In the documentary “Inning by Inning: A Portrait of a Coach,” director, Oscar-nominated screenwriter, and self-proclaimed college baseball fanatic Richard Linklater (“Before Sunset,” “School of Rock”), takes us deep into his game of choice with an intimate look at University of Texas baseball coach Augie Garrido, the winningest coach in NCAA Division 1 baseball history.
During his interview with me, Linklater, 48, who is originally from Houston, Texas, talked about how baseball and filmmaking are similar and what he hoped to accomplish by taking viewers to places only coaches and players usually get to see.
“Inning by Inning: A Portrait of a Coach” was released on DVD June 5.
Coach Garrido was quoted as saying this past season was “a season of survival.” Would you agree with that?
Yeah, I would agree, but isn’t every season? You’re sort of hanging on. But they really have a lot of great guys on that team.
How did you come to meet Coach Garrido?
I followed the Longhorns a bit in [Garrido’s] era starting the 2000s. I was becoming a little more of a baseball fan. I used to be a long time ago but I didn’t pay much attention to sports for a long time and just got back into it. I met him and we hit it off. He loves movies and loves what I do so we found a common ground. I talked to him about how I like the process of making movies and he’s kind of like that with baseball. It’s not about the results, it’s about the process. We’re both involved in really long-term undertakings. A baseball season is a huge undertaking as is making a movie. Augie has a big circle of friends. I’m just one more.
Talk to me a bit more about how your directing philosophy is similar to his coach philosophy.
I think it’s what you put into it. There is a similarity. It’s kind of a cliché, but as a former athlete I sometimes see myself as a coach on the set of a movie. You’re recognizing the greatness in others and then bringing it out. You’re bringing out the potential in others even if they don’t see it. You’re try to cultivate that and create an atmosphere where they can do their best whether it’s sports or the arts. You’re sort of the orchestrator behind that.
It sounds like you might have learned a lot about yourself as a director while making this movie.
Yeah, I told Augie early on that these portrait documentaries end up to some degree being self-portraits. I don’t know if that really made sense to him but it’s kind of true. You can’t help but grab onto things that resonate with you personally. Augie flattered me when he said he liked this view of himself. I told him it was a view of him filtered through me.
In “Inning by Inning” you get right in the middle of the game where only coaches and players usually get to go. What did you want to show from this perspective to outsiders that have never experienced what it’s like to be on a team?
It’s truly the most unique aspect of this film. I think that happened because Augie and the UT program trusted that I wouldn’t do anything too crazy. I think Augie trusted me on some level. They allowed us open access. We mic’ed him for every game and every team meeting. I knew what that would reveal and thought it would be interesting for fans. All you see from a fan’s perspective is a coach on the mound talking to a pitcher or the coach talking to an on-deck batter. People always wonder what he is saying. You just imagine. This movie takes you there and you actually get to see that. It’s often surprising. I could have devoted a whole movie to arguments with umpires, but I give just a taste of that. It’s just unprecedented access that you never get.
Well, the NBA mics the coaches during the game but it feels very edited.
Yeah, it’s censored. I mean, I saw Augie going off a couple of times. [NBA games] are filtered. They’re interesting though. You see it in the NFL, too, when they go into locker rooms, but it feels stagey like the coaches know they’re being filmed during the pregame or post game. They are very aware of the cameras. The guys at ESPN told me they’ve seen a lot of these [documentaries] over the years and they’ve never seen anyone less aware of a camera or acting for a camera than Augie. It was like we were never there.
As a baseball fan, would you like to see the MLB or even the NCAA do something like mic up more coaches and players? I mean, I’d pay extra money to get an inside track on basketball games and hear all the trash talking on the court.
Yeah, like an extra couple hundred bucks a year for a subscription! You could use that against people like, “We’re going to throw to this guy low and inside.” But yeah, that would be fascinating. We’re living in an open-access media culture where people want to be behind the scenes of everything. I’d pay for it. It would probably be more interesting at a college level because you do get that element of coaching. It’s a purer game of baseball.
Are you a fan of any other sports?
Yeah, but you only have X amount of time to watch them. I know I have more time when I catch myself watching all of SportsCenter. This is about the time of year I get interested in basketball. I’d be more apt to watch an entire college basketball game than the pros.
I like watching SportsCenter, too, and maybe it’s because I’ve lived my whole life in Texas, but I can’t stand watching the hockey highlights.
I’m with you on that. That’s a good time to take a bathroom break. From another Texas perspective, you’re always going to get the Boston Red Sox and Yankee highlights but you might not get the Astros. You get used to it. It’s pretty New York/L.A.-centric. I spent some time in New York making a movie and I would always see guys going to hockey games. I was like, “Really? People go to those?” It’s so not our culture.
With all the negative press pro baseball is getting most recently with Manny Ramirez, are you ever surprised when you hear something else happening in that league?
I kind of wish it would become a non-story already. I’m still mixed. It’s an interesting issue. It’s a different world we’ll never truly understand. We’re talking about the most competitive people at the highest competitive level. Did you see that documentary last year called “Bigger, Stronger, Faster?”
Yes, it was one of my favorite documentaries of the year, actually. Great film.
It was amazing, right! It was the most level-headed exposé. There’s this new film on Tyson that I’m interested in seeing.
Yeah, I got to see it a couple weeks ago. Funny you should bring it up because there is one obvioius parallel between your film and “Tyson,” which is how close the directors are to their subjects. In “Tyson,” director James Toback is really good friends with Mike Tyson like you are with Coach Garrido. Since you are such good friends, do you think this gives you an advantage as a director?
Sure, because you have their trust to begin with. The athlete and coach have to be a little guarded with the media. What I was trying to do is make a portrait. I had no agenda to try to portray [Coach Garrido] as I knew him. Augie is not a hot subject like Tyson is. But I was trying in some general way to show the world what I felt like Augie shares everyday with the people he is close to.
After “Inning by Inning” came out at the end of 2007, Coach Garrido was arrested for DWI in January 2008. As a friend, what do you think he learned from that experience?
It put him to another level of thankfulness and appreciation for his job. I think it has made him a better coach and a better person. I think people understand that frailty exists no matter what you’ve achieved. Everyone makes mistakes and has weaknesses. I thought if anyone was going to turn that situation into something positive it would be Augie and I think he has. I’m proud of him.