The first time I saw the idea on Twitter, I thought it was a joke.
When I watched the first part, I still wasn’t sure. Is this a parody or is this serious?
By the second part, I was sure it was real, and I was sure it was really well done.
Three recent Ramapo High School graduates, paying homage to the ESPN 30 for 30 series and the epic Michael Jordan docuseries called “The Last Dance,” made their own 10-part series documenting their youth baseball careers from their 8-year old days through high school. It’s all now available on YouTube.
It’s called “A Tale of Two Towns” referencing the union of baseball-loving kids from Wyckoff and Franklin Lakes.
The title screen for “A Tale of 2 Towns” a 10-part documentary series made my recent Ramapo graduates on their youth baseball careers. (Photo: Courtesy Harrison Klein)
With a deep trove of pictures and videos, “A Tale of Two Towns” comes across like something that was planned 10 years ago. It wasn’t.
The length of the episodes vary – the longest is Episode 10, which is just under an hour – and each chronicles one year of the players’ baseball lives.
Players from the team are interviewed throughout. So are a handful of parents (who steal the show, honestly) and former Ramapo baseball coach Mickey Hunt.
It has heartbreak. It has controversy. There are times it tries to be funny and it is, and times it tries to be funny and it isn’t. It also has a floating unicorn in a pool.
Spoiler alert: There’s no championship at the end.
That’s right, they made a 10-part series and there’s no ring to flaunt at the end. All they have is their memories and friendships to cherish. To them, that’s enough.
“I think as bad as it is that we never won anything, the good outweighed the bad,” said Harrison Klein, one of the three co-creators. “All the friendships and bonds that we made; we wanted to show what we were capable of on the field and how it sucked that we didn’t win, but the memory and bonds showed how close we were.”
How the docuseries came to be
After watching the successful “Last Dance” series on Jordan and the Bulls, Klein and lifelong teammate Jack Hagan started joking around, saying they should make a similar epic about playing baseball all their lives.
It was also right at the start of the COVID-19 quarantine, so there wasn’t much else to do.
“I was looking through a bunch of old photos and said we had a lot of content,” Klein said.
Parents provided more pictures and videos. In fact, the most remarkable thing about the entire series might be just the sheer volume of content. Almost every episode has fresh pictures of the team from that year, and a video highlight or two. What’s missing, well, the guys just filled in as best they can.
Klein and Hagan got in touch with KC Hunt, who became the third filmmaker. They created a Google doc and came up with themes and ideas for each episode (storyboarding it in a way). They used iMovie to cut it all together, dividing all the episodes.
“For each episode we tried to pick out the most important people and go to their house, and for other guys, we had them send in videos of what they remember,” Hagan said. “We went on the Ramapo field, or one of the fields in town, and we filmed the intro and the ending.”
There were some technical issues with the music (read: copyright infringement) which delayed the final project, but that was ultimately rectified. Episodes started dropping two at a time earlier this month, starting with Episode 1, the Wyckoff Whites.
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The first few episodes highlight playing youth sports in town and a few questions far too unexplored: How are teams selected? What happens when there are too many good kids who want to play? What is it like when those teams are merged?
The Wyckoff Whites were good, but so were the Wyckoff Greens.
Parents are always so worried about offending kids (and really other parents), but the kids already know who is good and who belongs. They just want to play.
Episode 4, about the boys’ trip to Cooperstown, is the most interesting one in the series.
Cooperstown is Baseball Heaven, with a massive layout of small fields and a nationwide tournament that goes on for days (and nights – one parent reflects how, one year, an earlier team played games well past midnight because of rain).
By then, they were known as Wyckoff Raiders, and they stayed in barracks right next to the fields, along with thousands of others.
And they were good. Playing against teams made up of players from larger areas, the Raiders advanced out of pool play and were the No. 6 seed in the elimination tournament. They reached the quarterfinals.
Then it happened.
The Raiders were beaten after a player dropped a fly ball and Hunt allowed a home run on the next pitch.
Here the creators had a decision to make: reveal the details of who dropped the ball, or accept it as part of the game. It’s a moral question and not easy to resolve (it’s one that high school sports writers deal with often). While the error clearly had an impact, no one wanted to badmouth a teammate.
“In the original version we said his name and we watched it and we got feedback that we went too far,” Klein said. “We went back in and changed it.”
High school years
By the time the core of the Raiders get to Ramapo, the expectations are through the roof. They reach the Bergen County Tournament final as freshmen but, after that, never quite achieve what they hoped.
In a cruel twist, they lose to Roxbury three straight years in the state tournament. As seniors, there’s even a controversial fly ball (was it caught or not?) that allows the Gaels to prevail at the end.
It’s never mentioned but, to me, it was almost like Cooperstown played out over and over again. A team on the brink of glory saw it just taken away.
Baseball can be a cruel game.
Mickey Hunt, with his legs crossed, sitting back in his easy chair, is asked why this talented group never won a title. His answer is simple: They had talent. They just weren’t lucky.
“It was all good,” Hunt said later. “I think it was funny in some parts and sentimental in others. You see 10 episodes and, wow, they had a good time doing it. They made really good friends. Those guys are tight.”
Episode 10 is fittingly called “The Last Dance” and it ends with each of the players being asked about, well, failing.
There are different answers. It’s not an easy question, and some of the players handle it better than others. Some seem self-aware that the point of playing was to learn how to be a teammate, work hard and come together (the “rah,” short for camaraderie is said), others still seem bitter and pass along the blame.
If they ever did a retrospective 10 years from now, I’d love to hear those answers.
The curtain call
KC Hunt, who now plays baseball at Mississippi State, Klein, now a sophomore at Elon, and Hagan, now a sophomore at the University of Tampa, shockingly, aren’t film majors.
It may be a testament to the world today that the three of them were almost born with the ability to make movies, having done so on various social media channels. They even added an Episode 11, a “blooper reel.”
KC Hunt congratulated by his father, Mickey, as he rounds the bases after hitting a home run. (Photo: Submitted)
Now that the series is out, they’re proud. They hope they made their point. It may have started as a bit of a joking idea, but it became work and serious.
“I think you can look back on us and watch us grow throughout the years,” Hagan said. “It’s like following a little group of kids and it’s great for us and the parents to look back on and reflect on everything.”
Added Klein: “I think when we started it was going to be silly and goofy, but then it became serious. In high school, after freshman year, it fizzled out, but we showed we were talented.”
It’s a Tale of Two Towns. It has flaws, but it’s an example of how baseball makes boys into men, and friends forever.
Darren Cooper is a high school sports columnist for NorthJersey.com. For full access to live scores, breaking news and analysis from our Varsity Aces team, subscribe today. To get breaking news directly to your inbox, sign up for our newsletter and download our app.
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