Thursday, August 4, 2011

It’s NOT Just a Baseball Movie!

Try explaining that to a non-sports fan.
It’s easy to get a sports fan watch baseball movies. It’s much more difficult to get a non-fan to watch them. It’s not required that sports fans try to get their non-sports friends or spouses to watch a great baseball movie; it’s a public service of sorts – think of it as expanding someone’s cultural horizons. If you can get someone who doesn’t necessarily pay attention to sports to watch at least one of these exceptional films, you will make their day.
It’s hard to discuss these films without revealing the endings and surprises. If you have seen these movies, then you already know how they end – if you haven’t seen them then I’m not going to ruin the endings for you. You owe it to yourself to buy/rent/stream and see for yourself. Even if you aren’t a sports or baseball fan, you will not be disappointed. You will at the very least, be entertained and emotionally involved in a good way.
I recall a conversation one evening when I discovered that my wife had never seen Field of Dreams, starring Kevin Costner as Ray Kinsella, a nearly broke Iowa corn farmer.
“What’s it about?” said my wife.
“It’s about a guy who hears voices and builds a baseball field in an Iowa cornfield.”
“That sounds creepy and boring,” she said.
“No,” I said.” It’s not creepy; and it’s not just a guy movie. Let’s watch it; you’re going to like this movie.”
If you’ve seen this film, you know how it ends – I knew my wife would appreciate it if only I could get her to watch it. She was not so sure, but she watched it anyway.
Field of Dreams is not creepy or just a guy movie – it’s a great story about a man who does a crazy thing. That crazy thing leads to a cross-country odyssey as the fictional Ray Kinsella, played convincingly by Costner, manages to pull several unsuspecting and outright suspicious and hostile strangers into his dream of building a baseball field that plays host to the ghosts of some of baseball’s greatest legends.
As I said, my wife was dubious about watching what she had perceived as a boring sports movie. Two hours later, she was wiping tears from her eyes – she was a believer.
This is an exceptional film – a compelling story that rivets the viewer, building to a conclusion that makes viewers smile – and give the tear ducts a workout. If you’ve seen this film, you have probably seen it at least six times, and the end gets you every time. If you’ve never seen it – do yourself a favor and watch it.
Chasing 3000 was an unexpected gem. Written by Bill Mikita, and based on the story of his relationship with his brother Steve, it’s another one of those films that may be about baseball but the appeal is for everyone. This outstanding film is not as well known as the others mentioned here, but it’s just as good – a movie that will make even the most adamant non-sports fan feel good.
I was channel surfing late one night during the 2011 baseball season, right about the time that Yankee Derek Jeter was getting close to his 3000th hit. I saw this title and knew that it had to be a baseball movie, thinking it might be about Jeter. It’s not about Jeter though - Mikita based this great story on the special relationship he enjoys with his brother Steve, who suffers from muscular dystrophy.
Two brothers, Mickey and Roger, travel across the USA hoping to be at Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium on the day Pirate’s right fielder Roberto Clemente gets his historic 3000th hit. Like Field of Dreams, Chasing 3000 isn’t just another baseball movie – it’s about family relationships. At the heart of the story are two brothers who love each other - an older brother who is a role model and athlete, and his younger brother who  - unusual for boys of that age – understands and appreciates his older brother’s passion for baseball and one of baseball’s all-time great players, Clemente.
This film will pull at your heartstrings as the story unfolds and the brothers find adventure and deeper understanding of who they are and how important they are to each other. If you have siblings, you will instantly identify with Mickey and Roger (perhaps a Mantle and Maris reference, Bill?). If you don’t have siblings, you will wish that these guys were your brothers so you could share in their special relationship.
Chasing 3000 is plain and simply a great family story. As I told my wife yet again – you’re going to love this movie regardless of whether you are sports fan or not. One of the beautiful things about Chasing 3000 is that you don’t have to know anything about baseball, Clemente, or hits to understand what this story is about – family members who care deeply about one another. What you may also get from this movie is an understanding of why some of us love the great game of baseball so much.
