“We thought of it as a glorified home movie,” says Moser. “We wanted to create this [film] for the players themselves, something that they can hold on to for years to come and be able to look back and remember the experience and the community.”
But the first-time filmmakers put their full creative energies into the project, conducting more than 30 interviews with current and former players, shooting footage of the weekend games, and recreating some classic stories from games past. The resulting film, High and Outside: The Story of Hosford, is more than your typical YouTube video shared among friends. It also explores deeper themes of the nature of community, the value of leisure time and the role of sports in our busy lives.
The film chronicles a long-running pickup softball game that has been going on most Sunday afternoons for the past 15 years in a dilapidated schoolyard at Hosford Middle School in Southeast Portland.
The first game was hosted by Portlander Erin Stellmon, who had gone to Hosford and invited a few of her friends to play a softball game for her birthday. The game quickly became a regular event, attracting more players and eventually expanding from summer weekends to nearly year round.
As many as 50-60 people can show up for a typical afternoon of games, which start at noon and often run until dark. Players count off to choose teams, and there are frequent field and batting position swaps as players come and go throughout the day.
Although the players are as passionate as any league team, Kozik and Moser say that what happens at Hosford is not your typical pickup game. The field is far from an ideal place for softball (much of right field is dominated by asphalt and the side of the school building, for example); players are as likely to show up in flip-flops as cleats; and newbies must eventually learn a collection of special rules that have been developed over the years.
“There’s no outfield fence on the field so you can’t hit a traditional home run,” explains Kozik, giving one example. “But if you hit a ball into the fenced area surrounding the school’s air conditioning unit, that counts as a home run.”
For Kozik and Moser, the real story of Hosford is about the tight-knit community and laid-back focus on humor and fun that has grown up around the game over the years.
Kozik and Moser are eager to show the finished film, but at this point they don’t have plans to take it on the festival circuit or publish it online. They say that would get away from the spirit of the project. Instead, the culmination will be a one-night showing at the Hollywood Theatre on Sunday (after the game) for their fellow players and anyone else who wants to check out this quirky corner of Portland’s sports scene.
Arts & Life caught up with the filmmakers to ask them a few questions about their passion for softball and making this film.
Arts & Life: There’s a long tradition of pickup games in lots of different sports. What makes the Hosford softball game unique?
Stephen Kozik: I think the pickup game at Hosford is unique in that it’s been going on almost non-stop for 15 years, with a core group of players that show up nearly every weekend of the year. It also has a particular spirit that I don’t think you find in organized sports or even other pickup games. At Hosford, the softball is almost secondary to what happens there. It’s more about the camaraderie and community that comes together in a bunch of people that maybe aren’t athletically minded people. They come to the game because it’s fun and because of the people they meet there. They get these tight-knit bonds and it becomes like a family to you.
Arts & Life: The field you play on seems to be a major aspect of the character of this game. What is it like to play there?
Adam Moser: The field is in a little schoolyard of Hosford Middle School. It’s an old, dilapidated field that hasn’t been groomed for years and the city hasn’t put any money into in terms of making it a playable field.
Kozik: It’s an incredibly poor field for playing softball and it’s off the main road and a little secluded. So other softball leagues and pickup games aren’t really interested in playing there or competing for that space.
Its uniqueness also gives it a lot more entertainment value. There are so many different strange things that can happen, it makes it a very enjoyable place to watch and very enjoyable place to play. When you play on a pristine field, everything is predictable to a fault; it’s almost boring. When a ball’s hit, it’s going to bounce normally, someone’s probably going to catch it, end of story. At Hosford, when a ball is hit, it could hit a pothole and jump up 15 feet, it could hit a rock and skid to the side or it could go into left field and hit a soccer goal post before anybody catches it. There are tons of obstacles that come into play. We’ve seen it where somebody has no chance of catching a ball, but it will hit a funny area and almost jump into their glove. It’s really strange and that’s kind of the equalizing factor of it. No matter how good or bad you are, everybody gets put on the same level because you don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s completely random.
Arts & Life: What are some of the themes you are exploring in this film?
Kozik: Humor is a huge theme, in the film and the game. The game is quirky and the people who play it are pretty quirky, too. There are some people who aren’t the most talented players, but they are more than welcome to participate because they have such great quips about the game. So it’s part game and it’s part theater.
Moser: And the humor is a way to keep the group understanding that it’s all in fun and if you are taking it too seriously, then it’s probably not the game for you. You should come in with a carefree attitude about it. It’s great if you can win and play well, but it’s probably better if you can be funny.
One of the aspects of the game that I’m excited about the broader public seeing in the film — because I think it is inherent in everybody that plays there — is the game as a platform for adult play. It’s a time for slack, to make fun of each other and laugh at each other. It also provides a weekly escape for the players from the responsibilities of their jobs and lives. Most of the players in the game are in the range of 30-45 years old. Most people in that age range save all year for vacation, to escape for a week or two. But the game provides a vacation for a few hours every week.
Kozik: Yeah, that was one of the big themes of the interviews. People talked about ‘checking out.’ When Sunday rolls around, that’s my time to just exist and not think about all the things I have to think about every other day of the week.
Playing in the game is also an opportunity to truly live in the moment, which I don’t think we do enough. You are playing the game and everything that happens in that game only happens in that moment in time. You either enjoy it or don’t enjoy it, depending on the outcome, but whatever the outcome was, it’s only for this small moment in time and then you move on. There is something to be said for letting those moments happen and then letting them go.