THE BASEBALL DEBATE
Screenplay by Alan Nafzger
The President of Russia in order to save face in an international debate agrees to field a baseball team and play in the youth World Series tournament.
THE POLITICAL SITUATION
It seems that a Russian and an American fighter jet have become entangled in a dog fight (without bullets or missiles) and have crashed into each other. The pilots have bailed out of the their planes safely but the news media is making a huge news story about it.
The Presidents of Russia and the United States, after having a contentious debate about international affairs, get into a rather personal and trite debate about national sports programs. Relations between the two superpower nations are on the brink and there is speculation that the world may be entering a new cold war.
THE GREAT SPORTS DEBATE
Tensions are high between the two nations.
ALEXANDER GRISHIN — the Russian President, takes the American president to a youth sports camp and something similar to the Krushchev-Nixon “Kitchen Debate” from 1959.
The politicians schedule a quiet walk and the sports tour. The purpose is to deflect criticism that they don’t like each other personally and to draw attention away from the possible military aggression. However, they inadvertently organize various sports competitions.
In Russia and also in America, all of the major television networks broadcast the sports debate live on TV.
They debate youth basketball, futball, hockey. They cover all the sports, each president defending their nation’s athletic ability. When the American President mentions “baseball”, the President Grishin responds, “Anything the American’s can do, the Russian’s can do. With little effort”.
When the American President then laughs openly at Grishin, he must respond that Russia will field a youth baseball team and compete. And graciously the American President invites the new Russian baseball team to the completion in the U.S. in the summer. Russia will have a spot for one team reserved in the tournament.
THE MEDIA REACTION
Some see weakness in Grishin’s mistake and feel that he has lost his edge. Others in the media speculate that perhaps he has a neurological problem with his brain. He is embattled and Grishin must prove himself competent and field a team that can compete in America.
There is also some debate in the media about the translations and it is exposed that the Russian president might not have understood that he would field a baseball team and compete in the “Big League” World Series tournament. Later when asked about it, the Russian President (not wanting to be embarrassed) states that he understood perfectly. And he announces that he will definitely field a youth baseball team ages 16-18.
While the Russian President secretly feels tricked and perhaps a bit humbled, he can not back off from his position. Clearly he has misspoken and is a big embarrassed by the situation, but he publicly repeats his comments with confidence.
Grishin is ridiculed by comedians and television pendants. His political career is on the brink. With elections nearing this instability puts all of Russia on the brink. The “great sports debate” even effects the Russian stock market.
Russian newspaper reaction is initially somewhat mixed, with Pravda calling it “an exchange that emphasized the gulf between east and west but had little bearing on the substantive issue” and portrayed it somewhat as a political stunt. The newspaper also declared that public opinion seemed divided after the debates.
On the other hand, Sovietsky Sport, also covering the exhibition, praised the Russian President, saying he “managed in a unique way to personify a national character proud of peaceful accomplishment, sure of its way of life, confident of its power under threat.”
THE CRISIS GROWS IN STATURE
Soon there are trans-Atlantic phone calls between Presidents, however the topic involves sports. Rather than fight with armies each man tries to defeat the other on the sports fields. Similar to an arms race, soon both presidents are trying to out do each other in a personal “tit-for-tat” one-upmanship over youth sports programs. Youth sports programs are given a huge boost in funding and national attention is focused
The Russian president is constantly needled about his baseball team. To save face and also his career, Grishin must make his promise true and build a team.
A GAMBLER IN THE KREMLIN
There is a mad scramble to find anyone in the Kremlin who knows anything about baseball. There isn’t anyone readily available to help. However, working in the Kremlin is a compulsive gambler and sports addict.
KONSTANTIN BELOV — Sitting at a desk in the Kremlin, watching sports games all day on his computer, is Belov. He is content doing little political work for the President. He sees his job as basically placing gambling bets all day.
Belov is about to be fired when his online gambling from work comes to the attention of the Kremlin Chief of Staff. However when the Chief of Staff learns that some of the gambling was on baseball games, he is not dismissed. In fact, he is called to his bosses office to be given a promotion.
Belov is called in to the office of the Chief of Staff. When asked by about baseball Belov’s first response is that no bookie in Moscow will take a bet on baseball. Belov adds that he must call Las Vegas to gamble on baseball. However when things become clear then Belov is left with the responsibility of gathering and coaching a team.
Afraid he was going to be fired, now he is asked to play an important role in presidential politics. Of course he aggress and begins organizing a team.
Belov knows just enough about baseball to gamble on it; which means he doesn’t know much. Actually he does know about sports in general, but has spread himself so thin (gambling on 20 different sports) it leaves him with little specific knowledge about baseball.
