Austin Film Festival 2010 Review: BALLHAWKS

J.C. De Leon

by: J.C. De Leon
November 9th, 2010

Rating: 4/5

Director: Mike Diedrich
Cast: Bill Murray (narrator)

“What are you going to do with your life?”

When faced with this question as a child, I’m sure we all had some creative answers. President, astronaut, teacher, Spider-Man, and the ever popular baseball player. The answer to what we wanted to do with our life was something we were passionate about. Something we loved with all of our hearts. Sadly, it was something that some of us grow out of. For the lucky few who are able to realize their childhood dreams, it sometimes gets taken for granted. Director Mike Diedrich takes a look at a group of men who long ago decided what it was they wanted to do with their lives. They are the Ballhawks of Wrigley Field.

BALLHAWKS takes a look at those few gentlemen who prefer to stand outside the left field wall of Wrigley Field on Waveland Dr. in Chicago, Illinois. These are the most passionate of passionate baseball fans. Whenever a ball is hit hard enough to leave the park, there is a Ballhawk there to catch it. These are men who have spent a large portion of their lives doing this. Their love for it is something that very few of us will ever experience, but something that should be easy to understand for most of us who have never forgotten the answer to the initial question.

Since 1914, there have been Ballhawks chasing home runs and foul balls hit outside the park. There have been nearly 1,400 hom eruns that have escaped Wrigley. The story in this documentary is simple. There is a baseball stadium; there are guys who stand outside and collect balls that get hit outside. From a topical level the story isn’t deeper than that.

But who are these men exactly? If you’ve seen a Cubs game on TV and seen a home run or a foul ball hit hard enough to go completely out of the park over the left field wall, chances are you’ve seen a Ballhawk. You watched as a large group of guys start to gather, simultaneously raise their gloves, and only one emerging from that scrum victorious. He catches the ball, high fives the guys around him, and his face is caught on camera for a few seconds. He is someone who would rather stand outside a game conversing with his friends instead of paying for inflated ticket prices. Outside the walls, the game is still pure. Some of the men who stand out there have caught as many as 4,000 balls, and can even remember most of them when they pull them out of their collection. Just like real life baseball players, they have stories that they can retell with amazingly detailed memory, and each of them have the biggest ear to ear smile when thinking about this hobby they have. The great thing about each of these men is that while they have this thing that they are so passionate about, each of them lead a separate life that they never neglect. They are fathers, sons, husbands, firefighters and security guards, but for 2 to 4 hours, and close to 100 games a year they are a part of one of the longest running traditions in baseball history.

Some of them are, of course, Chicago Cubs fans. A Cubs fan is one of the greatest fans in sports. These are the fans who are forever optimistic. The new season is always “gonna be the year” and they will never let their love for the Cubbies waver. Wrigley Field is a part of the magic of the Chicago Cubs. It has been said that if anyone's first Major League Baseball game is at Wrigley Field, that person will be a Cubs fan for life (that’s certainly true in my case), and the Ballhawks are a part of the mystique that is Wrigley. It is one of the oldest baseball stadiums and as many things do nowadays, it’s getting too old for a game that is becoming a part of corporate America. Ticket prices have to go up, revenue has to increase for the Cubs. The easiest way for revenue to go up is to make room for more people in the stadium. The shortest place in the stands is in the left field bleachers, and the Ballhawks days are numbered.

This documentary will do one of two things for someone watching it. You may watch it and think, “why should I care about these guys? Why don’t they just buy a ticket and go inside?” If this gives you that thought, then you have clearly forgotten your answer to the initial question: what do you want to do with your life? If this movie touches you in a way that makes you remember why it is that you are as passionate about the things that you care about, then you are very much in tune with the desires that have shaped your life. You don’t even have to be a sports fan to appreciate and understand this film. You simply have to be someone who still loves, with as much passion and excitement as when you were six years old, the things that you cared most about. Sports, movies, comic books and games. These are all things that at some point most of us outgrow, but no one ever truly forgets what it was they loved as a child. This movie will reawaken the kid in all of us. We should be so lucky as to do something that we want to do, and do it with the same enthusiasm as the first day we discovered it the way the Ballhawks do. They don’t do it for the glory, certainly not for the money, they don’t even do it for the fans. They do it for themselves. In the instant they catch that home run ball, they’re the smallest part, if they even are at all, of baseball, and they know that. But they will do this for as long as they can, and it can never be taken away.

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