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Volume 21 No. 34
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Writer-director Shelton recalls why the minors still hold a special place

Ron Shelton played in the minor leagues before becoming a screenwriter.
Photo: AP Images

Ron Shelton, the 72-year-old writer and director of “Bull Durham,” has no interest in contemplating the movie’s legacy. He told SportsBusiness Journal he was happy to discuss the movie and its longevity, but made clear his preference to create many more films in the years ahead rather than spend too much time looking back.

 

Shelton played baseball all the way through AAA Rochester in the Baltimore Orioles’ system in the early 1970s before eventually winding up as a screenwriter and director. That sports background has given Shelton a mostly golden touch with sports movies. He wrote the screenplay for “Cobb,” a warts-and-all portrait of baseball legend Ty Cobb; teamed again with Kevin Costner for “Tin Cup,” a romantic comedy that caravans from a hard-luck golf range in Texas to the U.S. Open; and was the writer and director of the street-hustle basketball buddy flick “White Men Can’t Jump.” Shelton told SBJ that he’s close to reaching a deal to delve back into sports movies, anticipating a project will be announced this summer.

 

As for “Bull Durham,” Shelton collaborated on a stage version that debuted in Atlanta in 2014. Taking it to Broadway remains very much in Shelton’s sights, too. Here are some of his thoughts on “Bull Durham” and its surprisingly long life.

 

On the state of the minors when he made the movie: [Bulls owner] Miles Wolff and [co-producer and Bulls co-owner] Thom Mount used to tell me you could buy a minor league team in those days if you paid off last year’s light bill. I remember that metaphor. And I remember one season in Stockton [when I played], I think we drew 10,000 for the year. They stopped having guess-the-crowd nights because you could count the crowd.

 

On filming in Durham in 1987: The town was boarded up, I’m not joking. There were boards in the windows. There were, like, three restaurants to eat at. We stayed at the Sheraton hotel. We shot in Raleigh, we shot in Durham for the ball stuff and Annie’s house, and we’d go down to Chapel Hill for breakfast on Sunday. The economy was disastrous. The people were great, but nobody paid a whole lot of attention to us.

 

On whether the film shoot hinted at success: Only when it opened and did good business and the reviews were so amazing. Up until that you’re not sure you’ll ever work again. That’s the way it is every time. You’re just trying to stay on schedule, tell the story you want to tell and not get fired. It’s only magical later when people love it. At the time, it’s your job.

 

On why he prefers the minors: Major league sports are so unobtainable. A Dodger game costs too much. I can afford it, but I’m offended that I have to spend $700 to go to a game. It’s offensive to me how much major league sports [cost]. Thirty dollars for parking and $14 for a beer, it’s, like, forget it, I don’t need it. If I don’t get free tickets, I’m not going. It’s ridiculous — 10-year, $250 million contracts, I’m glad for those guys, but really? Half of that’s going to [business] managers and taxes. How about lowering the ticket prices?

— Erik Spanberg