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Ashburn film a labor of love

Ashburn film a labor of love

PHILADELPHIA -- Dan Stephenson produces videos for the Phillies every season, but he has never been more proud of a final product than this one.

His 90-minute film, "Richie Ashburn: A Baseball Life," has been in the works for 10 1/2 years. After countless hours of work, the movie will debut at the 17th Philadelphia Film Festival at the Prince Music Theater on Monday, April 14, at 7 p.m. ET.

A special screening is being held on that night, featuring a red-carpet entrance by Ashburn's friends and some former players, as well as an introduction by Harry Kalas, who narrated the film and was one of Ashburn's closest friends both on and off the air. Stephenson will host an exclusive post-screening question-and-answer session.

"It really is an incredible film," Stephenson said. "It features more than 70 interviews, with more than four hours of bonus footage, too. The hardest part was narrowing it down to 90 minutes. Truthfully, I wasn't sure I'd be able to get it together. After Richie died in 1997, I started to collect interviews from friends and relatives. I had some good stuff, but I wasn't sure if it had enough legs.

"Then, in 2004, Rich Ashburn Jr. came by my office with a box of old tins of 16-millimeter film. I wasn't sure if it was usable, because I couldn't access the film. So I took it over to NFL Films to see what was on there. It was unbelievable. You wouldn't believe how beautiful the pictures were. There were pristine photos from the 1950 season that Richie shot himself. I think that makes it even cooler. Once I got through all of that material, I knew the project would take off."

During a break in the Phillies' series at Kansas City last June, Stephenson took a five-hour drive with Ashburn Jr. to Tilden, Neb., where the senior Ashburn, affectionately known as "Whitey," was raised.

"It was really neat being able to see the house where Richie grew up," Stephenson said. "I was able to get more and more interviews and really get the project going to the point where we could really get into the serious production phase. It was such a neat experience getting the tour of the town and meeting so many people who were close to Richie."

The film -- which chronicles Ashburn's remarkable journey from his childhood to his enshrinement in the Hall of Fame in 1995 -- makes its debut nearly 60 years after Ashburn made his Major League debut, on April 20, 1948.

Ashburn was a five-time All-Star center fielder and two-time batting champion during his 12-year playing career for the Phillies (1948-59). He also played for the Cubs in 1960-61 and retired after spending the 1962 season with the Mets. His first hit in the Major Leagues came in his debut, a single off Johnny Sain of the Boston Braves at Shibe Park. He finished his stellar career with 2,574 hits and a .308 batting average.

Ashburn joined Byrum Saam and Bill Campbell in the Phillies' broadcasting booth the following year. His 35-year broadcasting career ended when he died, on Sept. 9, 1997.

"It's so wonderful how this city has embraced my father," said Sue Ashburn Morrison. "And now we are honored once again at this heartfelt tribute that will last a lifetime."

Limited tickets for the premiere will go on sale at 9 a.m. on Friday. Call 215-463-1000. The cost is $25 per ticket, with a portion of the proceeds going to Phillies Charities Inc. on behalf of the Richie Ashburn Foundation.

Tickets will also be available on Monday for an additional screening to be held on April 15 at 5:00 p.m. at the Prince Music Theater. Visit www.phillyfests.com for purchasing locations.

In addition, a two-disc set covering the film plus four hours of bonus footage will be available for purchase on April 22 at the Majestic Clubhouse Store at Citizens Bank Park. It will be also available by calling 877-GO-PHILS, through www.phillies.com or wherever DVDs are sold in the area.

Andy Jasner is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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