In 2002, I found myself in rural Cuba directing my first documentary. The small crew and I had accompanied the counterculture icon and former major league baseball star Bill “Spaceman” Lee on his barnstorming trip to play against Cuban legends. At the time he was in his late fifties. The resulting feature length documentary, SPACEMAN: A BASEBALL ODYSSEY, premiered at Silverdocs, was the first independent film to air on MLB Network, and gave me a career.
Since then, I’ve written and directed hundreds of hours of non-fiction film and television for clients including HBO and the NFL and have been nominated for five Emmy Awards. While I was happy working in the documentary realm, I had a burning desire to make a narrative feature film. And the story of Bill Lee had always stayed with me.
Bill is a fantastically round character, full of colorful contradictions and wild passions. He is so much more than a “jock.” And although he was blackballed by the major leagues in 1982 for his outspokenness about topics ranging from social and environmental issues to how management treated his teammates, he somehow discovered a way to bypass his own ego and continue doing what he loves…playing the game.
Bill’s is a journey of acceptance, and that’s what I wanted to explore. Drawing from my knowledge of Bill from the documentary, along with the stories in his bestselling memoirs, I wrote a script that encompassed the moments and conversations – both internal and external – that comprised that particular turning point in his life.
After joining forces with FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS producer, Stephen Nemeth (Bill ran for President with Hunter S Thompson) and BULL DURHAM writer/director, Ron Shelton, we assembled a stellar cast and crew. We were truly blessed to find our perfect Spaceman in Josh Duhamel, who brought an incredible dedication and understanding to the role. He completely embodied the spirit of the character.
Bill Lee decided to stop asking permission to play baseball and just started doing it on his own terms. He continues to do so today at the age of sixty-nine. I believe that anyone who grapples with questions of personal success and satisfaction will relate to and be inspired by Bill’s story.
– Brett Rapkin, Writer/Director