Film by VCU graduate chronicles his dad’s journey as baseball’s ‘free-agent fan’

Michael, left, and Andrew Volpe, at a spring training baseball game in Jupiter, Florida.
Michael, left, and Andrew Volpe, at a spring training baseball game in Jupiter, Florida. (Courtesy photo)

Michael Volpe grew up in New York, a die-hard fan of the New York Giants. His dedication to the team continued when it relocated to San Francisco in 1958. However, the team crossed a line for Volpe when it traded his favorite player more than 20 years ago.

After hearing the news that third baseman and shortstop Matt Williams had been traded to the Cleveland Indians in 1996, Volpe thought baseball had become more about the money than the sport.

One night, on a whim, Volpe gathered all of his Giants paraphernalia dating back more than 35 years and sent it to the team along with an angry letter stating that he was divorcing them as a fan.

“[He] basically said, ‘I’m done with you guys. I’m going to make myself a free-agent fan just like the players and I’m going to find a team that actually deserves me,’” said Volpe’s son Andrew, a 2009 graduate of the Virginia Commonwealth University Department of Kinetic Imaging.

On Nov. 21, 1996, Michael Volpe received a response from former Giants managing general partner Peter Magowan.

“After finishing in last place in the National League West for two straight seasons, we felt we needed to make some major changes to restore the franchise’s winning tradition,” Magowan wrote. “While the trade of Matt Williams may still be difficult to accept, we hope our fans will begin to share our excitement for the dawning of a ‘new era’ of Giants baseball.”

Volpe did not share that excitement. Still dissatisfied, he sent letters to other Major League Baseball teams, writing that he was looking for a new team to root for. He included questions such as, “Who’s a role model for my kids” on your team? and “What’s more important, gate receipts or fan loyalty?” A few teams took him seriously and began courting him, drumming up national interest. Volpe’s quest to find a new baseball team was featured in The Washington Post, The New York Times, USA Today and CNN.

“Before you knew it, it was turning into a 15-minutes-of-fame thing where [my father] was showing up on ESPN and the ‘Today’ show,” Andrew Volpe said. “He even had this nice national tour where he was able to tour baseball stadiums — kind of being treated like the players are.”

Using his newfound fame, which brought invitations to visit the Baltimore Orioles and the New York Mets, the elder Volpe ensured his journey was centered on the need for sports teams to pay more attention to the fans.

In 1997, he announced his decision live on the “Today” show. He had picked two teams: the Durham Bulls from the minor leagues and the Philadelphia Phillies from the majors. Nearly two decades later, Andrew Volpe, a filmmaker who owns his own video production company, decided to create a short-film documentary about his father’s baseball odyssey.

Free Agent Fan Michael Volpe: A True Story

The Free Agent Fan” includes a conversation Michael had with former co-host of the “Today” show Matt Lauer, as well as other media interviews.

In 2017, the documentary was nominated for the winter International Independent Film Awards and it won the Audience Choice Award at the Delco Film Festival in Pennsylvania. In 2018 it won the Best Documentary/Audience Choice Award at the Perennial Film Festival in Florida.

This year, the film won the Jury Award for Best Screenplay at the Northern Virginia International Film & Music Festival and CAPITAL Film Market. 

During his childhood, Andrew saw first-hand how much baseball meant to his father.

“He used to be my Little League Baseball coach when I was very young all the way through middle school,” Andrew said. 

As an assistant Little League Baseball coach for roughly six years, Andrew said his father always stressed the importance of having a good time rather than winning. 

“He would always sit down and do one-on-one teaching with kids and had a good idea of the nuances of each kid’s better qualities, in terms of sportsmanship,” Andrew said. “And he knew how to push those qualities. Even if someone wasn’t as good of a player, he always made sure to recognize their hustle and dedication to the sport. Or if they did something really good, he always made sure to call them out.”

While Michael no longer coaches baseball, he is still an avid fan. He said he is also hopeful that his journey as a free-agent fan inspired all sports teams to recognize that fans essentially make up the backbone of the sport.