Q&A: On his book tour, ‘Bull Durham’ Director Ron Shelton returns to the city that started it all.

It’s Saturday at Durham Bulls Athletic Park, and Hollywood manager Ron Shelton has 10 minutes until he starts throwing out the ceremonial first pitch.

A member of the Bulls front office emerged from the dugout with a pair of baseball gloves and shook hands with the guest of honor. Shelton wore blue jeans, a white button-down shirt, and a blue hat emblazoned with the Duke Golf Club logo. It had been a few years since he threw the first pitch, and the former shortstop was worried. His body is not as good as it used to be. Ron Shelton needs to warm up.

And he did. He hit the ball to his teammate three times, shook his hand once, and headed to the dugout door to talk shop with hitting coach Will Bradley.

“That’s all I need,” he exclaimed with a smile.

More than three years ago, Shelton came to the Triangle to direct the movie Bull Durham. Now, he has a book, which is part memoir, part behind-the-scenes story, and part ode to baseball. In it, the director explains how important the city of Durham was to the filming of the film, and how it was not.

It’s no stretch to say that Shelton almost didn’t make it to the ballpark on time — his flight from Los Angeles to Raleigh was canceled twice. He had nothing to eat and more importantly, drink. His son was expected to join him for one last parent-child trip before he heads off to college in the fall, before his flight is cancelled. And an onslaught of fans with books to sign told Shelton of their relationship with the movie, with one woman revealing how her mother interacted with her real-life brother. of Crash Davis. But now, he makes himself at home in a familiar place: on the baseball field.

Out of the blue comes Dalton Moats, a left-handed pitcher who will be Shelton’s catcher for the evening. He was tall, with long hair and a big smile under big sunglasses. Seeing how similar the two stand, there is no comparison between the real Moats and the Nuke LaLoosh, a Shelton creation.

“Like this,” Shelton said, mimicking the slow, bent way a catcher’s mitt usually involves these types of first pitches. However, he did his best to throw a punch. It came up short.

“I threw that thing about 54 feet,” he said as he walked off the mound.

More than three years ago, Shelton came to the Triangle to direct the movie Bull Durham. Now he has a book, “The Church of Baseball”, that explains the process. The book is one part history, one part behind-the-scenes, and one part ode to baseball. In it, the director explains how important the city of Durham was to the filming of the film, and how it was not.

The day before he flew to Durham, Shelton spoke with WUNC Social Media Producer Josh Sullivan from his hotel room in New York City.

Josh Sullivan: I’m going to lead with what I promise is not a trick question. Do you have a favorite basketball court? And it’s not limited to a professional ballpark.

Ron Shelton: My favorite ballpark I’ve ever visited was the old Tiger Stadium.

Sullivan: OK. How come?

Shelton: It’s got the mounting, you know, the upper layer and the lower layer. So it’s very tight. It is a deep dark green. It might be good for hitters because the background is so dark. But you are close to school. And I know people complain because there are posts that you have to look around like Fenway, but I want to buy a place that’s close to the school so I can look around a post every time. I thought that was what baseball was all about.

Sullivan: How old were you when you went there?

Shelton: I’m going to play baseball in AAA. We are in Toledo. I played for Rochester, and I looked at the map and saw that Toledo, which was Detroit’s AAA team, was very close to Detroit. So we had a night game and I got a car and I went and I watched the game. Mickey Lolich pitched and Tony Oliva hit, and I came back in time for our game.

I thought ‘Wow, that’s a ballpark.’ Later I shot a movie there, so I like that park.

Sullivan: What is that movie? Cobb?

Shelton: Cobb. Yes.

Sullivan: Well, I went to the game yesterday, and when you walk into the Durham club store, right in front of you, you have t-shirts that say “a bunch of lollygaggers” on them. And you go to the hats, and there are hats with slippers on them. And they will be known as Shower Shoes for some games. When you look back at the writing of the script, there were moments – little moments, little moments – that took on a life of its own. I mean, they’re on the front of the clothes. Does that kind of thing ring true for you? And when you’re writing a script like this, and when you’re making a movie, can you imagine these things still living, the way they do?

Shelton: No, it’s true for me. And when we did the movie, as you read in the book, I was trying to go on a date. You know, there were a lot of fights, a lot of battles, the studio didn’t like my work. And so, I continue to show up to work every day, you know, face down and you know, focusing on the day’s work and trying to get it done and thinking that 34 years later I was going back to Durham with a book and a movie, he didn’t know me at the time.

