The flipside to Fox’s zippy game of the week and related programs, “Baseball, Minnesota” takes the slow approach in documenting a season of the minor league St. Paul Saints. Slow and ambling, docu has the middle-inning pace of a game won in the ninth. Fans of the game may even be turned off by the rudimentary glimpse into a season from the p.o.v. of players, a manager, an owner, the community and a few fans. It’s baseball voyeurism sans titillation.
Owner Mike Veeck is the voice of excitement, unlike his charges, who perhaps are too focused to say anything even remotely pithy or insightful. The Saints do have some fans willing to do anything for this team, including camp out for tickets and even travel to Duluth for opening day.
Truth is, the team sells out every game, and Veeck has maintained the promo wackiness of his father Bill, but in the first two episodes we’re left wondering what’s the draw beyond a few major leaguers on the rebound.
On the field stories are several: Darryl Strawberry and Jack Morris are attempting to revive their careers; Daryl Henderson is concerned about making the team, despite being one of the best players out there; and Scott Stewart listens to Morris’ thoughts on pitching and proceeds to win a game.
Strawberry appears consumed by demons as he tries to strike an impossible balance between being a teammate, staying distanced, obliging fans and concentrating on returning to the Show. Morris, one of the top pitchers of the 1980s and ’90s, who led the Detroit Tigers, Minnesota Twins and Toronto Blue Jays to World Series titles, is seen interacting with players, but these young-uns are generally too awestruck to do much more than ask questions. The Daryl and Darryl combo has potential, but neither athlete is long for the Saints.
Central problem is the laconic speaking style of the average ballplayer and the fundamentally slow evolution of a team’s development. Manager Marty Neff does most of the talking — he, too, is slow and methodical — and so we see how a player is signed or cut or told his role may be limited. Uh-huh. A bartender explains ballplayers are interested in meeting local women for sex. Weird, huh?
This cinema verite needs a big boost of energy. There’s little sense of tension or achievement (perhaps that comes later in the series) and the characters are neither endearing or repulsive. Docu spreads out the attention — good in that it shows a variety of stories, problematic in that it causes a lack of focus — and winds up providing more frame than portrait.
Quality of shooting varies, as camera operators were confronted by a load of overcast days, and the attempt to promote candid interludes means a lot of bad lighting. Cameras are never obtrusive, and there are a number of moments when the players seemingly don’t realize they are there. Sound is consistently good.
The half-hour show is scheduled for Sundays at 7:30 p.m. beginning Sept. 15.