AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL 2010
By Don Simpson | October 20, 2010
Director: Mike Diedrich
Starring: Bill Murray (narrator)
The ballhawks of Wrigley Field have been patiently awaiting home runs around the intersection of Sheffield and Waveland ever since 1914. The more seasoned ballhawks catch hundreds of baseballs per season. They hone their ballhawking skills during batting practice; some of them even swarm around the Spring training fields in Florida.
Director Mike Diedrich’s documentary — aptly dubbed Ballhawks and featuring Bill Murray as narrator — follows a select group of ballhawks. Surprisingly, they all live relatively normal lives. Ballhawking to them is just another hobby, you know, like fishing; and, like fishing, ballhawking requires a hell of a lot of patience. There is…a lot…of waiting…very patiently…for the…next ball…to exit…the stadium…and that…does not…happen…very…often.
To ballhawks, ballhawking is a way to still enjoy the game of baseball (which they all love) without paying the highly inflated ticket prices of Wrigley Field…and, if they are in the right place at the right time and paying very astute attention, there is the added bonus of free baseballs! This seems like as good of a time as any to mention that there is an unwritten law amongst ballhawks to never sell a hawked ball — there is one outlaw who does not abide by that law — so they are not making a profit from this hobby.
Several of the ballhawks maintain studiously detailed handwritten ledgers accounting for each and every one of the baseballs they have snagged during their ballhawking tenure; but, for the most part, the ballhawks just go home and dump their nightly catches into an unmarked crate or box with thousands of other baseballs. It seems as though most of the ballhawks are more interested in the act of snagging the ball rather than the significance of ball itself. Of course there are exceptions (for example: milestone home runs).
Every good documentary needs a good moment of dramatic tension — Ballhawks doubles our pleasure (like Wrigley’s Doublemint gum) with two. First is the question of whether or not the Cubs will ever make it into the post-season. In 2004, after decades of disappointment, the Cubs find themselves in the running for a wild card slot near the end of the regular season. (Playoffs are especially meaningful for ballhawks because playoff home runs tend to have greater significance than regular season balls.) Second is the ever-looming bleacher expansion (and an additional fence) which threatens to render the ballhawks of Wrigley an endangered species by severely limiting the number of homers that will clear the confines of the stadium.