Sullivan: Just to report, I read most of the book. I’m on chapter 13. I know you talked about coming back to the ballpark for the year (movie) and meeting two kids named Crash and Nuke and it was kind of wild. to you. I know you’ve talked about what it was like to drive down Durham while you were making the film and how convenient that was. When you visit now, when you see the pictures, and when you see the videos, and see how the place is growing, how is it to know that you may have a small place in that?

Shelton: Yes, I will give full thanks for the rebirth of the Triangle and Durham.

I’ve been back a few times, and I like what happened. You couldn’t find a restaurant when we were shooting in 1987. You couldn’t find a restaurant. I mean, I have one, the Magnolia Grill or something. It’s set over the city, there’s a scene of Crash walking through the city, and he’s taking a stack of mail out, and he’s looking at his print situation in the window, those things are closed all shops, and those tobacco shops are empty. We see him walking at night, around the ballpark and around town. Now, there are condos and beautiful houses and shops. And you couldn’t imagine that in 1987. But I’m happy to take full credit for the rebirth of the whole place.

Sullivan: I will give it to you.

In Crash’s monologue, where he tells Annie what he believes in – you see the list, wet kisses that last three days and the constitutional amendment banning DH. It’s funny now, thinking about that line today, where it is now. high fiber. Are there any parts of that list left out? Is there anything that didn’t make the final cut?

Shelton: No. I wrote as fast as I could type. I didn’t change a word. Yes, the Susan Sontag line was preceded by Thomas Pynchon. And there’s a reason we need to change that. But no, I’m trying to put together a list of unknowns. So you cannot understand who this person is. You know, is he cool? Is it conservative? Is he crazy? Is he just dragging his feet? You see, after that speech, you don’t know anything about him, except that you want to know more about him.

Sullivan: Could Crash be a game changer? Before you saw Costner in the bar?

Shelton: Well, no, I never dreamed of having an actor, an actor who could do that. Kevin is renovating the house. And I really hope, I can put the day behind him. I can shine it, well, you know, anywhere in the day, because it can hit from the other side of the wall. Actually, that’s what I mean. It’s useful.

Sullivan: In fact, the scene in his first at-bat, where you see him and he walks up to the kid at bat, calls time and tells him to shut up. It’s very simple, but I don’t think that scene holds if you change (the camera angles) back and forth, because he’s right-handed in that way. I think it really sets the tone overall.

Shelton: Yes.

Sullivan: What is your relationship with baseball now? Do you have the same feelings as you did as a child growing up in California? Did it grow?

Shelton: I mean, I’m not afraid of baseball. I did some work on it. My son just played high school baseball and graduated. I want to go to those games. I follow the games. I don’t watch a lot of television. You know, I’m busy.

I think the game was part of growing up in America and most of the great writers – American writers – also wrote about baseball. I mean, Talese, and Updike and Richard Ben Cramer and Halberstam, and Walt Whitman and on and on. Why did they write about baseball? I mean, it was, you know, the 1919 fix of the World Series mentioned in The Great Gatsby, by Fitzgerald. So there is something about the game that is truly American. That, I think, is very interesting. I talked about that. There’s a whole chapter in the book called ‘Why Baseball’ at the end, you’ll get it. Why this fascination with the game? And I have my opinion on that, but yeah, I think it’s a great game. I love the game. I want to look. I want to follow. But like I said, my life wasn’t built around baseball.

Sullivan: Do you get that feeling of bats in ballparks?

Shelton: Well, I don’t go to bars very often. It takes a long time to get to the Dodger parking lot, and it’s very difficult to drive. My family, sometimes we go to UCLA games, because it’s like a small stadium, and you don’t have to go down the highway to get there. And I go to small games if I go to a city to visit, because I like that. Maybe one major league game a year. It doesn’t matter if you’re from Boston going to Fenway or New York going to Yankee Stadium or Citi Field, you just hop on the train and you’re there. In LA, it’s a dream. So you know, I’ve seen more high school games than pro games.

Sullivan: Is there anything special you’re looking forward to in the Triangle this weekend?

Shelton: Well, I shouldn’t buy a drink at the Triangle. You see, everyone is picking up my plates. No, my son will join me from LA He is 18 years old. And it’s not a new memory. It continues. For now. So I want him to see some of this and feel some of this. Then I will stay there for three days. And very good. So, no, like I said, I love the place so much. That growth grew from this successful movie and then the resurgence of the town.

This interview has been edited for brevity.

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