This is the WORLD PREMIERE of the newest trailer for "The First Padres". It's an independent film documentary by Chris Boyd about how professional baseball was born in San Diego in the form of the PCL Padres. Watching it now gives me goose bumps. It also makes my eyes water. And I admit I'm a little hungry too, but that could be unrelated to the trailer.
We were fortunate enough to be able to talk to Chris about his project. Let's slide in...
So how did the idea to make this film come about?
I wanted to make a film about my city, San Diego, and I was always searching out a topic that I thought would be worthwhile. I can’t even remember exactly how I came across the fact that there was a minor league team called the Padres, but once I did I started to dig deeper and found that there were decades of history that people in my generation know nothing about. I also enjoy baseball and San Diego sports, so as I gathered information and realized there was enough for a feature film, it made sense to go forward and make this my first film about my hometown.
Most San Diegans probably have a very rudimentary knowledge of the PCL Padres. What sorts of things will they learn from your film?
Pretty much everybody I’ve spoken to about this film and this subject have known nothing about the PCL. We’re now more than 40 years removed from the PCL in San Diego, even though the league still exists and the Padres have an affiliate in it. So I know that people will learn a lot from this film. They will learn how professional baseball came to exist here when the PCL moved a franchise in, and how two stadiums that no longer exist were built just for baseball: Lane Field, by the bay on Harbor Drive; and Westgate Park, where Fashion Valley is today. They will learn how the minor leagues operated in California before the major leagues arrived. They will hear stories of some of the colorful characters that populated professional sports before it became as lucrative as it is now. And I think most importantly they will see that the PCL Padres evolved along with the city – the team was a reflection of San Diego as it grew, and there was a tremendous following for the team here. I think a lot of people will be shocked just to know that there was a ballpark right on the bay for more than 20 years, and that PETCO Park isn’t even unique in San Diego in that respect.
A project of this scope must have come with many challenges. What sort of unexpected issues did you run into?
This has been the biggest film I’ve undertaken, and it is always challenging to produce a film on your own. I’ve been really lucky to meet some great people who have helped make it a reality. The toughest part was working the film into my life – as an independent filmmaker doing this project on my own with no backing, I’ve still had to make a living while making the film in my free time. Shooting, writing, editing - it all takes a lot of time and there is so much that goes into a feature film. But outside of the time constraints, I think that the biggest unexpected issue was keeping the film down to a good running time! I found so much great information and such a comprehensive story, that when it came time to write the movie there was a lot of material and I initially wanted a film that is much longer than what I have now. So cutting it down to the core of the story was a challenge, but I know it was good in the end for the quality of the film. Being able to trust that I had enough to tell a compelling story only came with time.
With the challenges undoubtedly came some very rewarding moments. Can you tell us about those?
Stepping into Bobby Doerr’s home in Oregon to interview him, seeing a room full of unbelievable baseball memorabilia from the 1920’s onward including bats signed by Ted Williams and original programs from the Red Sox in the 1930’s…that’s the kind of moment that makes all of the hard work worthwhile. For a baseball fan, having the chance to talk to this man in his 90’s who has seen so much of the game and has forgotten more than most of us will ever know – it doesn’t get much better than that. It was a real highlight to speak with him and not something I’ll ever forget. He couldn’t have been a nicer or more gracious man, and his recall of his time in San Diego more than 75 years ago was just astounding.
Then there was the discovery of some incredible archival footage. An old PCL promotional film surfaced, with some amazing scenes of the Padres in the 1940’s. Whitey Witeleman, a Padre in the 1950’s, also shot some 8mm footage, of which only a few clips have surfaced over the years. With the scope of my film, I was able to incorporate more of that material than has been seen publicly. I also found some home movies shot at Westgate Park that have not been seen by anyone. When I started making the film I had a wishlist that included game footage at these parks, and when something from Westgate actually materialized it was a fantastic moment because I was looking at something that has been lost to our city for a long time and I knew I would have a chance to share it.
How involved was Padres Historian Bill Swank in the making of the film?
