By RENALDO DORSETT
“GENTLE Giant: The Andre Rodgers Story” uses baseball to tell the story of a life where sacrifice, family and legacy intersect as a young man was plucked from relative obscurity to become an ambassador and pioneer for a small island nation.
This documentary is intended to reach all Bahamians, historians, baseball fans or anyone interested in learning the history behind Rodgers’ rise in the sport and becoming the iconic image of Bahamian baseball.
The purpose of the film is to lend insight into the life of Rodgers as a complete individual. More than just a mere name on a plaque in front of a stadium, but an iconic figure whose stature overshadowed his humility that became his trademark trait to those who knew him best.
The film was directed by internationally renowned journalist, filmmaker and the daughter of Andre Rodgers, Gina Rodgers-Sealy.
She had a first hand view of her father’s life off the field, while supplementing her memories with anecdotes from those who remembered his impact on it.
Rodgers-Sealy brings her childhood baseball hero brilliantly back to life in “Gentle Giant: The Andre Rodgers Story.”
I grew up as an avid sports fan. I was never a baseball player but because of my father I was well versed in sports history.
Bahamian sports history was no exception. I had a general understanding of who Andre Rodgers was, but those memories were limited to a plaque I saw outside a stadium at least twice a week as a primary school kid and a Wikipedia page that tells the facts, but not a story.
With the backdrop of that knowledge I expected to hear of Rodgers’ background growing up in 1940s Bahamas. His transition from cricket to baseball and from the Bahamas to the MLB.
I knew the basics but I never knew important parts of the plot. How was Rodgers discovered in the first place? How quickly did he pick up the game? How good was he to be able to hang around the Major Leagues for 11 seasons?
Kenneth Andre Ian Rodgers was born in Nassau, Bahamas on December 2, 1934 and grew up to become the first Major League Baseball player in the Bahamas in 1957.
He was a work of art in a game too often defined by statistics. During his career with the San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates he appeared in 854 games and compiled a .249 batting average with 45 home runs and 245 RBI.
In 1962, Rodgers along with second baseman Ken Hubbs and first baseman Ernie Banks, set a league record for double plays in a single season.
Rodgers’ story is a great one not only because he was a cricket player with not an ounce of baseball experience before he made it into the minors and majors, but also because he opened the door for other young men in the Bahamas to make it in minor and major league baseball.
The documentary was shot on several locations, most notably the locations in the Bahamas where Rodgers honed his skills as a cricket and softball player. Rodgers-Sealy and her crew also travelled around the United States to locations where Rodgers made his mark as a professional in San Francisco, Chicago and Pittsburgh visiting former teammates, coaches and journalists who covered his career. The film culminates in a return to the Bahamas on the fields where his legacy still reverberates today.
Visually the camera work was shot perfectly in traditional documentary style which allowed for an intimate relationship between filmmaker and subjects.
The line blurs between documentary and narrative as the personal nature of the film shone through, particularly in moments when interview subjects became so overwhelmed with emotion that they used the phrase “your father,” tipping the viewer off that Rodgers-Sealy was behind the camera.
The interviews were what undoubtedly made this film an experience and lent to its authenticity, most notably, the impeccable timing of filming an interview with former scout, coach renowned speaker and baseball personality “Buck” O’Neil just before his death in 2006.
A list of Rodgers’ former teammates also bolstered the film’s r�sum� including Hall of Famers Ernie Banks and Orlando Cepeda along with temmates Jim Davenport (Giants), George Altman (Cubs), Dick Schofield (Pirates) and others, including Steve Bitker, author of “the Original San Francisco Giants.”
On the local side of things interviews ranged from the Rodgers’ childhood friends to sports writer Fred Sturrup and a gem of an interview from sports historian Kendal Wright, whose anecdotes were some of the most memorable moments in the film.
It comes full circle with interviews of those who carry on his legacy as coaches today, including Jackie Wright and Andre’s nephew Terran Rodgers.
The part of the documentary that stood out was Rodgers’ first person take from his handwritten letters from his time in the minor leagues. They gave the film an authentic touch, insight to his character and struggles at the time.
More than anything, the film was a learning experience for me as I’m sure the director intended when she took on the project. I learned of Rodgers becoming a reluctant superstar and nearly giving up on the dream after visa issues prevented him from attending Giants camp when he was first invited. I learned that Rodgers became a bonafide superstar in the minors and had a metric rise to the majors. I learned that he became an example to his black American teammates on how to handle racism with dignity in the civil rights movement-era America. I learned that he was a member of a record breaking trio with the Cubs infield and left an indelible impact on nearly everyone he crossed paths with during his tenure in professional baseball.
Most surprising was to learn that Rodgers was a reclusive superstar who’s deeds didn’t really allow him to be all that reclusive in the Bahamas, even in retirement.
It’s a film that should be seen by all Bahamians and appeals to everyone especially fans of sports, fans of documentaries and biographies and admirers of Rodgers’ resolve, ability to adapt and impact he had on the Bahamas.
Rodgers came from a small laid back community in the Bahamas with virtually no baseball experience and transformed to an impact player at an elite level for over a decade.
To Bahamians, his greatest impact can be felt off the field where he nearly single-handedly popularised the game locally and opened the door for generations of Bahamians to find an avenue into professional baseball.
Rodgers’ career took off before the establishment of the Bahamas’ Promotion of Tourism Act in 1964, and in the words of journalist Oswald Brown, “each time Andre Rodgers came up to bat and they mentioned the Bahamas, this translated into millions of dollars in tourism revenue for this country.”