Everyone has a story.

Muncy played college ball at Baylor and was drafted by the Oakland Athletics in 2012. He played his first professional game in Iowa with the Burlington Bees. He kicked around a few years with minor league teams in Stockton, Midland, Nashville on his way to making it to the big leagues in Oakland in 2015. But after an unspectacular start, he was released from the team after the 2017 spring training.

He was now 26 and unemployed. He went back to his hometown in Keller, Texas where his dad helped him take batting practice at his old high school. He was hoping to get a call from another team, but he was also thinking it might be time to go back to school and finish his business degree.

Dark night of the soul stuff that makes the reversal so rewarding at the end of the story.

“It’s been a whirlwind of emotions, a whirlwind of talks, not knowing if I was ever going to play baseball again. Was a team going to give me a chance? Was I ever going to make it back to the major leagues?”
Max Muncy
How Max Muncy Rose from  .195-Hitting Castoff to MLB’s Hottest Slugger

Then he got the call. The Dodgers signed him in April of 2017 and he had a solid year playing for their minor league team in Oklahoma City. A year later they called him up to play in Los Angeles and here he is six months later—World Series hero.

It’s a real-life Field of Dreams/The Natural-type story. I was glad I stayed up past until 3:30 am (EST) to watch the drama unfold. First baseball game I’ve watched all year. Might be a decade before I see one as good.

P.S. If you’re into baseball stories and good writing, check out the Dan Barry book Bottom of the 33rd; Hope, Redemption, and Baseball’s Longest Game.  The booked centers around a game between the Rochester Red Wings and the Pawtucket Red Sox in the International League that was actually played over three days in 1981.  There were 1,740 in attendance in Pawtucket, Rhode Island when the game started on April 18th and just 19 when the game was postponed in the 32nd inning at 4:07 am (on April 19th). They finished the game on June 23 (the 33rd inning) making the total length of the game 8 hours and 25 minutes.

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Scott W. Smith

 

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Two years ago I wrote a post about an up and coming baseball player named George Springer. Well, last night he won the Willie Mays World Series MVP as he helped the Houston Astros win the World Series. So this seemed a good a time as any to repost my thoughts from April 2015 after I saw Springer played in a spring training game:

“The only thing I can control is how hard I play, my effort and my attitude.”
George Springer
USA Today interview (2014)
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You may have never heard of George Springer, but I think his career can help your career. Springer is not a screenwriter or filmmaker, but a professional baseball player with the Houston Astros.

This is the last week of spring training for Major League Baseball and since this past Monday it was a 75 degrees, perfect blue sky day in central Florida I drove out to Kissimmee, FL for a baseball game between the Astros and the Toronto Blue Jays.

I don’t follow baseball like I did as a kid and didn’t recognize a single player in the line-up for either team. It didn’t take long to learn Springer’s name because he made a spectacular play in right field when he saved a ball from being a home run to end the inning and on the next play hit a home run.

Turns out the 25-year-old Springer is starting his second year in the big leagues. Time will tell if he’ll become a star but he certainly has a lot of potential.  What does that have to do with screenwriting and filmmaking? This is the way I see it…Springer has had a lot of small victories to bring him where he is today.

He was a high school baseball star in Avon, Connecticut who attended the University of Connecticut on a scholarship. His freshman year of college he was named to the Baseball America Freshman All-America First Team. Two years later he was named the Big East Player of the Year and to several first-team All-American teams.

In 2011 he was a first-round draft pick of the Astros and had a nice signing bonus of $2.52 million. To develop as a player he played for several minor league teams in Corpus Christi, TX, Oklahoma City, Ok, Landcaster, CA and Troy, NY. His play was good enough in Texas he was voted the Texas League Player of the Year.

Last April he made his MLB debut, and the following month was named Rookie of the Month, before going on to hit 20 home runs in his rookie season. So when I saw him play earlier this week and make that great catch crashing into the right field fence, followed by his home run over the same right field fence—he’s been on a steady upward path for at least the past decade.

Dream big, start small. Consider it spring training for screenwriters. (And sometimes those small victories are just completing a script and starting the next one.)

P.S. Below is a micro doc I made on Tinker Field last year after I learned it was going to be torn down. There were some protests which delayed the process, but I just learned that next week the demolition will begin on the former spring training facility.

4/19/15— Just ten days after I wrote this post-Springer made perhaps the greatest catch of his career basically duplicating the catch I saw in spring training, but this time robbing a player of a walk-off grand slam home run in the 10th inning of a regular season game. See Springer’s game saving catch.

