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Nonfiction Review: The Church of Baseball by Ron Shelton

Title: The Church of Baseball: The Making of Bull Durham: Home Runs, Bad Calls, Crazy Fights, Big Swings, and a Hit
Author: Ron Shelton
Year published: 2022
Category: Adult nonfiction
Pages: 256 pages
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location: (my 2022 Google Reading map)USA (CA, NC)

Summary“The only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the church of baseball.” —Annie in Bull Durham

Bull Durham, the breakthrough 1988 film about a minor league baseball team, is widely revered as the best sports movie of all time. But back in 1987, Ron Shelton was a first-time director and no one was willing to finance a movie about baseball—especially a story set in the minors. The jury was still out on Kevin Costner’s leading-man potential, while Susan Sarandon was already a has-been. There were doubts. But something miraculous happened, and The Church of Baseball attempts to capture why.
From organizing a baseball camp for the actors and rewriting key scenes while on set, to dealing with a short production schedule and overcoming the challenge of filming the sport, Shelton brings to life the making of this beloved American movie. Shelton explains the rarely revealed ins and outs of moviemaking, from a film’s inception and financing, screenwriting, casting, the nuts and bolts of directing, the postproduction process, and even through its release. But this is also a book about baseball and its singular romance in the world of sports. Shelton spent six years in the minor leagues before making this film, and his experiences resonate throughout this book.

Review:  Let's set one thing straight: I am not a baseball fan. So why did I read this book? I have a number of reasons: Ron Shelton is from my town, his brother David did all the ironwork on my house (and was married to a family friend of ours), his brother Steve worked with me in the schools and was my daughter's English teacher. And Ron, he's the famous one. And, it's about the making of Bull Durham, a movie I really liked. Shelton went on to write and direct White Men Can't Jump, Tin Cup, and other movies.

This is a fun book that reads quickly and was really enjoyable. If you've seen the movie Bull Durham it will be especially fun. The author gives a brief background of growing up in Santa Barbara (and the connection to major league player Eddie Matthews who attended our high school), how he got interested in baseball, what it was like to play in the minor leagues, and how he got into movies and scriptwriting and eventually, directing.

The bulk of the book is about the making of Bull Durham. I found it fascinating to see how an idea becomes a pitch, becomes a script, becomes a movie. Scouting locations, casting (this part was super interesting), and the actual filming and all its drama are described in a great story. I am going to rewatch the movie if I can find it streaming somewhere.

Challenges for which this counts:
  • Nonfiction--celebrity

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