THE RUSSIAN YOUTH BASEBALL TEAM
Belov visits various sports youth teams and asks for volunteers. He finds none. All of the best athletes players are happy were they are. Most everyone confronted knows nothing about baseball. However, there are one or two inferior players from each team that agree to come learn baseball.
DIMITRI – An overweight goalie on a hockey team agrees to play catcher on the team.
VLADIMIR – A untalented basketball player joins the team.
MAXIM – The son of the Mayor of Moscow is a nerd and only wants to play chess. He is the first player brought on the team. He is forced by his father to follow Belov around the city as he searches for team members. He is awkward but very bright and carries around a tablet for record keeping.
LUKA – A player is expelled from the tennis club for flirting with the girls. He hasn’t played a match in years and the only reason he has attended is to be near the beautiful girls.
ARTUR – The judo instructor orders his uncoordinated son to stop training in the dojo and join Belov. It seems that he has accidentally injured his father’s best students.
LEV – Belov finds a bicyclist who experiences a crash each race, denting cars and falling through tress and down hills.
IVAN – Belov has his wallet stolen from him. The thief is a very fast and athletic street kids. Evidently he has escaped government efforts to put him in a orphanage by running away very fast. However with Belov’s wallet he runs into a bus and is injured. Belov recruits him to the team from his hospital bed. Ivan is gladly adopted by the President’s personal secretary, a woman who never had children.
PAVLIK, ROMAN, SANYA, SERIOZHA, SHURA, STANISLOV, TOLYA, KOSTYA, LAURENTE, FELIKS, and GAVREL – Belov can only find seven players and is about to give up, when he comes into contact with the last place youth futball club. They have played together for three years and have a record of 0 wins and 82 loses. They have come close to winning but have always been disappointed. They are the least lucky team in Russia.
They almost won a game but at a key moment lightening stunned the goalie and the other team scored. They are totally defeated and despondent. Their season is over and Belo finds an opportunity to recruit them all. After a persuasive speech they join the effort.
While it appears that Belov builds a team of misfits, however in the end we learn that they were just placed in the wrong sports. Each player in the end proves himself best suited for baseball.
FALL TEAM PRACTICE
Belov buys baseball equipment from over the internet. It is delivered to the Russian Embassy in Washington and then bought by diplomats to Moscow. Things progress horribly as the team begins to practice. It is a comedy of errors.
They intelligence agents in the U.S. are assigned to spy on U.S. baseball operations. Everyone assumes they are professional and college team scouts. While at first they are confused over time they learn to appreciate the game. The agents in America send back books and video and detailed scouting reports.
On the first snowy day Belov is waking past the Cuban Embassy. The sidewalk is icy and winter has clearly arrived. He does a double take as he sees a boy in the yard throwing a baseball against a target. He is flawless in his delivery and the bull’s eye on the target has been destroyed.
MIGUEL – The son of the ambassador is a very unhappy young man. His dream is to be a professional baseball player but his father is assigned to Moscow.
Baseball in Cuba is a year around sports and Miguel knows if he were home, he would be playing baseball.
As Belov speaks to him about the sport of baseball, Miguel becomes visibly angry throwing the ball against the target very hard. Just the mention of baseball reminds Miguel of what he is missing. Miguel is anti-social and Belov make no progress. Belov doesn’t even get to the point where he can ask Miguel if he will join them.
Belov enters the Embassy and negotiates with Miguel’s teacher. It seems Miguel has been a unhappy and rebellious and has not been progressing in school. Especially a problem has been is lessons in the Russian language. Miguel has refused to speak Russian hoping his father would return him to Cuba.
ISABELLA – Beautiful female employee of the Cuban government who teaches four or five children at the embassy.
Isabella makes a deal with Belov that she will allow Miguel to play on the team, if….
- Belov will teach Miguel the Russian language.
- Belov will also take Gabriela as a member of the team.
They are supposed to be practicing inside the Moscow Olimpiyskiy when it is too cold to practice outside. The lengthy negotiations with Isabella have delayed Belov.
Much to Belov’s surprise when Miguel and Gabriela the Russian boys are playing baseball in the snow outside the stadium. Miguel and Gabriela are inspired and it is almost like they are home. Sure it is cold but the young people are having fun.
Belov is about to unlock the door and usher the team inside, but changes his mind when he sees the positive team atmosphere.
Other practices are held indoors — broken windows. Baseballs hit into the seats are lost.
They get some fishing nets and build a batting cage. They have an engineer design and a pitching machine.