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Scott W. Smith

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To paraphrase what David Mamet once said about the theater—Baseball is always dying and always being reborn.

The Chicago Cubs winning the final game of a best of seven game World Series was the stuff of high drama. A couple of years ago I wrote a post called Screenwriting and the Super Bowl. This post could be called Screenwriting and the World Series.

Here’s a quick overview of why the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series captured the attention of so many here in the United States with an estimated 40 million viewers watching on TV. And because this is a screenwriting blog, I’ll talk about it in terms of the theatrics. (And I’ll just limit it to 11 points)

BACKSTORY: Chicago is third largest city in the United States. And even as the 2.7 million population is not in growth mode there are millions of others scattered throughout the country with roots in Chicago. And part of those roots is being a Chicago Cub fan. The fact that the Cubs had not won a World Series since 1908 meant to be a Cubs fans meant generations of being perianal losers. The quintessential “This wasn’t out year/Wait until next year” fan.

Toss in the legend of the Curse of the Bill Goat where the owner of the Billy Goat Tavern was asked to take his Billy Goat out of Wrigley Field because its smelled bother other fans  so he allegendly cursed the team and it’s not hard to see where even the non-baseball fan was pulling for the Cubs.

And because of labor strikes by players and steroid drug scandals over the years Major League Baseball isn’t quite the national pastime it once was. The NFL and NBA are the glamour models of professional sports in the United States. And everything from UFC, smart phones, video games, etc. don’t make the culture at large as interested the slower game of baseball as popular as it once was.

But last Wednesday night people sat up and paid attention to baseball.

So game 7 of the World Series—winner take all. The series tied three games a piece. The odds are against the Cubs for several reasons and of the main ones is the game was played in Cleveland. But the twist is because of the historic chance to win a World Series, Cubs fans from around the world pay on average $2,700 per ticket. (But actor Bill Murray gave an extra ticket he had to a Cubs fan.) So a healthy amount of Cubs fans are in the stands so it’s not a typical away game. In fact, behind the Cubs dugout it probably felt like a home game.

STAKES: For all the reasons above the stakes are high for the Cubs.

DYNAMIC OPENING: The very first batter of the game, Dexter Flower, hit a home run for the Cubs. A lead off home run in game 7 had never happened in World Series history.

GOALS: Each team/fan has a simple definable goal—to win game 7 and the World Series. There’s no real bad guy/bad team here, just two equally matched teams. Though because the Cubs haven’t won in so long the are seen as underdogs and people love to root for underdogs.

CONFLICT—There’s contant conflict throughout the game as teams fight to score runs and prevent the other team from scoring.

CRISIS-In the next to the last inning, the Indian get a two run homer to tie the game. The tide appears to be shifting for the home team. NBA champion and MVP LeBron James is in the stands and does a Hulk Hogan impression of power. After the regulation 9-innings the game is tied 6-6. But in the tenth inning the Cubs score two runs to take a 8-6 lead.

CLIMAX: All the Cubs need is three outs to finally win a World Series after 108 years. They get two outs, but the Indians also score a run and have a man on base meaning a home run by the next batter would result in the Indians winning 9-8. But he grounds out and the Cubs win. Celebrating begins and doesn’t stop for a couple of days.

RESOLUTION: The celebration continues as the Cubs return to Chicago for a old school downtown parade. (The kind astronauts got after the returned safely from space.)

IS IT A MOVIE? Sure it was an exciting World Series, but does that make it worthy of a movie? Time will tell. There definitely will be long and short documentaries on the 2016 Chicago Cubs. But chances are if the first feature dramatic film made about the Cubs winning will probably be a quirky indie film set around the events of the memorable 2016 team.

Take for instance the man who made a promise with his dad that if the Cubs were ever in the world series that they’d listed to the game together. The problem was his dad was dead. So the 68-year old man drove 650 miles from his home in North Carolina to a cemetery in Greenwood, Indiana where father was buried after he died in 1980. Sitting in a chair next to his father’s headstone he listened to the game. That’s the stuff of great drama. The Straight Story meets Field of Dreams.

EMOTIONS-After the last out in game seven, I bet there hasn’t be so many grown crying in the USA over something athletic since Brian’s Song first aired back in the 70s. (By the way, another Chicago-based movie.) And there were plenty of women and children caught up in the celebrations and mixture of emotions.

