When someone told me that TBS ordered a pilot for an hour-long comedy series set in the world of minor league baseball, my reaction was, “God, I wish Ron Shelton was doing that.” Then, the best thing happened: I found out he is. The Oscar-nominated Bull Durham scribe will write and exec produce Hound Dogs, which, according to TBS, centers on a general manager and his team as they “try to handle life’s ups and downs, both in and out of the locker room.” As he did with Bull Durham, Shelton will draw from his own experience as a minor league ballplayer.
This is awesome for multiple reasons: For starters, TBS is trying to get into the hour comedy game, and Shelton writes the kind of dialogue that can comfortably and cleverly fill the space. (Pause as you recite Crash Davis’ “I believe in” speech… and cut to commercial!) Also, as you’ll recall from Bull Durham, there is much comedy to be mined in the minors — from the stupid promotions at the ballparks, to the rituals of players desperate to make it to the show or just keep playing, to the groupies. Lastly, this should be an opportunity to lure a great actor to cable (to preside over the roster of series regulars who look great in a uniform). So, who would you like to see play the manager?
My dream scenario: Kevin Costner decides reteaming with Shelton, with whom he also did Tin Cup, is a reason to come to TV. I chatted with Shelton in 2005, when EW named Kevin Costner the MVP of our list of the 30 greatest sports movies on DVD, and he said he’d love to work with Costner again. “I love making sports movies with Kevin. Kevin and I are always talking about making a movie. Finding the ones we agree on, and the time in his schedule and mine, is always the trick, but we’ve both said many times we’d like to do some more work together.” If a Bull Durham sequel isn’t in the cards, maybe Hound Dogs could be. The audience would certainly buy Costner as a minor league manager, and believability is important to Shelton. It’s what landed Costner the role of Crash Davis. “I had played [baseball] professionally, and he respected that. He said, ‘Look, go to the batting cages and if you don’t think I look good enough then we shouldn’t continue talking about this.’ This is the wonderful thing with Kevin — most stars, you couldn’t ask them to do that, and he insisted on doing it, which I have total respect for. We took a bunch of quarters, and we were in the cage. And then we went out in the parking lot playing catch, and I said, ‘You got the part.’” Costner was impressive athletically. “He was catching, and he threw out runners between takes. He hit two home runs on camera, out of the ballpark, even though you can’t tell exactly because the ball leaves the frame,” Shelton said. But he also brought something else to the part: “There’s an ease and the kind of boy-next-door part of Crash Davis, but there’s also kind of a mystery that Kevin brought to him. He has no past. He’s like a gunfighter. That’s how I thought of Crash Davis. He goes from town-to-town with his equipment and he’ll do whatever he’s hired to do, except in this case, it’s to catch and play professional baseball, not shoot people. But the mythology is out of the West.” (There has to be a Crash Davis-like character in Hound Dogs. Do you think that’s the name of the team or just a better title than Lollygaggers? I digress.)
Is Costner your pick? If he’s not ready to make the move to the small screen, maybe it’s Kurt Russell who gets the call. He played minor league ball and was almost cast as Crash. That would be a nice ending to that story some 22 years later…