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A Lot of Coaching, a Little Ribbing

A screenwriter gets some major league help in her effort to research a baseball fantasy about a female player.

September 03, 2000|DEVRA MA-ZA | Screenwriter-director Devra Ma-za is working on her next film, "Spotting Hitch." She has written about film and baseball for The Times

It was a beautiful spring day in Los Angeles, but I was frantic. I was on the road, late for a date with the chance of a lifetime. As I drove, desperate not to blow it, I was suddenly slowed by the sound of a motorcycle cop's siren. I hate that sound. "Well, young lady," smirked the officer, like a hunter who'd just bagged a big one, "where're you headed, and why the hurry?"

I told him. "I've got to get to Dodger Stadium because the Braves are letting me pitch."

I was hoping for some sympathy and a police escort. What I got was an offended "Do I look stupid?" and a speeding ticket. The funny part was, I was telling the truth.

I was researching my latest screenplay, a romantic comedy called "The Show," about the first female to play major league baseball. Though Stevie Dumar, my script's leading lady, who breaks baseball's gender barrier, plays second base, I felt I had to refine my knowledge of all aspects of the game to write her and her teammates. In addition to emotional range and comedic timing, the actress who plays Stevie will have to have the presence to stand tall on a field of major league men, and the grace to make the athletic demands of the sport look realistic on film.

But first I had to make it look realistic on paper--and for that I needed to see behind the scenes. Enter the Dodgers.

Having a home in the movie capital of the world makes the Dodgers' hierarchy uniquely savvy to my needs. It helps that Dodger director of publicity Derrick Hall views baseball as "part of the entertainment community" and understands the research a film requires. After film studio executives verify my status as a screenwriter with produced credits writing a legitimate spec script, I am afforded full access. So for a season I got to play with the big boys of baseball until I was a player myself.

My first glimpse inside the game comes courtesy of the Dodgers' elegant general counsel, Sam Fernandez. As we tour the stadium, I can hear the sound of baseballs being hit in batting practice. I love that sound. It's an awesome feeling, stepping onto the diamond for the first time, with its vibrant colors that paint America's pastime--the green, trimmed grass, the brown dirt studded with white bases at every corner of its perfect symmetry.

In the tunnel to the locker room, Fernandez asks me to wait while he checks to see if it's all right to bring me inside. I assume he's making sure everyone's dressed. I assume wrong. As we enter, the first thing I see is a player standing at his locker wearing nothing but a smile, and it isn't on his face. I walk into a wall. When I regain my sense of direction, I notice the bathroom and shower rooms have no doors, something Stevie, who first breaks into the majors incognito, will have to deal with.

Fernandez delivers me safely to the visitors' dugout, where the team in town is the Atlanta Braves. Their PR guy, Glen Serra, is ready for me: Want to learn grips for all the pitches? Here's the winningest left-hander of the decade, Tom Glavine. Want to know how to get a jump on a grounder? Second baseman Keith Lockhart can tell you. Want to talk pitching philosophy? How about four-time Cy Young Award-winner Greg Maddux?

Maddux has just thrown a "side session" in the bullpen to work on his pitching between starts. His platinum arm's encased in an Ace wrap of crushed ice, like some rare, high-priced soft drink. He asks me what my screenplay's about.

"It's about the first female in major league baseball," I tell him.

"Oh, so it's a fantasy," quips Maddux.

"Yeah," I smile back. "It's my fantasy. And you'll have to pay 8 bucks to see it."

Screenwriting, after all, is just fantasizing on paper. Like many kids, I dreamed of playing professional baseball, but the gene pool precluded that reality. The closest I got was playing second base in a coed softball league. Imagining myself playing significantly better in the big leagues and the reactions to my being a woman there is how "The Show"' was born.


As I work through several drafts, I return to Dodger Stadium and Edison Field--the Angels also opened their ballpark to me--to gain knowledge from the various teams passing through. I talk hitting with Padres batting champ Tony Gwynn and take batting practice with the Cubs and Tigers. I learn lingo from the Braves colorful coach Bobby Dews and "turn two" with the Indians Roberto Alomar and Omar Vizquel, the best double-play combo on the planet. I take photos of the Dodgers' closer Jeff Shaw's hand holding a ball showing every pitch.

Even players I don't approach offer assistance and suggestions: "Are there strippers in it?" "What about prayer chapel?" I contemplate adding a scene of strippers at chapel, but it just doesn't fit in the story line.

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