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Chances are, if you even know what a baseball looks like there are a few names in the sport you are certain to know Wrigley Field, the ancient ivy-covered palace that is home to the Chicago Cubs.
And if you’re any kind of baseball fan you may know that the guys camped out beyond Wrigley’s famed outfield wall are just as passionate about shagging fly balls as those inside (moreso, even).
That’s what the documentary “Ballhawks” is about: guys who for all intents and purposes are professional baseball chasers.
Directed by Mike Diedrich and narrated by Bill Murray, “Ballhawks” is a living tribute to baseball freaks and stat hounds the world over, guys who, as Murray notes, know the players almost as well as they know each other. The best ballhawks will shift position based on who’s at the plate, and the film shows several instances where the simply lift their gloves and catch the ball without hardly moving. That’s preparation and dedication to the craft.
We learn interesting tidbits about seven of these guys in particular, including how many balls they’ve caught over the years (for some of them they number in the thousands), and some who meticulously tracked each and every sphere they own, along with the date, who hit it, and any special circumstances (in one scene we see a man emerge from a rugby-like scrum on the pavement with a ball, then dab some blood from his skinned knee to immortalize the moment).
Another time we see a man casually snatch a ball out of the air and stuff it in his pocket. Th
e ball came off the bat of Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee, and was his 200th career home run. When a Cubs representative shows up to ask for the ball back, he initially refuses. The camera cuts and we see the man, some time later, holding a fresh, clean Chicago Cubs jersey number 25, signed by Lee, along with one of his baseball bats also adorned with his autograph, as the rep walks off with the ball.
We also get to know the guys a bit, finding out one is about to fulfill his dream of becoming a firefighter, while another hopes to earn a lifetime pass to the coveted Wrigley bleacher seats for his efforts behind them.
Then progress threatens their hobby as the team decides to expand the bleacher section in left field, pushing the stadium back for more seats and taking much of the real estate the ballhawks have to work with.
For baseball fans like myself it’s probably more interesting to see these guys than someone who isn’t involved in the game, but it’s a fun look into the psyche of a subculture of a subculture, and a fun chronicle of the utter fascination and obsession with taking a small relic to commemorate the simple occasion of being at the ball park, and for one minute making yourself part of the game.