This past weekend, I sat down and watched a brand new DVD was just released this past week called "Spaceman: A Baseball Odyssey," about the life and times of the immortal former Red Sox and Expos pitcher Bill Lee.
I met the filmmakers, Brett Rapkin and Josh Dixon, at the BLOHARDS meeting in New York last month. They showed a few clips from the film, and it was very enjoyable. So I really looked forward to seeing the DVD. (And thanks to both of them for supplying it to me, as well Frank Minishak from the BLOHARDS.)
If you are a Red Sox fan, or just a fan of flaky baseball players, this DVD is definitely for you. It is about the life and times of one of the most eccentric, if not the weirdest, players ever to put on a baseball uniform. Many people who have known him throughout his life, from Luis Tiant to Fred Lynn to Dan Shaughnessy to his late coach at USC, Rod Dedeaux, all talk about the famous character known as "The Spaceman." (And yes, we finally get the lowdown on who hung that nickname on him from the man himself.)
The beginning of the film is centered on Bill Lee, the baseball player. His notable eccentricities are presented, along with some of his more famous moments on and off the ballfield (the seventh game of the 1975 World Series, the fight with the Yankees in 1976, his relationship with Don Zimmer, the trade to Montreal, and his subsequent blackballing from MLB).
But the bulk of the film is about a special trip Lee and a group of older ballplayers from California took to Cuba back in 2004. They are shown meeting the Cubans, who Lee holds in great fondness and affection, as he was there before. (Lee's baseball adventures have also taken him to places like China, Russia, Canada, and South America.) They play a number of games with some older Cubans, who like Lee, have played the game for years and years. It is very reminiscent to those old barnstorming tours players did in the 1920s, except they are doing it in the impoverished country of Cuba.
There's no politics here between the players, just a great love of baseball. Bill tells many funny stories on the tour, and it is such an enjoyable ride to tag along with him. He impresses many of his Cuban hosts, many of whom know no English, telling them he played for the Red Sox and Expos. They immediately know what he's talking about, as they all speak the language of baseball. One of my favorite moments was when one Cuban fan asked The Spaceman for a bat after one game. He gave it to him, despite the fact the Cuban was wearing a Yankee hat. (And Bill's hatred of the Yankees has not abated one bit.)
Throughout the Cuban trip, you can see how much Bill Lee loves the game of baseball for what it truly is to him: just a game. But a game he loves with his whole and soul. The Spaceman is a baseball lifer, and will probably die one day on a baseball field. (The movie ends with how he'd like to die, in his own words. It is very funny.) Lee was always a complicated character (everyone who is interviewed documents that), but the DVD shows a side of him that isn't shown very often. Brett Rapkin and Josh Dixon have put together a very funny, and at times poignant, look at one of the game's greatest characters. If you love the game, you will love "Spaceman: A Baseball Odyssey." (Unless you're a Yankee fan, that is.)
I hope the Spaceman lives forever. I wouldn't bet against him pulling it off.
"Spaceman: A Baseball Odyssey," has a web site where you can check out the movie trailer and more info about the DVD. Just go to: http://www.spacemanincuba.com.