Julie Simon, associate professor in the University of Baltimore’s School of Communications Design and a former network television producer, set out to make a documentary about high school baseball, but not for any of the wind-in-your-hair reasons you might expect. (Be sure to check out the moving trailer above, featuring narration by former O’s broadcaster Jon Miller.)
“I really don’t have [an] interest in baseball,” Simon says. “I’m a fair weather Oriole fan. What interested me about this piece was the story, not the sport…”
The fantastic 2012 tournament story that drew Simon’s camera focus links back more than 20 years to a time when public and private high school students in Baltimore City competed regularly on the baseball diamond in one league. Black and white students engaged; a diverse klatch of parents filled the stands to root for kids who would never have been brought together otherwise.
“The President’s Cup demonstrate[s] baseball’s remarkable ability to serve as a common bond,” Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said in a news release. “Providing young people with ample opportunity to engage in our sport is paramount to Major League Baseball.”
The office of Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young has sponsored the President’s Cup since 2011 as part of the ongoing P.L.A.Y. campaign (Productive Lives, Active Youth).
“What drew me to this piece was two things: How can high school students who live and go to school miles from each other live in such different universes? What kind of teenager plays baseball when lacrosse, track, football, and basketball are so much more popular?” Simon says. “At first I was skeptical, especially knowing that high school students aren’t always open to questions about what inspires them. But there’s a bit of magic about baseball: Even though these players seem to have very little in common, the President’s Cup tournament really brings out their mutual love of the game. In the end, they’re all just kids playing ball. It was a highly satisfying experience for me as a filmmaker and an educator.”
Simon worked with a student crew from UB consisting of grad students from her Video Aesthetics & Techniques class, plus one volunteer undergrad. She says that the classroom aspect of production was the most challenging and the most rewarding part.
“It’s challenging because they really don’t understand how to size up an event and shoot for impact yet,” Simon explains. “It was the most rewarding because I helped them get there. It’s much easier working with a professional crew — it’s not as satisfying.”
Students made short versions of the segments they worked on, which were projected on the scoreboard screen during inning breaks of the April 21, 2012, President’s Cup championship game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, according to UB press materials. Local musician and composer David “David Zee” Zinzeleta wrote the music.
The director says she felt surprised by one thing: the amount of footage she collected, 48 hours total, which she spent the summer logging and transcribing.
Final edit features teams from more than a dozen public and private high schools in Baltimore: the Archbishop Curley Friars, the Boys’ Latin Lakers, the City College Knights, the Cristo Rey Hornets, the Digital Harbor RAMS, the Dunbar Poets, the Friends School Quakers, the Gilman Greyhounds, the Edmondson-Westside Red Storm, the MATHS Panthers, the Mervo Mustangs, the Mount St. Joseph Gaels, the Patterson Clippers, the Poly Engineers, the St. Frances Academy Panthers and the Southwestern Sabers.
“My favorite parts are with the Digital Harbor team,” Simon says. “We almost didn’t shoot with them. They never responded to any of our inquiries. When they won the quarterfinals, I bullied my way in and found this team practicing hitting on the pool deck of their high school. It was about 95 degrees; I’m sweating like it’s July, and they’re in uniform hitting balls into nets over the water.”
Digital Harbor made a lasting impression on Simon.
“That team had more spunk and more fight than any team we shot,” she says. “Many of the private schools had well-oiled machines with beautiful fields, state-of-the-art equipment. Here is a city school that practices on the side of a swimming pool, that is playing to win. They got to the semi-finals and lost by a run.”
The film premiered at UB on April 2nd.
Simon is currently talking to a number of local and national outlets about screenings. She also plans to try the film festival circuit.
For now she’s focused on fine art projects. But the next video shoot is something that will no doubt find her.