Sports: Me ’n’ Richie

Mike Tollin is a producer and director (Radio, Coach Carter, Varsity Blues, Arli$$, Smallville, Wild Hogs) living in Los Angeles. He is working on a film about his boyhood hero and the unlikely intersection of their lives. What follows are excerpts from that work-in-progress.

FADE-UP GRAPHIC: September 1963

INTERIOR DAY — SUBURBAN HOME
Roly-poly MICHAEL, age seven, turns on the TV in a well-appointed living room. The screen comes to life slowly, revealing the black-and-white image of a baseball diamond and a large, well-chiseled hitter ambling toward the plate. He wears number 32 on the back of his road Phillies uniform. CUT BACK to the living room, where Michael seems mesmerized and edges closer to the blue Magnavox console encasing the 19-inch screen.

Twenty-one-year-old RICHIE ALLEN, just called up from Triple A Little Rock, swings a 42-ounce war club and rakes a blue darter off Johnny Podres into the gap for a run-scoring triple.

A whole generation of Phillies fans becomes hooked almost immediately. His size, his elegance, his supercilious demeanor, the way he swings that massive lumber, his deceptive speed, those gargantuan homers, and yes, his blackness, all make Richie Allen a dangerous but irresistible hero.

FADE-UP GRAPHIC: One year later

EXTERIOR DAY — SUBURBAN LAWN
The sounds of a Phillies game can be heard from a radio positioned in an open window. Michael, his 11-year-old brother LARRY and their six-year-old sister CINDY are in their cramped backyard, playing running bases. The screen door swings open, and their grandfather SI, 55, appears.

Si: C’mon, kids, let’s go. You’re coming with me to the apartment. Your mother’s meeting us there.

EXTERIOR DAY
A dilapidated Chevy station wagon. The three kids sit in the backseat, quiet and nervous. The car radio plays a baseball game between the Phillies and the Pirates.

Michael: So Grandpop, why are we going to your house? Did someone die?

INTERIOR DAY — APARTMENT
Small den of an apartment on the outskirts of Philadelphia. The three kids sit in a row on a black-and-white tweed loveseat. The Phillies game is now on TV. The sound is turned down, but Michael is laser-focused on the game. Richie Allen is on deck. RUTHELLEN, the  31-year-old mother, enters. She’s clutching a tissue, fighting back tears.

Ruthellen: Kids, I have some bad news. Your father and I have decided to split up. That means he’s not going to be living with us at the house anymore. He’s going to have his own apartment, but you will still see him all the time. And the main thing you need to know is we both love you very much. …

CLOSE-UP OF MICHAEL
His attention is drifting, from his mother’s voice to the TV set, where Richie Allen is in the batter’s box. Larry’s eyes are red, fighting back tears. Cindy has crawled into Ruthellen’s lap, bawling like a baby. Allen swings and lines a base hit to center field. Michael tries to suppress a smile.

The Phils are in first place with a seemingly insurmountable lead. Richie Allen, now 22, is on his way to earning Rookie of the Year honors. But by mid-September, the team is starting to show cracks.