Bill has been instrumental, and that’s why he is an Associate Producer of the project. The first thing I read about the PCL in San Diego was one of his books, and I found his phone number and called him out of the blue. He is the only expert on the subject of baseball in San Diego, so I knew that he would have to be a part of the film if I was going to have any credibility. Documentary filmmakers can’t be experts in every subject that we choose to explore, and we have to find people like Bill who are passionate about what they know. We talked for awhile during that first conversation, and he told me that over the years a few people had expressed interest in making a film like this and there had been the odd segment produced here and there by some TV channels. But nobody had ever told the story on film that he had been telling in his books: that the Padres as we know them now are part of a legacy of baseball in our city, one that stretches back nearly 150 years.
So I don’t think Bill believed my intentions at first, especially when he saw I was just some 25 year old kid who thought the Padres started with Tony Gwynn and Fred McGriff some time in the early 90’s and only ever played at Jack Murphy Stadium. But I told him I wanted to interview him and some players, if possible, to put together a short teaser for a proposed larger film – the idea being to see if I could drum up some interest. When I showed up with all of my equipment he saw I was serious, and he put me in touch with players and helped me set up interviews.
That first phone call was in 2009, and from the three years since I’m happy to say that I now call Bill a friend and I’ll always be indebted to him for his help on this project. He gave me access to photos, clippings, videos, and stories that I could never find anywhere else. But most importantly he connected me to players and made it possible for me to capture some of these men on film. Bill’s best-known book is "Echoes From Lane Field" and it is a collection of interviews that he put together over many years of work. I like to think that a part of my film is a continuation of that, because the interviews with these players are the center of the film and the heart of the story. So without Bill, there would be no film, and I couldn’t have asked for a better way into this whole world of history. He’s an outgoing, gregarious, and very knowledgeable guy who I’ve been lucky enough to spend a lot of time with and I hope this film will mean as much to him as it does to me.
Bob Chandler is the perfect pick to narrate the film. How did he come on board?
Bob Chandler is another connection that I have Bill Swank to thank for, as the two of them have been friends for quite some time. Bill suggested Bob when I mentioned I would love to have a broadcaster do the narration. I feel like a big part of watching baseball - at least in my life because I’ve watched more baseball on television than I have in person – is having the presence of a broadcaster with you. I think that around the country, you will find a lot of baseball fans who wouldn’t be able to watch games without their favorite announcer. It’s a contemplative game and there is time to fill, 162 games a year, so baseball broadcasters have a unique presence in our minds when we watch games. If you watch an entire season, you really live with a broadcaster day in and day out. So I wanted to conjure that feeling with the narration of the film, and there was no better way than with Bob Chandler. I think he has a great voice, and it’s a voice that the people of our city know and cherish, so I think I couldn’t have asked for a better narrator. He was a pleasure to work with and I was amazed by how he could take a look at what I wrote and nail it on the first take. He made my life easier.
How many of the former players did you interview?
I conducted interviews with Ed Erautt, Rudy Regalado, Bobby Doerr, Bill Glynn, and Rod Graber, which covered players from the very first Padres team at Lane Field all the way to the teams playing in Westgate Park in the late 50’s and include infielders, an outfielder, and a pitcher. I was also able to conduct interviews with family members of three other players – the daughter and granddaughter of Johnny Ritchey, the sister of Nay Hernandez, and the son of Wally Hebert. They all contributed valuable insights into these players and their time in San Diego. Additionally, I interviewed Bill Swank at length and San Diego historian Rick Crawford, along with longtime Morse High football coach John Shacklett who was an avid Padres fan at both Lane Field and Westgate Park. Together, it is a tremendous oral history of baseball in San Diego.
When will fans be able to see the finished product?
The film is finished, so I’m looking into different possibilities and finding the best way to release it. I would love to have the film in a theater at a film festival or on TV – whatever is the best way to share it with the most San Diegans is what I’m most interested in. So while I don’t know for sure, I’m hoping that people can see it later this year, ideally before baseball season is over, and that it is a film people can watch for a lot of years to come because the history it covers and the story it tells matters to our city.
Learn more about the film or contact Chris at http://www.facebook.com/firstpadres