Billy Sample hasn’t played in the major leagues for a quarter of a century. “I was successfully colluded out of the game after the 1986 season,” the former outfielder said this week. He was, he meant, a victim of the clubs’ collusive conspiracy against free agents in the latter half of the 1980s.
Sample, however, suffered a double dose of Major League Baseball’s bad behavior. Four years ago he was released from his role as an announcer and a writer with the MLB television network and MLB.com.
“My last week was in December 2008,” he said. “They let go about four of us who were making the most money. I never sat around to listen to what they had to say.”
But they can’t get rid of Billy Sample that easily. He’s back, even if it’s not with the baseball establishment. He is back as a filmmaker with a satirical comedy that he has written, co-directed and acted in, making him a triple threat.
“Reunion 108” is not ready to be viewed in theaters – if anyone reading this would like to be the distributor the film, I’m sure Sample would be delighted to discuss terms. But when I spoke with Sample, he was working on the opening and closing credits, the final step.
What is the movie about? A film Web site offers this synopsis:
“In this satirical comedy, two generations of professional baseball players return for a reunion game at one of their minor league stops en route to the big leagues. Unbeknownst to them, the owner of the club, on his way to a month of rustic living in the high Asian elevations, and desiring a connection to home, arranges an inducement to get the players to reveal novel anecdotes from their past ‘on and off the field’ baseball lives. The only apparent commonality between the two groups is their success on the ball field, each team providing the locals with the only two minor league championships for the small town nestled in the valley of the Allegheny Mountains.
An early altercation between two ‘senior’ former teammates sets the stage for the unpredictable and potentially volatile nature of this once in a lifetime get together. There are no limits or boundaries to the players’ flashbacks to the past, and sensitivity training is a concept that hasn’t reached these retired athletes and in some cases their spouses as well.
After some tutoring from the ‘take charge’ veteran player, Teddy Mitchell, this diverse group of fifteen former players agree, that, despite the decades apart, the younger players still speak the same baseball language as the old-timers. Mitchell is not the only dominant personality among the players; Casey Kelly, a young, white New England speedster, is the yin to the yang of Mombo, an iconoclastic African-American 25 years his senior, and neither race, nor age has anything to do with their interactions, well, not in the truest denotative sense.
Topics covered in and out of the flashbacks include the players’ disdain of the media, the effects of amphetamines versus those of sleeping pills, retribution through sex, retribution through refusal of sex, the dangers of sex, sex with alleged family members, the lack of sex due to feminine hygiene; yes, there is a lot of sex in this movie. They also deal with premature anticipation, sociopathic posterior watching and funeral home casket confessions … and these are the ones we hope will pass the censors. Despite the appearance of soliciting cult-like status, this film does have a traditional Hollywood happy ending; well, it does if you delve deep below the surface.
“Reunion 108” is a full-length comedy feature film that intends to offend and entertain. It strives to be what can only be described as the best of “Bull Durham” intermingled with “Get Him to the Greek” and promises to be a no-holds-barred, behind-the-scenes and in-your-face look into the world of professional baseball.
From the lengthy description, it would seem that Sample must have spent his time in the outfield between pitches creating this tale, but he has explained, “I heard an interview with Matt Damon a few years ago. He was asked how his Academy Award-winning script, ‘Good Will Hunting,’ came into being. He responded (and I’m paraphrasing) that he had notes lying around that he eventually put together. Well, I should be so lucky, as that’s the way I compiled the notes of my screenplay.”
“It’s like me, edgy, satirical and R-rated,” Sample added. Half of it was filmed in the Fishkill, N.Y., clubhouse, the rest in New York City and several New Jersey communities, including his own, Washington Township.
“People say write what you know and this is what I know,” Sample said.
“I skewer the media, ask for the logic of using Native American nicknames on one football team in particular, and otherwise give a sense how raw the exchanges can be in the clubhouse. I wrote it with the college kids/fraternity as my target audience. I showed an early clip to a handful of students at East Stroudsburg University and they loved it, which pleased me.”
Even more pleasing was the award the film won in 2011. Sample submitted his script in the unproduced script category at the Hoboken (N.J.) film festival “and it took top honors. Not all film festivals have categories for unproduced scripts.”
Sample said he was told that his work was an ambitious undertaking for “such a small amount of money,” less than $200,000.
“The actors worked on day rates,” he said, “and the crew cost more than the actors. Money was tight. I went to a guy I worked with 20 years ago and asked if he could help me out. I could use his editors and would pay them on the back end. We haven’t reached the back end.”
What is the significance of the title of the film? The number 108 is the number of stitches on a baseball.