Documentary on Berkshires native Belanger to air on MLB Network
A labor of love will be seen by the entire country Saturday.
"I think it was a validation of the work we put in and the story that we told," said Dominic Dastoli, who produced and directed "Belanger: Big League Ballplayer, Small Town Story," a documentary on Berkshire County native and longtime Major League Baseball shortstop Mark Belanger.
The documentary, which debuted in November 2018, will air at 11 a.m. Saturday on the MLB Network — Channel 306 on Spectrum Cable in Pittsfield.
"It's a nice lead-in. As you know, there's three weeks left in the regular season," Dastoli said. "For them to put this on the programming schedule right now is a big win for us, with the amount of baseball that they have to air as well."
Dastoli said that getting the documentary on the MLB Network was made possible by two Taconic High School graduates, Dan Duquette and Mike Ryan.
"Dan had seen the film. He didn't go to the premiere party [at the Boland Theatre at Berkshire Community College] in 2018," Dastoli said. "Once Dan saw it, he knew that Mike could help us out with Mike's background in programming at ESPN."
The program will air before the "MLB Tonight Live" pregame show at noon and a 1 p.m. game between Belanger's Baltimore Orioles and the New York Yankees.
This is the 50th anniversary of Belanger and the Orioles beating the Cincinnati Reds to win the 1970 World Series. During Belanger's Baltimore tenure, he teamed with third baseman Brooks Robinson to create one of the best left sides of the infield in baseball history.
A spokesman for the MLB Network emailed this comment about airing the documentary:
"'Belanger: Big League Ballplayer. Small Town Story' is an in-depth look at Mark Belanger's terrific 18-year MLB career, which included eight Gold Glove Awards and the 1970 World Series championship with the Baltimore Orioles. MLB Network looks forward to airing the documentary as we continue to provide informative, historical and entertaining programming to baseball fans everywhere."
Ryan graduated from Amherst College and was a teammate of Duquette's there. He worked for the New York Mets and in programming at ESPN and now is president of the Connecticut Broadcasters Association.
"[Belanger] was in the big leagues by the time I was trying out for Little League," Ryan said in an interview with The Eagle. "In West Little League in Pittsfield, out behind Clapp Park, at Little League tryouts everybody wanted to play shortstop. The coaches had to beg someone to play first base just to hit ground balls to people and try them out. That's the era we grew up in.
"Mark was a hero to us. He was in the big leagues. He was one of us."
Belanger spent 17 of his 18 big-league seasons with the Orioles. Belanger, known as one of the great fielding shortstops of his era, made only 210 errors in 18 seasons and over 9,001 defensive chances. He helped turn 1,054 double plays.
Not only that, but in high school, Belanger was as well known for his exploits in basketball as in baseball. The Pittsfield High School graduate scored 1,455 career points and led the Generals to the New England Championships in the Boston Garden in 1962.
Pittsfield, Western Mass. champions for the first time since 1915, lost to Hartford Public 78-65. Belanger scored 32 points and was 14-for-14 from the floor.
He was the Berkshire Eagle's No. 1 athlete of the 20th century in Berkshire County. He also had a chance to play college basketball, but chose baseball.
The documentary, as produced and directed by Dastoli, runs 70 minutes. When it appears on the MLB Network, it will be somewhat shorter, in order to get in commercial breaks and fit the one-hour time slot.
"We sent them a screener of the original 70 minutes," Dastoli said from his home in Cincinnati. "They liked it and they provided a few notes about what to trim and what to pull out. It was a matter of getting it to time. We basically cut out a third of it from what people saw two years ago."
Ryan said that discussions with the MLB Network had been underway since the documentary was released in 2018.
Andy Butters, vice president of programming at the MLB Network, is a former ESPN colleague of Ryan's. In addition, network President Rob McGlarry also is an Amherst College graduate.
"It makes a lot of sense for them to air it," Ryan said. "They're doing a smart thing by coupling it up with an Orioles game. The plan is to run it multiple times during this calendar year."
Saturday's first broadcast ends what had been a long and winding road for Dastoli and the Belanger documentary.
"Telling Mark's story was sort of the easy part, just having grown up in Pittsfield myself and knowing Mark's brother, Al. That part was fun, and it was something that I obviously have a background in myself," he said.
"This part of it was foreign to me. Dan and Mike really brought this thing to the finish line."
Howard Herman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.
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