O&M’s Diedrich hits a home run with “Ballhawks” doc

One of Mike Diedrich’s “ballhawks”

Mike Diedrich was videotaping outside a Cubs-Pirates game in 2004 when there were two home runs in the first inning.  “There were four or five ballhawks out there,” Diedrich says.

“They got each home run because they were in position.  When you heard the crack of the bat, they took four or five steps toward where the ball was going to land.  They looked like Major League players tracking a fly ball.”

A longtime Cubs fan, Diedrich was a freelance commercial producer at the time. Outside the ball park he met a man named Butch.  “The light went off and I realized this group of guys — who chase home runs and fly balls outside Wrigley Field on Waveland and Sheffield Avenues – were different were different than the usual fans.

That was the moment he realized there was a movie in this personal project.  His 74-minute feature documentary, “Ballhawks,” screens April 5 in the Midwest Independent Film Festival.

“If you’re a fan of baseball, you’re aware these guys are out there, but you never realized how dedicated they were and how good they are,” says Diedrich, now a staff executive producer for Ogilvy & Mather.

Dietrich says he documented the ballhawks’ careers. “They hold good jobs. One is a CPA. They are fathers and grandfather, not a bunch of losers. They learned to work their life around this hobby.

“Before they built the bleachers higher, you could see the ball coming out of the park,” Diedrich says.  “It made the ballhawks feel like they were part of the game.”

Working alone or sometimes with a small crew, Diedrich shot more than 300 hours, covering most home games in 2004, most of 2005 until it was clear the Cubs wouldn’t make the playoffs, and finished on opening day 2006, the first game after the bleacher expansion was completed.Mike Dietrich, an O&M executive producer

“You don’t see the ball on its way out now,” Diedrich says.  “It’s highly unlikely you’re going to make the same type of play.  Now there are more scrums, where the ball hits a building or a car or a person and bounces off and you’re in a wrestling match with a 10-year on the street for the ball, whereas before you were more likely to catch it on the fly.”

Brooks Ruyle and Colin Carter of Mode Project did the rough cut, then Randy Palmer finished at Optimus.  Earhole Studios did the score and music mix.

Chicago native Bill Murray is the narrator, who Dietrich says brings comedy relief and humor to the film.  “Bill recorded in a hotel room off Sunset Boulevard with his brother using a remote audio package,” Dietrich relates.

“When Randy Palmer put narration to the picture the result was just incredible.  Bill got it right away and brought a whole new level to the film.”

“Ballhawks” was finished in late 2009 premiered at the Athens International Film and Video Festival in Ohio in April 2010.  It has gone on to screen at 16 festivals and win three top prizes.

Diedrich and five of the ballhawks attended the screening last October at the Baseball Film Festival at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, where the film is now in the permanent collection.

Distribution is “in the works,” Diedrich says.

Diedrich started his producing career with Leo Burnett in 1986. He also was a senior producer for McCann Healthcare advertising and spent seven years as head of production for Leap Partnership. He started freelancing for Ogilvy & Mather in 2005, eventually transitioning to a staff position there. He’s recently overseen campaigns for CDW, Dove, Suave and UPS.