I like to tell people that Calloused Hands took me 10 years to write. This is a lie. The first draft of the script was written in about a month in February 2011. And the final draft completed in November of 2011. So technically it was written in just under a year. But 10 years sounds more dramatic. Also, there is some truth to this lie.
While the script itself was written in 2011, the story was conceived as far back as 1998. Back then I was a Junior at North Miami Senior High on the cusp of fulfilling my dream of playing baseball for the Miami Hurricanes at University of Miami. I had just been awarded a baseball scholarship on the back of breaking 10 batting records. I was getting scouted, had my name printed in the Miami Herald, and felt so close to my dream I could almost taste it: I’d do four years at UM, get drafted as a first round pick by the Marlins, rush through their farm system, and be in their lineup by the time I was 22. I would follow in the foot-steps of the Miami greats like Mike Lowell, Charles Johnson, and of course the man himself: Alex Rodriguez (A-Rod).
But things did not line up the way I had hoped. I got badly injured before my senior year and my play suffered. Interest from UM waned, I could barely hit my own weight, and worst of all I lost my confidence. Before I knew it I was a back-up first base man at a community college, struggling to even make the team. Not too long after that I gave up baseball for good, moved to London, and devoted the next 10 years of my life to being a writer.
The experience crushed me. I couldn’t even watch a ball game for four years. When I finally was able to the first question that entered my head was: why did I want to be a major leaguer so bad? It had lived with me so long I couldn’t even remember not wanting to be a major leaguer. But why? Where did this burning desire come from? So I thought long and hard about it. And all answers pointed to one man: Byrd.
He was my mother’s boyfriend, and came in to my life when I was seven, and left it when I was 12. He was an African American. Byrd practiced with me nearly every day, with the hope of molding me into a baseball star. He devoted nearly every spare minute he had taking me to batting cages, hitting me ground balls, making me run wind sprints. He instilled his dream into me, made me focus so hard on it that eventually it became my own.
But Byrd was a flawed man. He suffered from crack addiction and alcoholism, and possessed a violent and unpredictable temper that could turn on the drop of a dime. He beat my mother, and verbally and physically abused my brother and me. In short, he put us through hell. But he wasn’t all bad. When he wasn’t high or drunk he was the funniest damn guy you could ever meet. He was charismatic, playful, and had the best laugh I ever heard. The problem was you never knew which Byrd was going to show up. When he complimented you it made you feel as if you were sitting on top of the highest mountain. When he insulted you it made you feel as if you were sitting on the bottom of the ocean.
Many years after he left I felt mostly hatred and anger toward him. But time heals any wound and now I see the whole man, the flawed man, and I feel compassion and even love for the man that instilled in me the dogged determination and self-belief he always wanted me to have. I didn’t end up applying it to baseball, but still I think he’d be proud.
This film is a tribute to men like Byrd, men who are tortured by the dreams that slip through their fingers, men crushed by the immense weight of the American Dream.