Ron Shelton says there were two movies he wanted to make once he was done playing minor-league baseball in the early 1970s.
“Bull Durham” made it in 1988. The Kevin Costner-Tim Robbins-Susan Sarandon cast created a film that’s still listed in many Top 10 best sports flicks ever done.
Now, Shelton waits to see if he can get “Our Lady of the Ballpark,” about life in the Mexican Leagues, into the batter’s box office radar.
It has an Internet Movie Database listing (linked here), but Shelton says that’s about as far as it’s gone. It’s stuck as a movie “in development.”
“We’ve got a script, a budget and a cast, but it’s been hard to get off the ground because there’s no foreign sales for a baseball movie, and that’s what’s driving the movie business these days,” Shelton, who turned 65 last week, said Saturday during a panel discussion on the 40th anniversary of the Jim Bouton book, “Ball Four” at the Burbank Central Library.
That doesn’t seem right. Mexico isn’t considered a foreign market?
“Mexico is part of North America,” said Shelton. “What about the Latin American market? Not true. The Caribbean (movie) market is as big as San Bernardino. There’s not a lot of baseball in South America. Or Western Europe.
“Japan … we got $1 million out of Japan. South Korea and Taiwan .. that’s as big as Pico Rivera in a movie market.
“It’s all about the numbers. It’s a budget issue. I think we’re close. I hope we’re getting close.”
Shelton said the script he made with “Tin Cup” co-writer John Norville is about a fifth starter for the New York Yankees “who’s got a really bad rock band, drives a Lamborghini around Manhattan at about 2 miles and hour and has a Paris Hilton-kind of girlfriend.” When he’s sent to Triple-A Wilkes-Barre, he refuses to go — a violation of his contract. The only place his agent can get him a job is in the Mexican League.
“It’s all about that journey, and if you ever go to the Mexican League, it’s just fabulous,” said Shelton, whose five-year minor-league career as a second baseman in the Baltimore Orioles’ system took him through places like Stockton, Dallas-Fort Worth and Rochester — the later being the Triple-A level (minor-league stats linked here). “There are four non-Mexican players on each team, paid in cash every week, so if you have two bad games, you’re gone.
“The Americans who go there are pitchers trying to develop another pitch to come back as a closer — that’s a big one — or guys with bad knees playing first base and hitting home runs. It’s a lot of guys in their 30s — like the French Foreign Legion of sports.
“There’s gambling, kids running on the field, cheerleaders on the dugouts in Tecate shorts, mis-matched mascots in uniforms where you can’t figure out where they came from. I love the project.”
Shelton, who recently did a documentary as part of the “30 For 30” ESPN project on Michael Jordan’s decision to quit the NBA and play minor-league baseball, has also stalled on a HBO-related project on bringing the book “Game of Shadows” into a movie. Shelton said most of the hangup is Major League Baseball agreeing to grant the release of game footage involving Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.