Baseball is commonly referred to as "America's Pastime," but the U.S. is losing their ownership of the game with each passing year. Growing in popularity by leaps and bounds all over the globe, baseball has become something of a renegade sport in various countries, where a select few have taken up the good fight to bring the game to the masses.
John Fitzgerald's documentary, "The Emerald Diamond," takes a look at the attempts of the Irish National Baseball Team to be taken seriously in the face of a country that doesn't understand them, and a game they're only just beginning to comprehend the fundamentals of.
The team was born in 1996, as an antidote to the softball leagues that had begun to wear thin on the patience of the participants. Starting up with just 15 players, the team held practices in local swamplands, created makeshift backstops with wood and chicken wire, and used stolen equipment. They were ambitious fellows who were looking to scratch their ball-playing itch, yet keeping one eye on a bigger picture of international competition that was slowly becoming a possibility.
As the picture walks through the years of difficult growing pains and hardships that plagued the team, Fitzgerald keeps the mood light and positive, staying focused on the personalities of the players over their actual achievements. The filmmaker interviews a good cross-section of the original team, getting these shy men to open up about their experiences with a blushing honesty and a good deal of Irish humor. The viewer has the chance to understand the passions of the club more cleanly, which leads to a much deeper appreciation of their sacrifices and the humanity of their mistakes. Fitzgerald makes you feel part of the gang, effectively adding to the suspense of the team's rise to prominence and the sting of their humiliations.
Acting as chapter stops throughout the documentary are the trials of the European Baseball Championships. Fitzgerald uses the squad's visits to the world series of international play as a method to covey the growth of not only skill and popularity, but also teeth-grinding determination. The film traces the rise of the Irish from a group of inconsequence in 1996, getting their behinds handed to them from the likes of Sweden and Lithuania, to actually making a dent in the 2002 series, where their confidence finally took over, along with a generous portion of ability. It's not quite the golden Hollywood ascension to sporting dominance, but it's a swell look at a team coming together with grace, believing in itself, and keeping their dignity even in the face of overwhelming defeat.
As the Irish team develops a reputation as a class act, their influence is felt all over the country. Throughout the years other teams have formed, crossing traditionally skittish Catholic/Protestant lines in the name of good, clean fun and friendly competition. The youth of Ireland also stepped up their interest, joining local little league and T-ball teams to build their throwing skills (one forgets that Americans shoot out of the womb being able to throw something, while other countries lack that skill) and satisfy their curiosity with this peculiar American game. Fitzgerald illustrates the wonderful effect baseball is having on the culture with these moments, and the warmth radiates off the screen. It takes every last ounce of might to not book a flight to Ireland just to play catch with these wonderful folk.
"Emerald Diamond" is given a 2.0 Dolby Digital sound mix. Perhaps the interview segments don't jump off the speakers in any thrilling way, but Fitzgerald has scored his film to a lovely assortment of Celtic songs that boost the film's energy, and will give the speakers something to do. This isn't a forceful sound mix, but it fits the film's underdog theme nicely.
The "Emerald" DVD is presented in a full frame, non-anamorphic transfer. Fitzgerald shot the documentary for $70,000, so I forgive any lack of polish on this disc. Still, even with budgetary limitations, the picture is colorful and captures the freezing greens and blustery grays of Ireland with minimal HD fuss. For this type of DIY cinema, what counts is the material, not the sparkle.
Five deleted and extended scenes are included, totaling 23 minutes of footage.
- "The Emerald Age of Baseball" takes a trip back through history, pointing out the large amount of Irish players who made up the leagues in the early days of the sport.
- "Retiring Sean Mitchell's Number" delves into the sacrifices Mitchell made for the Irish team, and the bittersweet occasion of his retirement ceremony.
- "Youth Miscommunication" covers the frustrations of American coaches trying to explain the nuances of baseball to Irish kids. It seems asking a child to "shag the balls" means something completely different in Ireland.
- "Rounders and the Irish Media" is a look at the media awareness of Irish baseball, and how that affects the players. There's also a discussion on "Rounders," a baseball-like game played with bare hands.
- "Chris Foy's Wedding" shows actual footage from American transplant player Foy's legendarily boisterous wedding. It includes a peek at the teary ceremony, the best man's speech, and the dance floor madness.
There are five minutes of interview outtakes and bloopers, a rare inclusion on a documentary DVD release.
"The Emerald Diamond Goes on Tour" is an eight-minute featurette on the promotion of this tiny production in America. We watch Fitzgerald methodically travel from city to city trying to get the word out on this film anywhere he can.
"The Emerald Diamond Movie Premiere" takes us to Pleasantville, New York for the film's February opening day. This 15-minute Q&A session acts a makeshift commentary track, with Fitzgerald spilling details on how this peculiar film came to be.
"Pride & Honor" is a featurette covering the American experience on the Irish team, along with a test on the national anthem for the interviewees.
"National Team Interviews" is a collection of post-tournament chats from 2004 with players in Germany.
"Belfast North Stars Game" takes a short look at a 2005 game pitting the Belfast North Stars vs. the Dublin Blue Devils.
"Dublin Giants vs. Dublin Spartans" details a heated game where the passions of the Cuban and Latin American team members get the best of them. Hilarity ensues.
"Dublin Spartans vs. Dublin Hurricanes" proves just how cold and ugly the weather gets for some of these games. Staying true to the spirit of the Irish team, nobody complains.
Two music videos covering the recording of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" for the film's soundtrack are offered. Essentially, this is just studio footage with the band Whiskey on a Sunday.
Finally, one teaser and one final trailer are included.
What Fitzgerald has with "Emerald Diamond" is a marvelous documentary that not only gets the joy of playing baseball, but makes room for the reverence that traditionally follows skill. America has slowly stripped the pleasures of the game away through a century of unapologetic greed and unfiltered ego; "Emerald Diamond" restores the innocence of the sport for 90 wonderful minutes, easily ranking as one of the best documentaries I've seen this year. The Irish National Baseball Team, much like other countries currently building their clubs, is where the heart of the game lies today. I highly recommend this opportunity to live the dream with these hard-working men and their amazing journey.
For more information, and to purchase a copy of "The Emerald Diamond," please visit: irishbaseballmovie.com