It was announced today that Billy Bob Thornton, the famous Arkansas actor and director who was born in Hot Springs, will narrate a new documentary about the role of Hot Springs in the development of baseball’s spring training.
The film, to be called “The First Boys of Spring,” will see its debut in Hot Springs on October 10 on the opening night of the 2015 Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival. Emmy winner and UA journalism professor Larry Foley will direct, with actor Peter Coyote and Arkansas Razorback basketball coach Mike Anderson providing voiceovers. Previous documentaries by Foley include “The Architecture of Fay Jones,” “Hell on the Border,” and “When Lightning Struck: Saga of an American War Plane.”
Hot Springs was instrumental in the early days of baseball, especially when it came to establishing the need for spring training. According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas, The Chicago White Stockings (later the Chicago Cubs) first came to Hot Springs in March 1886, a move that allowed the team to train rigorously prior to the start of the season. Seeing the positive results of training in a warmer climate after a long winter off the field, other ball clubs soon followed suit and started spring training in Hot Springs, including the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Boston Red Sox, the Cincinnati Reds, the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Highlanders, which later became the Yankees. That brought many giants of the sport to town for business and pleasure, including Ty Cobb, Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial, Al Simmons, and Babe Ruth.
Today, the city features a “baseball trail” with markers commemorating over two-dozen baseball-centric events that happened in Hot Springs.