April 14, 2011
There was one specific moment during Showtime's 30-minute preview of "The Franchise" on Wednesday when I knew that the reality show about the San Francisco Giants was destined to hit its intended mark.
As opening day approaches, rookie Brandon Belt(notes) is sitting on a chair in front of the desk in Bruce Bochy's office. It's the same spot that Marc Kroon, a 38-year-old reliever, had sat in the previous scene and stoically received the news that he hadn't made the big league team and was being reassigned to Triple-A Fresno. Because of the narrator and because Belt's pose is framed by the cameras in the same way, we're given the impression that the 23-year-old could possibly hear the same bad news as Kroon.
Of course, as baseball fans, we know that Belt's fate won't turn out to be the same as Kroon's. But it doesn't rob the moment of any of its drama. Bochy gives Belt the good news that he's starting opening night at Dodger Stadium, the pair shakes hands and the first baseman makes a move toward the clubhouse door. Only he can't rejoin his teammates because he's so moved by the moment and crying too hard. He stands awkwardly near the door, gets a hug of congratulations from a coach and then it's quite apparent he doesn't know what to do with himself. Bochy takes notice as Belt is even more overcome with joy.
"You can take your time, you can hang with me for awhile," Bochy says in his deep Country Bear Jamboree voice, sounding more like a concerned dad or high school coach than a manager of a team with a $117 million payroll. "If you need a beer, grab a beer."
Honestly, it got a little bit dusty over here in Stew H/Q when I watched that. And the scene sold me on the belief that this show — which will premiere on Showtime with an hour-long episode on July 14 and run for five subsequent weeks — is something that fans and non-fans alike will want to watch.
Don't get me wrong: There's plenty of the additional entertaining material we expect to see when a camera crew goes behind the scenes with a sports team. We see Bochy fishing for sharks, Mark DeRosa(notes) mocking Tim Lincecum's(notes) appearance in GQ, and Freddy Sanchez(notes) turning his luxurious (and spacious) kitchen into a wiffle ball field for his kids.
But like HBO's "Hard Knocks" and "24/7" before it, the producer's knack for cutting through the well-paid lifestyle and getting through to the personal dramas at play are what will make this show worth the Showtime subscription fee. And in an age when a player like Sanchez can be turned into nothing more than a impersonal slash line in a Twitter argument, might I suggest the show's depth is something the baseball world needs today?
Indeed, it's one thing to view Sanchez as a second baseman who's hurting the team with a mid-summer slump. It's another to know that he and his wife were almost forced to sleep in their car as he struggled to make the big leagues and she worked to provide for the both of them. Wednesday's preview might have only been 30 minutes long, but it already gave us a deeper understanding of the commitment and dedication it takes to get to the major leagues — and, perhaps more importantly, to succeed and stay there.
At one point during the show, Barry Zito(notes) is pictured behind the wheel of a car after a tough day spent battling rumors that he's going to get cut from the team. You can tell it has affected him as he says "what people don't realize is that we're just regular dudes and we're just chasing our dreams."
The cynics among us might never be able to believe a statement like that or get past Zito's $126 million contract. But for the rest of us who can believe these are just ordinary men who were blessed to do extraordinary things, "The Franchise" gets off on the right foot by peeling away the layers and showing us something as simple and intimate as the exact moment when a boy-turned-man achieves the one dream we all used to harbor.
And maybe still do.