Inning by Inning: A Portrait of a Coach (2008)

Directed by Richard Linklater


Inning by Inning is an ESPN documentary about University of Texas head baseball coach Augie Garrido, the winningest coach in NCAA history.  The film chronicles Augie’s teachings, his life leading up to coaching as well as his coaching success.  Made by Austin-based director Richard Linklater, himself a former college baseball player, the movie feels like a fairly run of the mill sports documentary, and it probably is, but you do find interesting tidbits and character moments that feel like something out of a Linklater movie.

I only watched this because Richard Linklater made it, so I know I’m looking for things to connect this to the rest of his filmography.  Really it’s just a straightforward, adequately made movie.  It’s not too challenging because how could it be, and it covers the history of Augie’s coaching career from start to finish.  The only real point is to say, look at this guy, ain’t he something?

Much of the documentary is in fact quite boring, though it picks up in the second half, which feels like an odd thing to say about a documentary.  For the first thirty or so minutes, we mostly listen to talking heads of Augie himself and former players, spliced in between clips of him coaching currently (at the time) at the University of Texas.  This acts as a far too long opening image, setting up who Augie is now.  The meat of the story deals with where he came from and how he learned the life lessons that govern the way he coaches.

All you really need to know about Augie is that he grew up knowing he wanted to be a coach.  He coached at Cal Poly and then at Cal State Fullerton, turning a second rate team into a National Champion.  Augie discusses how his recruits, at least at first, were all the players passed over by bigger schools.  They have character, he suggests, and a big chip on their shoulder.

Later, in regards to coaching at Texas, Augie will discuss the importance he identifies in college coaching.  He has no interest in coaching professional baseball because professional sports are about the individual, training for a game, and college sports are about training the individual for life, using the game as an arena where one can succeed and fail, as in life.

And this philosophy suddenly puts a lot of things into perspective.  It makes this ‘character’ that much more universal.  This isn’t a story about baseball, it’s about helping young men grow up.  Augie becomes less of the coach archetype that you might expect and turns into a Linklater-esque character, like someone from one of his narrative films.

Augie seems to have a firm grasp on the bigger picture.  He’s more concerned with where his athletes are headed and for them to understand their place in the world, but he’s also an incredibly passionate, sometimes irate individual.  Even as he waxes poetic about life and what’s fair versus not fair, Augie screams at umpires, at his players and we’re told by others just how much he hates losing.  This seems contradictory to the individual set up through the rest of the film, but this contradictory quality is what make people characters.

Linklater must have some interest in the sport he used to play, but the baseball footage in Inning by Inning feels almost half-assed.  Linklater shows much more of an interest in the individuals he records, letting us sit with them as they gleefully tell us a story or two.  Like so many of his films, it’s about how people talk, what they say and how they say it.  Baseball is somehow an afterthought despite it being what Augie’s life orbits around.

Up Next: Geostorm (2017), Wind River (2017), 20th Century Women (2016)

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