ARLINGTON -- To walk into Parker Vandergriff's office just north of I-30 and The Ballpark in Arlington is a bit like stepping back in time. Tom Vandergriff, Parker's grandfather, must have felt that way, too.
The first time he walked into his grandson's office, Vandergriff was stunned into silence, gazing at the walls covered with photos, letters to some of the most powerful men in the country, mementos of his own 13-year quest to bring major league baseball to his beloved city of Arlington.
When he could finally speak, Tom Vandergriff had one question for his grandson: "Is this heaven?"
Vandergriff, who died in December 2010, first began pursuing his vision in 1958. Arlington's population at the time was less than 20,000 (it was in the midst of a boom that would see the city explode from 7,692 in 1950 to 92,000 by 1970). Imagine the audacity of a small-town mayor somehow believing that his city of fewer than 20,000 could somehow one day attract a major league baseball team.
Ridiculous? Ludicrous? Absurd?
Absolutely. Throw in crazy, too.
Then again, as Vandergriff liked to say, "You have to dare to be great."
Vandergriff dared and Arlington did become great and it did land a major league baseball team. The inside, behind-the-scenes story of how his grandfather's dream became a reality is what Parker, 25 and a film major at the University of Texas, now hopes to share with the world in a feature-length movie, a project he has been working on diligently for almost two years.
The working title is Legends of the Game. The screenplay is written. The story is compelling. The conceptual trailer has been shot and was shown in a private Arlington premier at The Ballpark a few months ago. The next step is whether to shoot the film independently or seek financing from a major studio.
There are good and bad points on either side of that decision.
"I'm completely confident that, if I wanted to tomorrow, we could begin financing independently," Parker said. "This could be a $5 million picture and we could film it in Texas, with Texas money. But I'm still trying to figure out if that's the best option, because I want this story to get out there and get told.
"The other option is to take it to a major studio. The problem with that, obviously, is that a major studio -- and I'm expecting this -- would probably not accept me as the director or being on there full force, so I have to ask myself, 'Is that OK? Am I willing to take a step back?'"
It's a difficult question for Parker to answer. As much as bringing major league baseball to Arlington was the driving force in his grandfather's life, seeing this movie project completed is the same for Parker. It is his baby, his dream.
Can he stomach turning it over to someone who hasn't lived it as he has?
"It would depend on what degree I could stay involved," Parker said. "I don't want this story taken over, have them say, 'OK, we'll pay you X amount of dollars and you walk away.' Too many times, projects like this get shelved and never get made and, if it does, it might not get made the way it needs to be made.
"I would relinquish some creative control to keep it moving but obviously not too much where it's completely gone. The [financing] route that's probably most likely is independent, but I want to gauge if there's something else out there. I'm confident there is, either way. This story has so much to it."
One thing Parker is completely aware of is that this film has to be character-driven. That means established actors and that, in turn, means money.
"With something like this, I think it's important to have name actors behind it," Parker said. "Some would be more expensive than others. Some, if they like the project, might be willing to work on it for less.
"This has to be a very character-driven story. It's not action-packed with guns and car chases. We have to sell the plot and sell the characters. They sold Moneyball with Brad Pitt. I don't think this is Moneyball. I think this is a much more compelling story than that. I think it does require some type of star-power, though."
Parker and his consultants have thought about different actors for various parts in the movie. They've come up with names for just about everyone, but the most important role of all: Who plays Tom Vandergriff?
"His character is absolutely stumping me because it's so hard," Parker said. "I don't know if I want to give up something in one area to get an actor who might be able to have a similar voice, because Tom had that incredible voice.
"He had such passion and he carried such presence. It's just very difficult to find someone who can embody his essence."
Parker cast actor Mark Nutter, from the original season of Friday Night Lights, as his grandfather for the conceptual trailer. He used other local actors to fill the roles of people like Hooker Vandergriff, Judge Roy Hofheinz, Gene Autry, Tommy Mercer and Dick Butler.
"My dad [Victor Vandergriff] calls all these men that were involved 'footnotes in history.' Many of them were unknown and the story was virtually unknown, and it should be told," Parker said. "There are all these characters, most of them unknown, who shaped history and the landscape of baseball.
"The story is just so compelling. You can't imagine better characters, people who believed in something bigger than themselves. These were people who weren't in this for selfish reasons. They believed in some bigger idea. They wanted to unify an entire region of Texas, [two sides] which had hated each other for years."
Landing Nutter for the lead role in the trailer was a coup.
"Mark, for this, was great," Parker said. "He didn't embody exactly what I wanted, but for the sake of the trailer, it worked. One thing about it, Tom Vandergriff was so incredibly nice and Mark is the same way. He has to be one of the nicest people I've ever met, and it was wonderful to work with him."
But who to play Tom in the movie? Who can pull it off physically while also embodying Vandergriff's mixture of commanding presence and charisma with his humble, unassuming warmth of personality?
"Somebody a few days ago mentioned Josh Brolin," Parker said. "He's not a bad idea, but if you analyze him -- he's a great actor and he has somewhat of the look and voice --he always seems to play those characters who don't come across as personal and well-liked like Tom, this great leader that people flock to. Josh Brolin always seems to play those characters with a scowl.
"The actor on screen has to be able to bring the audience with him, because he's their leader. Could Brolin pull that off? I don't know. Tom's definitely stumping us on where to go with him."
The movie story will begin in 1964 and will detail the final years leading up to Vandergriff's successful bid to convince the American League to support Bob Short in moving the Washington Senators to Arlington, over the objection of then-President Richard M. Nixon. It will detail many behind-the-scenes facts, including that then-Oakland A's owner Charlie Finley asked for a young Washington outfielder named Jeff Burroughs, a future MVP, in exchange for his vote.
Parker Vandergriff's mission to bring this story to the screen might not have been possible were it not for his grandfather's meticulous note-taking and penchant for keeping every piece of correspondence he sent over the 13-year quest.
"I don't think people understand, when I say he saved everything, he saved everything," Parker said. "It's not just 10 boxes. He literally had an attic and warehouse full of stuff, which has been really nice for this project because we can see his thoughts and thought process.
"He would hand-write everything before it was typed, so we have all his hand-writings, all his notes. You always want to have what the actual character said in a story like this and the majority of what we have in this is his actual words."
It's finding someone who can say them as Vandergriff did that's the challenge.
"He had a way of talking in almost a different language," Parker remembered. "Like at the beginning of the trailer, when he says, 'When Arlington and I, were both very young...' Who is the world says that?"
Who in the world but the real, the genuine, the original Tom Vandergriff. To say he was one-of-a-kind just doesn't do him justice.
Tom Vandergriff was a man who dared to dream and when he dreamed, the whole world -- or at least one little village in North Central Texas -- dreamed with him.
They said it couldn't be done, that Arlington, Texas, was "in the middle of nowhere," that it was too small, that it didn't have a stadium, that a team located there would have no chance to compete, that it couldn't survive, that any man who thought differently had to be out of his mind.
And then Arlington grew up, just as Tom Vandergriff had envisioned, and its baseball team grew up with it. Two World Series later, it is still growing.
This is a story of a man with a dream who simply would not quit until he had made it come true.
Now, Parker Vandergriff is following in his grandfather's footsteps, nurturing his own "impossible dream."
"The characters are too good, the story is too good. I don't know how it could ever be passed over," he said. "It's going to get made. I'm not going to stop until it's made."
Sounds like some legend we used to know, doesn't it?