By Deb Silverthorn
Special to the TJP
Randy Kramen’s first film, Temple Shalom Softball: First Inning — A Tradition is Born, is a home run and will be screened, with the filmmaker in attendance, at Dallas VideoFest 29, at the Angelika Theatre, at 1 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 23.
The film, Kramen’s first documentary, has the Dallas writer, videographer, editor and producer sharing ringers, rivals, replicas of softball moments, and mustachioed reenactments and interviews, bringing his audience a 40-minute seat in the stands history of one of this community’s greatest treasures: the Temple Shalom Softball League. Started in 1969 with 11 Jewish buddies, last year the Temple Shalom Softball League had more than 300 players — of many religions and ethnicities on its spring roster and more than 200 this fall.
“The League means a lot to so many people and it was a part of my childhood and now my adulthood in the same and different ways,” Kramen said. “It’s two and three generations of fun and memories and the first team was led by Bob Weinfeld, Harvey Magid and the late Al Rakofsky. Between Bob’s meticulous three-ring binders with every note and every record taken, some great oral histories and interviews, and some fun reenactments, we have enough material I think — I hope — for seven ‘innings’ of Shalom Softball.”
VideoFest, co-founded in 1986 by Bart Weiss, is celebrating its 29th year with approximately 125 local, regional and internationally produced media art programs screened this week. Weiss says he likes Kramen’s film because “it deals with passion and it’s different from what the people involved do in their professional lives. There are doctors and lawyers and lots of professionals and there are they are, Sunday mornings, playing ball — and Randy has really captured their joy, their history, and the greatness that has kept the League going for almost 50 years.”
Weiss, who with Susan Wilkofsky co-founded 3 Stars Jewish Cinema which is sponsoring First Inning at VideoFest said that “Randy has framed the story of the Shalom League with detail and records in a way that is so special, following Ken Burns’ lead, and I really believe he has a very bright future. We’re really excited about VideoFest and his is one of a lot of great films we hope people will come out and see.”
Similar to Ken Burns
First Inning, created in the vein of Ken Burns’ Baseball documentary series, features Dallas’ sports media legends Mark Elfenbein as the film’s re-enactment broadcaster, Eric Nadel narrator of the film, and voice of the Dallas Cowboys, Brad Sham, is the narrator of news articles overheard throughout.
“It was really cool to be a part of the film because I love the League. Randy is incredibly particular, very specific and he’s done a great job telling the story of something so very special. Sunday mornings you could spend time with your friends, for most of us with some of our brothers and sons — we could get in a doubleheader and still be done by noon,” said Elfenbein, who started playing with the Shalom League in the early 1990s, then taking an almost 20-year hiatus as his show on sports radio 1310 The Ticket took him to the airwaves Sunday mornings. Once he moved to CBS Radio, he was able to return to the fields — thrilled still to spend his Sundays with his brother and son Tanner and many of his friends from “back in the day,” sharing stories on air about one of the greatest programs in the city. “Somehow my team has never made it past the first round of the playoffs but I’ll tell ya, the camaraderie in the League is something that has always been something incredible.”
Nadel — the voice of the Texas Rangers, a Texas Baseball Hall of Fame member, 2015 Texas Sportscaster of the Year and recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting excellence for the 2014 — has been a guest speaker at a number of the Shalom League Awards banquets. The legendary broadcaster answered Kramen’s call to meet and discuss the film.
“Randy has done a great job of putting together the history of the League. I’ve long known of the dedication of the guys involved — they are diehards — but the script is amazing and he really blew me away with his quality of work,” said Nadel, who has almost completed working with Kramen on the second “season” of the series, excerpts of which will be shared at the Shalom League’s Awards Banquet on Dec. 11. “It’s very entertaining and anyone, with any connection to softball or baseball, will more than appreciate it.”
Kramen is the son of Magda Hinojosa-Beltran and Dr. Martin Kramen, brother of Marc and Rebecca, husband of Jenny and father of Sydney and Ronin. Kramen counts himself far more talented telling the story of the League then as a player — although he treasures his not so successful time on the fields with his dad. Growing up at Congregation Beth Torah and as a camper at the Dallas Jewish Community Center’s Performing Arts Camp, Kramen is a graduate of Richardson High School and UT Austin, and previously a teacher at The Phoenix Charter School now at Anna High School, Kramen extended his love for the art of filmmaking and storytelling with his students, by including a number of his former students in his First Inning production crew.
Most certainly a community effort, Kramen credits his production assistant Brett Aughtry, Andres Coronel, and Stephen Hamilton and gives special thanks to his family as well as Sheila Stocker, Daniel Hart and Film Matters, Inc., the City of Plano, the City of Dallas, The Track Studio, Temple Shalom, Rabbi Andrew Paley, Joy Addison, Dan Krause, Bob Weinfeld, Paul Rakofsky, Irwin Kaufman, Harvey Magid, Jack Borenstein, Larry Silverman, Wayne Casper, and all of the Shalom League players — past and present.
Past, current members
Interviews who bring the stories to life include Mike Bender, Al Bernstein, Bart Bookatz, Jack Borenstein, Wayne Casper, Mark Elfenbein, Rick Halperin, Harvey Flick, Steve Golman, Irwin Kerber, Phil Lanitis, Brad London, Murray London, David Lynn, Harvey Magid, Larry Metrik, Richard O’Connor, Paul Rakofsky, Steve Rakofsky, Justin Reed, Art Rothenburg, Myron Schwitzer, David Shusterman, Larry Silverman, Eddie Tann, Les Taub, John Unell, Mike Walsh, Bob Weinfeld, Rob Zane and Rick Zweig.
Cultural music for the film was performed by Warren Rubin, with original pieces written and performed by Jonah Salih and Zach Sparkman. Kramen — someday bound for an acceptance speech — is prepared with his “todah raba” list.
“Randy is definitely going to make a name for himself and he’s made a name for us too with this, we feel honored that he chose the Shalom Softball League as his first focus,” said Weinfeld, who graces the cover of the DVD of the film and is featured throughout. “I’ve seen him at work on this and it’s just splendid. Many of our players have passed away and it’s really a tribute to the best of the ‘boys.’ Heck, we’re now grandfathers and fathers and sons — we’re lawyers and businessmen and doctors and such but out on the fields on Sundays — we’ve always been, and we’ll always be ‘boys,’ and friends out on the field. Randy tells that, and he’s done it real well.”
To purchase tickets to the Dallas VideoFest screening, visit bit.ly/2ep5mR9 or call 214-948-7300. DVD copies of the documentary are available with a $25 minimum donation to the project — for more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.