A couple of weeks ago, Dan Parma stumbled across this article on Minor League Ball that encouraged MiLB fans to watch the new Netflix documentary, "The Battered Bastards of Baseball," about the independent Class-A Portland Mavericks and he contacted me to share his experience as a player on that team.
But before we get to that, I wanted his take on the documentary and he was happy to share it. Parma, who played right field for the Mavericks in 1976-77, has watched it twice (seeing his own image on several occasions) and speaks highly of the film, but he does want viewers to understand one thing if it wasn't clear.
"The only thing that needs to be corrected is ... the players, we had talent," said Parma, who turns 62 soon. "They used the word ‘misfits,' but a lot of us came from college backgrounds, were drafted by other professional teams - so it's not like we didn't have talent. We could have never won our division two or three times without having some talent. I think that ‘nobody' label is not as accurate as it should be."
Parma says the film does portray Portland and its fans well. In fact, when I spoke to him about the fans, he got choked up.
"Fan Appreciation Day was a special time for me," Parma said. "The players went into the stands and had a chance to talk to the fans and sign autographs." He pauses for a moment to compose himself. "It is a memory that I'll always have. Some of the kids would tell me, ‘You're my favorite player, and I appreciate the way you play. Keep up the good work.' You could see that their appreciation was so real. You can see that in the film. That was real."
Bing Russell, an actor (who was best known for playing the role of the sheriff on Bonanza) and baseball aficionado, owned and operated the team from 1973-77. Parma was pleased with how well the documentary captured Russell's spirit.
"I think they did a great job in the movie regarding Russell," Parma said. "He was very passionate and he was a man who was before his time. He was like Chuck Finley. He came up with the colored baseball and everybody thought he was crazy, right? But he was a visionary. Just like Jerry Buss was with the Lakers. He was creative in his marketing of the Laker Girls and everybody thought it would never work.
"Well Bing was the same way. He brought in a dog and had other crazy ideas, but he got the fans involved, connected. He was a great promoter, but he meant it. It wasn't just a show to him. That's who he was and I believe the documentary really portrays that."
Beyond being a great promoter, Parma says Russell also knew the game well.
"For you to be a Portland Marverick, he really had to believe in your talent because he knew people's ability. Even though he was an actor, he was a very wise man when it came to understanding the game."
Parma's journey to the Mavericks was probably similar to that of the other players who were simply looking for a shot to prove they could play.
The Orioles drafted Parma out of high school in the 40th round of the 1970 amateur draft, but he decided to go to college instead. He was drafted again by the Oakland A's in '71, but he stayed in school. Afterward, he played winter ball for the Cardinals and then spent a little time in the Mets organization before being released. On the verge of giving up at the age of 23, his best buddy, Joe, shared a bit of information with him.
"I was pretty down and out and Joe says, ‘You know, I saw an advertisement in the Sporting News that there's a tryout for the Portland Mavericks.' So we started working out and to make a long story short, we took a bus [from California] to Civic Stadium [where the Mavericks played]. When I got there and saw hundreds of guys, I thought, ‘Not this again.' But I ended up being one of two or three guys who got signed."
Thus began his two-year, story-filled career as a Maverick. And oh, he has stories.
"We were headed from Eugene, Oregon to Boise, Idaho one night on a bus," Parma said. "The game in Eugene got over around ten o'clock that night. In the middle of the trip, the bus catches on fire. Fortunately, nobody got hurt. But the wild thing about it was, after everybody got all their stuff, we were told to get to the ballpark in Boise by 6:00 p.m. - somehow, some way. So all of us ended up hitchhiking."
A deep belly laugh erupts from Parma as he recalls the story.
"Some guy in a truck picked up me and another guy on the team and we ended up in the back of the guy's truck, along with his chickens and whatever else he had back there. We arrived at the ballpark at 5:30."
More infectious laughter, which leads to more stories.
"I can still remember Joe Garza standing on the dugout with the broom," Parma said. Garza was an infielder on the team. According to Newsweek, after completing a sweep one day, Garza jumped onto the team's dugout, lit a broom on fire and waved it in the air. Russell loved it so much that he encouraged Garza to keep doing it.
"By the way, my wife went out and bought some of those brooms," Parma said. "And I can remember the team dog, PL Maverick, who had a bandana around his neck."
A column in The Seattle Times says the dog "would be turned loose on the field whenever a relief pitcher needed more time to warm up, or a distraction of some sort was called for. The manic pooch would race around the field, eluding umpires and cops, often ending up at home plate to deposit a, uh, present."
The stories don't end there for Parma though.
He met a woman named Sue who worked in the front office for the Mavericks and they got married. She is still by his side today, reminding him of what he forgets about those days nearly 40 years ago, pointing to the scrapbooks she kept to set the record straight.
Parma also became a Christian while playing for the team, so he says he was a maverick among mavericks.
After the team ceased operations following the '77 season, Parma attended a few more tryouts with other teams, but he knew the writing was on the wall and eventually hung up his cleats to pursue a job in the sporting goods business. He had several other jobs over the years, including a long stint as a corrections officer. He is retired now and serves in his church in Visalia, California. But he'll never forget Portland.
"My time in Portland changed my life," Parma said. "I was going to throw in the towel, but decided to give it one more shot and I'm so glad I did. Now I can live with myself all these years later because at least I gave it my best shot and I got to play two years of professional baseball. Some guys quit too early and they look back thirty years later and wonder, ‘What if?,' but I don't have that feeling. I lived out my dream."