You don't have to be a Cubs fan to have asked this question: Who are those guys standing on Waveland Avenue just outside Wrigley Field, waiting for a home run ball?
Lake Bluff resident Mike Diedrich took that question one step further. He made a movie about it.
For the entire 2004 season, parts of 2005 and opening day 2006, he became a part of the "ballhawking" community, shooting hundreds of hours of video. In 2009 he released it as a documentary film, "Ballhawks."
Earlier this month, Diedrich's film collected awards for best feature and best director at the "Best of the Midwest" Awards.
Lake Forest-Lake Bluff Patch caught up with Diedrich at Inovasi in Lake Bluff, and shared a few beers with the director as he discussed the movie, its characters and how he got Bill Murray to narrate.
Why did you decide to do this?
I had a general feeling of being in the bleachers. We used to go to games in high school and we used to take the train in from the suburbs and take the "L" up to Wrigley from Hinsdale, where I grew up. We had a group of friends and we would go inside and have our mitts and race down to left center power alley and catch, depending on the day, 10-15 batting practice homers. I got the connection of the thrill of catching a Major League home run. If you take that and flash forward 25 years, and stumbling upon this idea outside of Wrigley. I was freelancing for ad agencies and was looking for additional things I could do to put on my resume during down time. I knew there were a lot of rich stories around the Cubs not necessarily focusing on the team, but the beer vendors, the ballhawks, the taxi drivers and all those sorts of things.
You shot the film during the 2004 season, parts of the 2005 and opening day 2006.
Being a Cub fan, you realize how gullible you are. I went into 2004 and looked at what they were coming back with. Kerry Wood was on the cover of Sports Illustrated. I was going to make this film, the ballhawks were going to catch the winning home run in the World Series and I would be making my millions. It was great as the story wrote itself. I was lucky enough to be flexible and I think the ending that the story has is more interesting and more heartbreaking. Who would imagine the Cubs winning the World Series? You almost don’t want them to as you’ve reached the top of Everest and you have that hollow, what’s next, type of feeling.
Was there a character that inspired you to begin shooting?
I literally ran into one of the ballhawks whose name is Butch Edmonson. He is a walking encyclopedia. I started talking to him and he literally talked to me for like four hours nonstop about Cubs history, ballhawking, why he was out there, the thrill of catching homeruns. He would go from one topic to the next. I remember him talking about a guy named Jimmy Archer, He was a catcher in the early 1900s. I went and looked it up, went online and there was Jimmy Archer. He talked about how this guy used to throw from his knees. He wouldn’t get up and he would throw these frozen ropes. There it was in the encyclopedia, Jimmy Archer, Cubs catcher. I was like, 'Oh my God', this guy is a savant. He brought this rare obscure player. A couple of home runs came out that day, he didn’t get either, but like when the ball was hit and you heard the crowd, these guys would take five or six steps. They were like out the door and everyone else — the “passersby” which they called guys like you and I — were like, “What? Where’s the ball?” And he’s like halfway down the street. To me after that I was like, well, there’s something incredibly special here. It centers around being a Cubs fan and no one has ever developed this story fully. I didn’t know if it was going to be a documentary film or branded online content. That whole year I just kept coming back. I shot every home game that year.
Who were these guys? What did you learn about their motivation for ballhawking?
The characters were pretty rich. A few of them were normal guys. The characters to me seemed cartoon heroish. One guy was Moe Mullins. Just the name itself. It’s just an incredible name. That was one of the things. They were rich, deep characters who were not just out there doing this. They were fathers, some were grandfathers and surprisingly a lot of them held jobs. One was a former Andersen consultant. The notion of most people was they were a bunch of losers with nothing better to do. When I found out some of them played college baseball, they were fathers and respected citizens, that was what really sealed it for me that I stumbled upon something special.
Bill Murray narrates the film. How did that come about?
I was on a shoot in Los Angeles with some friends. We were out to dinner with a production company and just in passing at dinner one of my buddies said Mike is working on a documentary that has a baseball theme. The executive producer from the company said Joel Murray (Bill’s youngest brother) is my neighbor. I can set up a conversation. I had a printed sales piece and gave it to Joel, and we talked and met several times. The last thing I ever did with Joel was he had mentioned it in a couple of interviews where he said people approach him to get to Bill. What he said on more than one occasion was “Mike didn’t approach me and say I want Bill to be the narrator, and do whatever on the project.” All we did was share the idea and he appreciated it. He said, “I’ll do whatever I can.” A year later we finally decided we needed narration. I never wanted it. Through the rough cut we decided we needed more story line, more help. During that time Joel suggested Bill being the narrator. I never had to suggest it. Then it took three years to get Bill to record it.
You finally got him to do it. He is a Cubs fan after all.
We got a cut locked and it was a matter of a month or two, and I let Joel know we were ready. He got Bill into a hotel room off of Sunset Boulevard and recorded it with a pocket recorder. He had tried to do it a first time and because he thought I would break down and jump off a bridge, he never told me. Joel forgot to bring a piece of equipment to record him and he couldn't do it. So it took it two or three more months. We have all the outtakes. We’ll probably release them online. The good thing is Joel never stopped rolling. Many times Bill actually lays into the script. 'Who wrote this? This is too sappy.' He kind of worked out the ending in his own mind and rewrote the ending in the recording session. It’s pretty cool behind-the-scenes content. It's pretty cool we have it.
Could a Sox fan watch this?
I’m not one of those Cubs fans who hates the Sox. I do think I would like to point out it’s a film that baseball fans in general like. You don’t have to be a Cubs fan. Through the years it’s played in Texas, Iowa, out East, out West, down South. It’s withstood the test of time. It’s bigger than a Cubs story. It's a baseball story, it's about having a passion and doing what’s important to you in your life.
You can watch the trailer for "Ballhawks" by visiting the film's website.