Filmmakers Matthew Asner and Danny Gold spent the last two years dedicated to the philosophy: “If you can’t play baseball, make a movie about it.”
Beginning in May 2005, Asner and Gold began creating a cultural documentary revolving around the inner workings of the Samurai Bears – the first all-foreign professional sports team to play in the United States.
Asner and Gold’s film “The Season of the Samurai” made its world premiere last Saturday at the Lobero Theatre as part of the 2007 Santa Barbara International Film Festival. In attendance at the event were several Samurai players and their American manager, to name a few.
“Sports are something I have always liked. But this is a story that transcends sports,” Gold said. “It’s a cultural story, a fish-out-of-water story. It was a benefit for us to be around baseball, but it was more the story and the relationships between Warren Cromartie and the team.”
The film begins by establishing the clash between two cultures pitted together, as the American manager of the Samurai Bears, ex-Major League Baseball outfielder Warren Cromartie, teaches his players requisite English profanity to use on the field. Although it was a scripted scene, Cromartie’s antics set the tone for the spirit and the theme of the rest of the movie.
The Samurai Bears were first introduced to the Golden Baseball League for the duration of the 2005 season and finished in last place in the Arizona Division. Yet, despite the team’s hardships, players like Yuji Nerei – who won a gold glove at first base – and all-star pitchers Hideki Nagasaka, Takaaki Igarashi and Rentaro Seki managed to shed light on the team of misfits from Japan.
“It’s a true story of the minor leagues, it’s really a wish fulfillment,” Gold said. “It’s about the love of the game and the manager Warren Cromartie’s love of the game. Everyone is reaching for something.”
Traveling from as far north as Chico, Calif., all the way down to Yuma, Ariz., the Bears made the trek back and forth to play a grueling 90 games in 97 days. While the record for the most amount of wins by an all-traveling team was 35, the Bears fell short of that mark with a 33-57 mark at the end of the summer – not bad for a team that did not speak the same language and started out its season 2-15.
So, if the team was within striking distance of being the best traveling team in baseball history, why did the Bears only last one season? Asner said there were difficulties obtaining visas along with players having to pay for their own travel to the United States.
“This was a hand-picked baseball team and I was very proud of them,” Cromartie said. “My job was to prepare them to play, keep them focused. … [The other GBL teams] had to beat us ’til the last out and we snuck up on a few teams in the end.”
However, both the filmmakers and Cromartie alike joked that if the film turned out to be a great success – and obtained the rights to be distributed to theaters – then just maybe the Samurai Bears could come back into the GBL.