May 13, 2008 / 12:19 AM / 10 years ago

Young NY filmmakers peek inside Japanese baseball

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Bobby Valentine hit only 12 home runs during 10 seasons as a player in Major League Baseball, so he knows something about tough pitches.

Now managing the Chiba Lotte Marines in Japan, Valentine received a relentless pitch from three young filmmakers who wanted to document an entire season of his in Japan. The New York University film students sought to record his life -- from shaving in the morning to agonizing over defeats at night -- over eight months in 2007.

After initially resisting, Valentine gave in, and the result is “The Zen of Bobby V,” which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last month and makes its television debut on the U.S. all-sports channel ESPN 2 on Tuesday May 13.

Valentine was a successful manager in the United States, taking the New York Mets to the 2000 World Series. He was also known for outspokenness and defying convention, making for occasional tumult.

Valentine became a huge celebrity in Japan as the first foreign manager to lead his team to the Japan Series title, in 2005. As the title implies, the film is about more than baseball. It examines how Valentine lives spontaneously, has embraced Japanese culture and how the Japanese in turn have embraced an outsider.

“Some of the bad news is that foreigners aren’t accepted and haven’t been for a long time. Part of the good news of the story is that I have been, and it wasn’t an easy chore. It took a lot of cultural acceptance and change on my part,” Valentine said in a telephone interview from Osaka, Japan.

U.S. and Japanese baseball have grown closer in recent years. Major League Baseball has opened its season in Japan three times since 2000. When pitcher Hideo Nomo came to America in 1995, he was the only Japanese player in the “big leagues.” This year there are 16, and many of them are stars.

Andrew Jenks, Jonah Quickmire Pettigrew and Andrew Muscato -- all 21 years old at the time -- collaborated on all aspects of the film, turning 500 hours of raw video into a 93-minute documentary that must make them the envy of NYU film school.


Muscato and Pettigrew graduate on Wednesday, the day after their movie shows on ESPN 2.

“Jonah especially was intent on making it this 24/7, cinema verite, season-long kind of work about Bobby’s life in Japan. Immediately Bobby was taken aback by that and said no, that’s a bit much,” Muscato said of their attempt to convince Valentine.

But with enough convincing, and with the backing of ESPN, which agreed to finance the project by three men who had only one commercial film to their credit, Valentine agreed to the project and spent eight months on camera and connected to a microphone.

“It wasn’t an intrusion at all. A lot of times I’d have the mic on for an interview and literally had it on five hours later without realizing it. They were so ever present that they just blended in,” Valentine said.

Viewers share that experience, which chronicles the fanatical dedication of Japanese fans to baseball and the discipline of the players that often eclipses the enthusiasm and work ethic of players in America, where the sport was invented.

“The fans are fanatical. As one interview with one of our fans said, it’s like a religion. Some of them say it’s like sex,” Valentine said. “They enjoy being a fan so much they go to bed at night and wake up in the morning thinking what they can do for and with the team.”

Editing by Michelle Nichols and Philip Barbara

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