Virgen: Ron Shelton makes it 'a very special night'

Ron Shelton has an answer ready if you ask him why he stopped playing baseball.

"The low-and-away slider," he says.

And he's not entirely joking.

In reality, there were other reasons he let go of the game and eventually went on to become a big-time movie director with hits such as, "Bull Durham," "Tin Cup," and "White Men Can't Jump."

Perhaps the primary reason for his pursuit of blockbuster hits — the ones in movie theaters, not in diamonds — was because of an old man who sat at his table at The Cannery in Newport Beach on Dec. 2.

That would be Don Pries, an 86-year-old and former director of player development for the Baltimore Orioles. Pries, who is in the Orioles' Hall of Fame, tells the story that he released Shelton and the guy was then left trying for a movie career.

But Shelton said that's not how it went down.

"The '72 strike hit," Shelton said. "Plus he traded me to Detroit, the Triple-A Mud Hens."

Pries, who lives in Irvine, can laugh now and smiled as he heard Shelton deliver several captivating stories, and answered questions, as part of the 10th annual Hot Stove League Dinner series.

Shelton actually did learn a great deal from Pries. Shelton said he learned to live on low wages because the Orioles never gave him a big check.

He also learned about movies while grinding through the minor leagues.

Shelton, who said he never took a film class, watched movie after movie throughout the week before games as he tried to land a spot in the major leagues.

When he played in Texas, he said the movie theater was a great place because of the air conditioning, especially in the summer. It was also his, "perfect film education," he said.

After he saw, "The Wild Bunch," he said he became a big movie fan.

Life after baseball began with screenwriting. He broke through with movies, "Under Fire," and "The Best of Times." His directorial debut came with "Bull Durham," in 1988.

He admitted he didn't expect it to be a hit because there were times when he "just showed up," for work on the movie.

Nevertheless the movie was successful.

He grabbed the attention of everyone in the room when he revealed, "Bull Durham," will soon become a Broadway musical.

Shelton provided plenty of insight about the movie business and kept everyone interested, leaving Ron Salisbury saying, "This has been a very special night."

Salisbury, the owner of The Cannery, puts on the Hot Stove League Dinner series to give baseball fans a behind-the-scenes look of the game and knowledge about famous people of baseball. He also has the speaking engagements to raise money for charity.

All the proceeds benefit the Angels Baseball Foundation and the Urban Youth Academy.

Shelton said that was the main reason he came to speak. He also came through the Pries connection. Pries wasn't the only one at Shelton's table taking in the funny and cool stories. Bobby Grich, who played for the Orioles and Angels, also sat there and chimed in every once in a while.

Shelton talked about the difficulties of making sports movies these days because foreign sales are so important. Not everyone wants to see a baseball movie now.

But he did leave some room for hope.

"It's a tricky business," he said. "But there are big scores to be made."

Shelton is amid projects dealing with television, he said. Last week, he gave an outline to Showtime about a family that owns an NBA franchise, he said.

Shelton has partnered with Jeanie Buss and Phil Jackson, as well as Kurt and Linda Rambis to produce the show.

He'll do his best to translate his work on movies into the television series. He knows he wants to get it close to reality and wants it to be different.

That's certainly the case for his sports movies.

"People can get it wrong," Shelton said of sports films. "It's a script cliché to write about the big play. What's interesting is everything else. You have SportsCenter for the big play. Movies can go do everything else."

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