The more I learn about the Seattle Pilots, the more intrigued I get in the franchise’s story. What can I say? I have a growing obsession with the world’s oddities and — more importantly — the documenting and memorializing of said oddities.
So, naturally, when local Pilots historian Mike Fuller (who has his own exhaustive website devoted to the team) told me last week that someone’s actually making a documentary to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the one-and-done club, I geeked out just a tad. Baseball + quirky story + interviews with retired players who aren’t being coached by a phalanx of publicists to say just the right thing = Score!
Yesterday, I finally got to talk to one of the producers of the doc, Steve Cox, who’s a co-owner of Velocity Studios, a marketing and video production firm down in McMinnville, Oregon. With Short Flight, he and his partner on the project, Brad Powers, hope to explain what happened to make the team up and move after only one season, and they’ve landed and filmed some crucial interviews so far. They traveled to the Berkshires to interview Jim Bouton (who wrote about his experiences as a relief pitcher for the Pilots in the classic, insidery Ball Four) and got guys like Bill Schonley (who was one of the team’s announcers before going on to become the voice of the Portland Trailblazers), the team’s marketing manager, Bill Sears, and cut-up pitcher Gary Bell to dish on that solitary season of early Seattle baseball. They filmed some great stuff (like an anecdote from Sears about a fan who got trapped overnight in a port-a-potty at the Pilots’ run-down Sick’s Stadium) and cut a long-form trailer of sorts that you can watch at Velocity Studio’s website.
Here’s the problem, though: Cox and Powers still have about 10 interviews to do — including one with Lou Piniella, who the Pilots traded to Kansas City because they didn’t like his attitude, only to watch him be voted Rookie of the Year — but they’re more or less out of money. They’re hoping to have the project finished by September, but unless they find a production partner (they’ve got the fledgling MLB Network, ESPN, and Fox Sports Net in their sights), there’s no guarantee that’ll happen.
Call me sentimental, but I really want this thing to happen, folks. If Bouton’s book is any indication of the kind of characters that populated the Pilots clubhouse — and based on the chilly reception it received from the baseball community at large, it was just the corner of a much bigger pine-tar rag — this could be a fantastic documentary. Cox says that after the McMinnville News-Register wrote a story about the documentary back in February, a man in Chicago (!) sent him a check for $25 with a note that said, "I’m a huge Pilots fan, and I just want to see this get made. I know this won’t go far, but I hope it helps." I hope it’s not the last check Cox gets.