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"Up for Grabs" and "Bartholomew Whoops and the Bad, Bad Ball"

A baseball is the stuff that dreams are made of in the engrossing documentary "Up for Grabs".   The ball in question is the one that met the service end of Barry Bond's bat in October of 2001 to become his record-breaking 73rd homer, and which came to rest briefly in the gloved hand of one Alex Popov, restaurateur and fan.   A news cameraman named Josh Keppel captured on tape Popov's catch and the ensuing tooth-and-nail pileup for the ball and its attendant fortune and fame, from which a smiling man named Patrick Hayashi emerged with ball in hand.   The ball's trajectory didn't stop there however; it went on to wind its way through a protracted courtroom struggle.    

I found myself switching allegiances as the film went on: just when I’d come down firmly on the side of one of the gentleman, the film pulled the rug from underneath my feet and I saw that my guy was a bit dodgy after all.   By the end, both Popov and Hayashi come off as case studies in opportunism, dishonesty and pettiness.   We are forced to ask ourselves what we would have done differently had we been in their shoes.   Though the absurdity of the principals and the situation makes the film a comedy, it’s a mystery as well: though "the Keppel tape" clearly shows that Popov caught the ball, witnesses offer sharply conflicting takes on what happened during the melee.   Some report seeing a ringer ball in Popov's mitt, and a young boy claims that Hayashi bit him on the leg.  

This screening was a bit of a treat in that the film’s director, Michael Wranovics was in
attendance and took questions afterwards.   “Up for Grabs” is his debut feature.  

Also in attendance was legendary Chicago independent filmmaker Tom Palazzolo, whose short film “Bartholomew Whoops and the Bad, Bad Ball” was shown as a warm-up to the main attraction.   The whimsical film recasts as a sort of children’s illustrated anthropomorphic narrative the “Bartman affair” of the 2003 playoffs at Wrigley Field, in which a hapless fan reached for a ball that was still in play.   The film aims a sarcastic eye at those fans who would blame Bartman for costing the Cubs a shot at the World Series.  

I recall seeing Palazzolo’s indelible 1976 short “Jerry’s” in a film course when I was at OU in the early 90s.   It’s about a volatile Chicago deli owner who harangues his clientele.   Of course, I had no idea at the time I’d end up in Chicago one day.   I saw Palazzolo’s “Marquette Park” (1976 as well) at a film festival in the late 90s; it’s a documentary on the Nazi Party’s efforts to stage a demonstration in that Chicago neighborhood.  

- Jul 17, 2005  

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