The Natural - Who doesn’t like Robert Redford? He’s a great actor; well known for playing likeable and believable characters – ‘regular’ people who become involved in situations that force them to show just how fallible real people are. He often plays regular guys as opposed to the larger than life, mythical kind of character such as John Wayne’s cowboy persona, or Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones. Redford excelled in his portrayals of the fictional mountain man Jeremiah Johnson, and the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward – characters that anyone can identify with – including Roy Hobbs.
In The Natural, Redford was – you guessed it – a natural. He was perfect for the part of Hobbs, the aging rookie who joins the fictional New York Knights and works his way into the lineup and the hearts of baseball fans.
As you watch the story unfold, Redford’s Hobbs character becomes the likeable jock – the baseball star with a human side – the star athlete who doesn’t act like he is better than everyone else. Add to that the fact that Redford has clearly played baseball in his private life. The film scenes show him to be a natural athlete – pitching, batting, and fielding. That’s why Redford was so perfect for this role – he is probably just playing himself.
As the film reaches its spectacular apex – no, I’m not going to reveal the ending – the thought comes to mind, ‘come on; it can’t end like this!' The great thing about The Natural is that it’s okay for it to end this way.
There is romance in this film, and it is woven into the story, adding substance rather than merely filling time or adding a disjointed means with which to attract viewers that would not normally watch a baseball movie. The Natural has its important and compelling dramatic moments, but it is also a low-key (Redford’s acting style), yet highly entertaining story – all in all a great movie to settle in and enjoy with the family.
The Rookie, starring Dennis Quaid, and written by former pitcher Jimmy Morris, isn’t fiction. This great baseball – this great life story - really happened, making it just that much more fun to watch. Like Redford, Quaid has obvious athletic ability, making him perfect for this role – he is believable as a teacher, coach, husband, father and an unlikely hero of sorts.
The story begins as teacher and baseball coach Jimmy Morris leads a squad of Texas high school boys to become better than they think they can be. That’s the message in this film, and one that Morris tells beautifully in both the book and the film – that no one should give up on their dreams. Corny? Maybe – but in this case corny is good – it is very good.
This great film has a number of moments that will give you goose bumps – moments made more exciting to watch when one realizes that they really happened:
A Tampa Bay Ray scout realizes that this aging wanna-be can actually throw a baseball at nearly 100 mph – accurately.
“Jimmy, I've been a scout for a long time, and the number one rule is, arms slow down when they get old. Now, if I call the office and tell 'em I got a guy here almost twice these kids' age, I'm gonna get laughed at. But, if I don't call in a 98-mile-an-hour fastball, I'm gonna get fired!”
Morris has a special phone call home to deliver spectacular news, and whether or not it really happened just this way in real life, the script treatment is pure gut-wrench drama.
“Lorri,” says Morris, struggling to find words to tell his wife that something incredible has just happened. “You know that sports coat of mine? Can you bring it to Arlington?”
I defy anyone with a pulse to stop your heart from beating faster as you watch this scene develop and it becomes obvious to Lorri Morris why her husband, playing for a minor league team, needs a sports jacket.
One of the film’s great moments, and in fact one of the great moments in film history is when Morris’ wife Lorri hands the telephone to their young son, so a father can tell his son that he has just realized a dream that is understandable to everyone; one that will make the son proud of his father.
What father wouldn’t love to have such a conversation with his son? What Mom wouldn’t love to witness such a conversation? You just can’t make stuff like this up. That’s just one reason why The Rookie is such a great story – it’s about real life, real people, with real dreams. And sometimes – despite what cynics may say – sometimes those dreams come true.
Many baseball movies exist; the best of the rest being, in my opinion: 61*, Bull Durham, Eight Men Out, Fear Strikes Out, A League of Their Own, Major League, The Pride of St. Louis, The Sandlot, and Pride of The Yankees – all notable films and great baseball stories.
For my money though – the class of the field – far and away the finest baseball movies and exceptional movies of any genre – are (not necessarily in this order): Field of Dreams, Chasing 3000, The Natural, and The Rookie. 

What do you have to lose? Go out, find these movies and enjoy some truly great stories – all of which happen to be about life and baseball.

© 2011 LTM

1 comment:

  1. If I left our YOUR favorite baseball movie - I'm sorry; this article is just my opinion.