The hardest working player is Gabriela. She is tirelessly working. She begins early and remains late to improve her skills.
The most useful player to the team is Miguel, who is a student of the game. He proves very valuable as a teacher. He learns Russian quickly so that he can teach the other players how to play correctly. He becomes a chatter box and is constantly talking about strategy (in the Russian language) to Belov.
The Russian futball players slowly gain confidence and aren’t the depressed young men.
Through the winter slowly the team improves.
THE WINTER PRACTICE GAMES
Belov convinces the Kremlin that progress has been significant but they need some practice games. The team is flown to the warm and tropical island of Cuba for a series of practice games.
The Russian president gambles his reputation on the team. He allows the games to be televised. His opponents want him embarrassed and are happy to see them on television. The President allows the media to photograph him watching and following the team.
Miguel and Gabriela are happy to be back on the island. The Cuban team are their childhood acquaintances. They are happy to see their family and friends.
The Russian team loses the first game. After the game it is agreed that they are learning from the mistakes and improving. Belov admits fault and begs forgiveness. Of course the team loved him and all admit mistakes.
The second game is lost in the bottom of the ninth. There is a crisis of confidence as the Russian futball players feel they are jinxed. Belov must give them a moving speech.
The Russian team almost wins the third game but a homerun is stolen by a fantastic catch by the centerfielder. Belov is happy because they have almost won two games against serious international competition.
The Cuban team then visit Sochi for three games in the Fisht Olympic Stadium. By this time, the Russian national media have promoted the games. The games are televised but also the games are also held on vacation days. Many Russian make a trip to see the game in person.
The Cuban’s win the first two games.
The American President is following the events and calls Russian president when they are defeated. The American President sends intelligence agents to scout the Russian team.
But the third game is won by the Russian team and the Russian President takes the opportunity to phone the White House. They have a strange relationship based almost entirely on competition.
THE SPRING PRACTICE GAMES
As the winter recedes, several Caribbean teams are invited and play games in Russia. Russia wins at least one game in each series with Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Mexico and Dominican Republic.
The Russian youth team become celebrities of sort and the President’s promise seems realized. It is a matter of national pride and accomplishment.
In the past, each player has been a disappoint to his parents in one way or another. The team’s success restores the familial relationship of the players. Once a disappointment, the parents are now proud of their children.
THE OBSTACLE NEAR THE END
On the eve of the team traveling to the United States, terrorist attack the Cuban Embassy. Both Miguel and Gabriella’s fathers are killed. It is a huge event in Russia and in Cuba and of course this is devastating to Miguel and Gabriella.
The Russian boys on the team attend memorial services at the embassy to show their support of their friends and teammates. After the service, the Russian boys on the team meet and agree not to play in the American tournament. Belov supports the choice and meets with the President of Russia to tell him. Belov is afraid his Kremlin job will be over. Bravely President Grishin agrees that the team will not play.
Miguel and Gabriella persuade the Russian team to play. Miguel and Gabriella ask their teammates, Belov to reconsider their vote. And in perfect Russian, they make a personal appeal to President Grishin that the team should play in America. The team changes their vote and they agree to play.
There is a low key romance between Isabella and Belov.
Also there is a teenage romance between Gabriella and Luka. She influences him to become a serious athlete and he no longer pretends to be a playboy.
The team is seen getting on the plan. They are somber and clearly effected by the events. However, they will go and they will compete. The end credits roll.
AFTER THE CREDITS
On the screen after the credits, we see what happened at the tournament.
We see the American’s oppose Miguel’s participation because it is supposed to be a “Russian” team. Belov cites a treaty agreement that demands participation. Also, the Russian players refuse to play without Miguel. Finally, the American’s give in and allow his participation and comment that Miguel will not help them win and that the Russian’s must be hopeless.
The American’s also oppose allowing Gabriella to play. Gabriella wins a game with a base hit in the bottom of the ninth inning in the tournament’s first game.
HAPPY NEWS AT THE END
- Belov kept his job and stopped gambling.
- Isabelle still keeps in touch with Miguel both emailing in Russian.
- Miguel becomes a professional baseball player.
- Gabriella encourages millions of girls proving that girls can play baseball.
- Dimitry loses weight becomes an excellent hockey goalie.
- Vladimir plays professional basketball in France.
- Maxim follows his fathers advise and enters politics.
- Luka marries a Russian girl and is faithfully married for 60 years.
- Artur’s proud father knocks him over hugging him on national television.
- Lev finishes the Tour de France and does not crash.
- Ivan grows up to be an administrator and teacher at Moscow’s largest orphanage.
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