Everyone loves baseball, right? You, there in the back — you say you’re not so keen? Well, never mind. You’re still going to love Ghost Town to Havana, a documentary screening (for free!) at Oakland’s Grand Lake Theatre at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 27.
Let’s slightly adjust the premise: everyone loves watching kids play Little League baseball, and that’s what Ghost Town to Havana offers viewers in abundance. Shot partly in West Oakland and partly in Cuba, the film examines the exploits and struggles of two teams of youth ballplayers and the dedicated adults who work with and support them.
Long-time Oakland coach Roscoe Bryant’s love for the game has benefited hundreds of kids throughout the city, while also placing intense stress on himself and his loved ones. Anyone deeply committed to youth baseball is familiar with this dynamic, but for the ‘at-risk’ kids of Ghost Town it’s a sacrifice that can really make a difference.
Bryant, in effect, serves as both coach and father figure for numerous kids who’ve been left fatherless – and in some cases, parentless – due to the grinding poverty and violence that affects their neighborhoods. Judging from Ghost Town to Havana, he’s doing a damn fine job.
In Havana, Humberto Nicolas Reyes also coaches working-class kids, but has to do less social work than Bryant. In addition to receiving good medical care from the state, his Havana players are strongly supported by a network of parents, neighbors and other mentors. Coach Reyes can focus on teaching baseball.
After Coach Bryant funneled some much needed equipment to Coach Reyes a long-distance relationship developed, resulting in a week-long trip by the Oakland Royals to Cuba. Their journey naturally culminated in a game, but Ghost Town to Havana offers much more than play-by-play, the film’s focus remaining firmly on the individual struggles and triumphs of players and coaches alike.
Director Eugene Corr (Desert Bloom) has had a long relationship with organized baseball in the Bay Area. His father Gene coached in Richmond for decades, and Corr begins the film with a visit to that city’s still vital home field, Nicholl Park. His deep-seated love for baseball – and appreciation for how important it can be for children – runs deep throughout this film.
If you’re in the mood for something inspirational — even if you don’t like baseball (what’s wrong with you??) — look no further. And if you’re truly inspired, there are plenty of ways to support youth baseball in Oakland and Berkeley. Take my word as a long-time volunteer – it’s rewarding and deeply satisfying work.
Donations to the Oakland Royals can be sent to: Oakland Babe Ruth Baseball, POB 27549, Oakland CA 94602. Please note on your check or money order that your donation should be directed to the Oakland Royals. For those of you who want to root for the home team in person, games are played in the springtime at Carter Gilmore Baseball Complex, 1390 66th Ave. in Oakland.
Berkeleyside’s film writer John Seal writes a weekly movie recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as well as a column in The Phantom of the Movies’ Videoscope, an old-fashioned paper magazine, published quarterly. Read more from Big Screen Berkeley on Berkeleyside.
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