WHAT’S CHANGED?: The world is different now for Cubs fans. They are winners now.

It’s a little sad that we’ve lost The Bad News Cubs, but congrats to the 2016 Chicago Cubs for bringing a jolt of life to baseball—especially in light of a time when American politics appears on life support.

P.S. And since this blog is titled Screenwriting from Iowa I should point out that the Chicago Cubs have a minor league team in Des Moines, Iowa. And one of the millions of subplots surrounding the Cubs win 85-year-old Darel Sterner, a life long Cubs fan and Iowa resident, watched the Cubs finally  win the World Series and died three hours later.

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Scott W. Smith

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“In the entire history of theater, it would be difficult to think of a play that’s more purely American than Bleacher Bums.”
Los Angeles Times review 

If the Chicago Cubs lose tonight there will be some happy Cubs fans. That’s not a typo. Yes, the Cleveland Indians fans will be happy if there team wins game 6 and become World Series champs for the first time since 1948.

Why, you may asked, would some Chicago Cubs fans be happy if their team loses another World Series? That is a rational question. But you see, the Cubs haven’t won a World Series game since 1908. Part of what’s baked into being a Chicago Cubs fan is your team is a perennial loser.

Several generations of Cubs fans have a shared camaraderie that their team is not going to win a World Series. I doubt there is anyone in Chicago (maybe in the world) who was alive and remember the last time the Cubs the World Series.

And, Yahoo! Sports reports that while the majority of Cub fans (91%) would like to see the Cubs finally win the World Series, that “1 in 4 Cubs fans will miss their identity of losing if they win the World Series.”

An identity of losing—that’s a theme worth exploring dramatically. And in fact, if I recall correctly, that was the basis for the play and TV movie Bleacher Bums. According to Wikipedia the 1977  play was “written collaboratively by members of Chicago’s Organic Theater Company, from an idea by actor Joe Mantegna.

I saw the play at a small theater in Los Angeles in the early or mid-80s and actually don’t remember much about it except it was enjoyable to watch. The play takes place in the cheap seat, outfield bleachers during an afternoon game at Wrigley Field as the ensemble cast of Cubs fans interact with each other.

Two Tv versions were made based on the play including this one from 1979 which aired on PBS:

If the Cubs lose tonight (or tomorrow night) Cubs fans in Chicago can still “celebrate” by catching the tail end of an updated Bleacher Bum run at the The Broadway Theater of the Pride Arts Center in Chicago. (According to the Chicago Tribune the play closes November 6.)

P.S. Back when the Indians won in 1948 one of their pitchers was Satchel Paige who on October 10, 1948 became the first black pitcher to to pitch it World Series history. That’s 45-years after the first World Series game was ever played. Which reminds be of another baseball film, The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings (1976). Hal Barwood and Matthew Robbins wrote the screenplay based on William Brashler’s novel.

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Scott W. Smith

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Do they still play the blues in Chicago
When baseball season rolls around
A Cub’s Fan Dying Request/Steve Goodman

wrigleyfield

©2006 Scott W. Smith

Last night the Chicago Cubs won their first World Series game in 71 years. It was kind of a big deal for the Windy City. Tomorrow the Cubs host the Cleveland Indians in the first World Series game to be played at Wrigley Field since October 10, 1945.

And even though 71 years is a long time to wait to win a World Series game, the Cubs actually haven’t won an entire World Series since 1908. That’s 108 years ago for those of you keeping score.

Part of that team was immortalized in the Franklin Pierce Adams poem Baseball’s Sad Lexicon:

These are the saddest of possible words:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”
Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,
Tinker and Evers and Chance.
Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
Making a Giant hit into a double –
Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”

Tinker to Ever to Chance is about Cubs players Joe Tinker, Johnny Ever, and Frank Chance who were the best double play combination of their day, and one of the greatest of all time.

Joe Tinker retire to Orlando, Florida where he died in 1948. Back in 2014, a year after I returned to my hometown of Orlando after a decade in Iowa I made this short film about Tinker Field—named after Joe Tinker.

I’ve had the good fortune to visit Chicago 15-20 times over the years for various reasons including shoots, edit sessions, anniversary celebrations, conferences, etc. and look forward to any opportunity to travel there. I think I’ll reflect on Chicago in my next post.

Best wishes to the Cubs and their fans. It’s been a long  wait. Seems like a fitting end to this post is to close with Steve Goodman’s A Dying Cubs Fan’s Last Request.

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Scott W. Smith

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