When brothers Chapman, 27, and Maclain Way, 23, discovered an old baseball team photo at their late grandfather Bing Russell's house, it sparked a multiyear effort of poring over microfilm and newsreels to uncover the long-buried adventures of the Portland Mavericks. The result is The Battered Bastards of Baseball, the brothers' debut film and a fast-paced documentary that received high praise at its Sundance Film Festival premiere. The film hits Netflix July 11, the same day as its Portland premiere at the NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium. WW caught up with the Way brothers via phone to talk about the documentary, the legacy of the Mavericks and what got left on the cutting-room floor.
WW: Battered Bastards hasn't seen wide release yet, but it's already received an overwhelmingly positive response. Were you expecting so many rave reviews?
Chapman Way: You never know how a sports documentary is going to be received within the film community, but we really tried to make a documentary that would transcend the sports genre and appeal to people who aren't sports fans. We got a standing ovation at our premiere screening, which told us right away how the themes were resonating with people.
Why has it taken so long for this story to be told?
Chapman: When Maclain and I went up there to start doing research about four years ago, we'd tell people in Portland that we were doing a baseball documentary. They'd say, "Oh, it's on the Beavers?" And we'd say, "No, the Portland Mavericks," and they'd say, "Who?" It was really interesting to us how many people have forgotten about the story and forgotten about this team. One of the neat things about being a documentary filmmaker is that you get to shine a light on subjects that have been forgotten. It's a difficult story to tell, in that it requires a lot of archival research. It's not like you can just Google "Portland Mavericks" and all your research is done.
What was it like digging for resources in Portland?
Chapman: Portland became a home away from home for us. Every couple months, we would find a new excuse to go up there, hang out and do research. Had this team happened in another city, the documentary probably wouldn't have been possible. We got so much support from the Oregon Historical Society and from the news stations in Portland. The people who did remember the story remember the team very fondly and had great memories of Portland in the 1970s. I think that's intrinsic in the city itself. It has a very community-driven spirit, and an independence-driven spirit.
Maclain Way: I think the Mavericks couldn't really have existed in a different city. I don't think there are many other cities where this team could've resonated with the fans so much, and been so adopted by the city.
The story is obviously closely tied to your family. How did you reconcile that family connection with making a film for a general audience?
Maclain: One of the key early decisions we made was that Chapman and I were not going to be in the film at all. The story was so perfect as it was: It was a three-act structure, and we weren't going to do anything that messed with that. This was not going to be a journey for the filmmakers discovering something about their grandfather. That was the exact opposite of what we wanted to do.
The final cut of the film is an 80-minute, streamlined story. Were there any interesting anecdotes that got left on the cutting-room floor?
Chapman: We held ourselves to a very strict archival standard: If someone was telling a story, we really wanted either archival footage, archival photographs or archival newspapers to supplement whatever the talking head was talking about. So there were a lot of great and funny stories that didn't make the film because there just wasn't enough archive to support them. There's specifically a lot of really funny traveling stories. They traveled in this old, beaten-down bus where they took the seats out and put mattresses in the back, and the players would sleep back there and smoke pot and gamble.
Maclain: But it's kind of nice: Civic Stadium becomes a character in the documentary because you only see them play there. It's really localized, and you really get the Portland feel.
Would something like the Mavericks be possible today?
Chapman: We're from Los Angeles, and we've thought it would be so cool to have a local baseball team, to go see a game, to have a beer and some nachos and hang out with friends. Hopefully, this documentary shows that it doesn't just have to be this multibillion-dollar corporate sport, and that there is a way to have things that are more community-driven, more independent-spirited, more colorful.
SEE IT: The Battered Bastards of Baseball will screen at Whitsell Auditorium, 1219 SW Park Ave., nwfilm.org, on Friday, July 11. 8 pm. Co-directors Chapman and Maclain Way will be in attendance.