Mik Scriba grew up on Chicago’s North Side playing 16-inch softball as a kid. In his early adult years, he owned three bars, all of which sponsored numerous softball teams. In the mid 1980s, when he moved to Hollywood to pursue an acting career, Scriba took the game with him.
Now he’s looking to make a movie, Sprinkle the Infield, about the sport he says is more an obsession than a game. If he pulls it off, it’s likely much of the movie will be shot in and around Forest Park.
With his Chicago 16-inch background, playing softball in Hollywood was a major culture shock. “When I would tell people what it was like playing in five leagues and tournaments every weekend, and the obsession people have with the game, and how it actually takes over your life,” Scriba said. “Nobody could understand that. All the 12-inch leagues I played in, there was never that obsession, like there was with 16-inch.”
Scriba said he wants to capture that reality along with the rest of the atmosphere of 16-inch. He’s wary of seeing his vision watered down for mass consumption, with famous movie stars pretending to be dusty blue-collar Chicago 16-inch warriors. He’s gone so far as to let an option on the film rights expire last year after a producer wanted to cast the film with stars and clean up the rough edges and airbrush the warts.
“It drives me crazy: You watch a sports film and you see really good actors who can’t play the game. I want the reality: Real ball players who can also act, or real actors who can also play ball.”
Like his alter-ego in Sprinkle the Infield, Jesuit priest Joe Demko, Scriba sees 16-inch in near mystical terms, speaking passionately of the gritty blue-collar artform that is 16-inch softball. “It’s a piece of poetry when it’s done right.
“It’s when you see that perfect double play without a glove, it’s just, it’s a concert, like, ‘Oh my God, just a beautiful thing to watch.’
“I don’t know how else to put it,” he adds. “Other than poetry, what is it? It’s ballet.”
It’s that love he brings to his screenplay for Sprinkle the Infield, about a rag-tag band of 16-inch warriors named the Mutts looking to earn one more shot at softball glory. Several scenes in the trailer were shot at the Forest Park fields during the 2006 No Gloves tournament.
Sprinkle the Infield tells the story of a street kid turned Jesuit priest, Father Joe Demko, who never outgrew the game. In his 50s he still pitches for and manages the Mutts, softball purists always ready to mix it up. His love of the sport burns perhaps more hotly as he senses the sun setting on his playing career. The Mutts are opposed by Demko’s long-time nemesis, Monty Montgomery, a venal nightclub owner and softball sponsor who wants to win and profit from the win.
The movie trailer begins with a brief ode to the 16-inch game.
“It’s the last pure game there is,” Scriba intones over scenes shot at the 2006 Forest Park Invitational. “Just a bat and a ball and a bunch of guys who love it as much as you do.”
“It was only on those fields we really mattered,” he says. “And we played it from sunrise to sunset …
“It’s the smell of the ball, the camaraderie,” he says. “There’s nothing like it.”
With that, the trailer breaks to the fictional narrative of Demko’s on- and off-field battles with Montgomery.
“This is not a game. This is a business,” Montgomery tells Demko. “And I intend to make it a lucrative business.”
“Why don’t you just stay gone,” Demko tells him.” But Montgomery doesn’t stay gone, and there’s the story: a battle between good and evil, sacred and profane-purists who’ll play softball anywhere for the joy of it, and those who view it as a commodity.
“God, I love this game,” Scriba says under his breath at the end of the trailer as, on the screen, Demko releases a pitch with the sun setting behind him.
Scriba wants people to love his movie as well, particularly those who live in and around the town where the game was born. In late June, he flew to Chicago with a pair of film-making colleagues to scope out potential sites for the film, including Forest Park.
Scriba’s current situation is one many softball managers can appreciate: He’s assembled a great team and can compete-now all he needs is a sponsor. But he needs $300,000 to $400,000, more than league-entry money. So he knows he’ll be operating on a shoestring. He said the defending Forest Park and ASA National champion Miller 45s have already committed to participating in the filming, as have several other teams, and several park districts have offered use of their fields.
Not only does that help financially, it brings real softball players to the film.
“I need to be able to say, we need a one hopper to first, and get it on the first take,” Scriba said. “We can’t afford to have 50 to 60 takes to get it right. When the script calls for it, we need to hit that rightfield foul line.”
As for Forest Park itself, Scriba loves the look and feel. After lunch at Starship Subs, he and his colleagues get a tour of Forest Park’s more picturesque sites. McGaffer’s Saloon, St. Bernadines, Goldyburgers, the Circle Lanes, the old Oak Leaf Lounge on Harrison and, of course, the park district softball fields. They’re all delighted with the 1940s look and feel of the venues, the street vistas, the architecture.
“I love it,” Scriba said of the Forest Park streetscape as he stood on Madison looking east. “It screams Midwest, Chicago. I think it’s perfect-perfect.”