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ESPN Films '30 for 30' Gift Set Vol. 2 (DVD Review)

14 May, 2011 By: John Latchem

Street 5/17/11
Sports Documentary, $74.95 six-DVD set
$149.95 12-DVD collection with Vol. 1
Not rated

If anything, ESPN’s series of “30 for 30” documentaries have proven invaluable in demonstrating how closely something as seemingly insignificant as sports is connected to the so-called “real world.”

“30 for 30” began as a project to recruit different filmmakers to direct 30 documentaries to commemorate ESPN’s 30th anniversary, which aired in 2009 and 2010. I think the second batch of episodes contained within Vol. 2 are on the whole better than Vol. 1, at least in terms of subject matter that interests me personally.

Highlights for me include Fernando Nation, a profile of the career of former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Fernando Valenzuela and what he represented to the Chicano community of Southern California. Director Cruz Angeles paints a vivid portrait of how deeply affected Hispanics were by the arrival of the Dodgers from Brooklyn to L.A. in the late 1950s. Part of the deal that brought the team here was the sale of hundreds of acres of land called Chavez Ravine to build Dodger Stadium, which required displacing hundreds of Latino residents from their homes. In conjunction with the rise of the Chicano movement in the 1960s, this led to an unofficial boycott of the Dodgers, whose fan base consisted mostly of affluent whites. Fernando-mania changed that starting in 1980.

Valenzuela was a 20-year-old kid from Mexico when he dominated the National League in 1981, bringing Hispanic fans to the ballpark in droves. The film props him up almost like a Hispanic Jackie Robinson, making it not only OK for Chicanos to root for the Dodgers but also paving the way for teams to expand their rosters with talented Hispanic players.

Another interesting episode is Jordan Rides the Bus, by Bull Durham director Ron Shelton, about Michael Jordan’s brief stint as a minor league baseball player in 1994. Though popular perception is that Jordan wasn’t that good, a lot of the talking heads here express a belief that Jordan’s improvement would have landed him in the majors in 1995 had the baseball strike not motivated him to return to basketball.

Also contained in this set are documentaries about the end of the old Yankee Stadium and the birth of the new (The House of Steinbrenner); the story of how the SMU Mustangs football program received the NCAA “death penalty” for rules infractions (Pony Excess); John Singleton’s portrait of the downfall of Marion Jones due to steroid use (Marion Jones: Press Pause); a recap of the Boston Red Sox coming back to beat the New York Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship Series (Four Days in October); and more. The set also includes The Two Escobars, which had previously been released as a standalone movie.

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