Opening day 2008. My Toronto Blue Jays were rained out at Yankee Stadium, so I must wait one more day for the season to begin. Every spring the start of the baseball season is pretty significant for me, since it’s the only real professional sport that I follow consistently from beginning to end. It was easy for me to get hooked as a small boy, since Toronto was building momentum through the 1980s to emerge in the early 1990s as the team to beat. I was fortunate enough to be at the All Star Game at Sky Dome in ’91 and witnessed Joe Carter’s game-winning blast in Game Six of the ’93 Series from six rows up on the third base line.
I remember feeling the roar of the crowd as the ball sailed over the left field wall. I was thirteen and haven’t experienced anything like that since.
My love of the game is simple. It’s a game of precision and concision. It isn’t afraid to take its time. There’s a genuine sense of excitement when a pitcher goes 3-2 and has the crowd on the edge of their seats, and then fires a third strike to end the inning or the game.
And each year it begins again with a clean slate. This is when you hear the smattering of fans proclaiming, “This is the year we go all the way.” By mid-season their tune changes slightly: “We’ll take the division.” By September, it’s “There’s always next year.” And so that’s basically been my experience with the Jays since 1994. Of course, if you were to ask me today, I’d be lying if I thought this year wasn’t the year we take the AL East.
Waiting for the rain delay to end — which it never did — I thought about the ways in which baseball has been portrayed in the movies. Which obviously got me onto considering my favorite baseball movies. I realized that some were about baseball, while others only mentioned the game or used it as a set piece for certain scenes.
There’s Major League (1989) — by far the funniest movie about baseball. Pedro Cerrano yelling at his voodoo doll is worth the price of admission: “I stuck up for you Jobu. You no help me now…I say fuck you Jobu. I do it myself.” The Naked Gun (1987) features a climactic scene at a baseball game that is pretty memorable — remember Enrico Pallazzo? As a kid I couldn’t help but love Rookie of the Year (1993). And more recently I re-discovered Eight Men Out (1988), The Bad News Bears (1976), and Bull Durham (1988).
What makes a good baseball movie?
Every year my wife nudges me to read W.P. Kinsella’s baseball novels and short stories, which were inspiring for her. Unfortunately, I still haven’t gotten around to reading Kinsella. But the film adaptation of his novel Shoeless Joe sits atop my list of “favorite baseball movies.”
Field of Dreams captures the spirit of baseball without having to actually show much of the game in action. There are only a few short scenes of play, while the rest of the film wrestles with the philosophical and spiritual textures that the game inspires. The simplicity of the game is romanticized as characters repeatedly ask to “have a catch.” The finale sees Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) ask his ghost-father for one last game of catch to mend their broken relationship. This scene defines the “male weepie” status allotted to the film by some critics and non-believers who dismissed the emotional power of baseball — and more significantly the power of having a catch with your old man.
Some have said that the film is about second chances. While it’s hard to dismiss this thematic thread, I tend to think that the film better reflects the sense of renewal that the beginning of every new season brings to players and fans.
It’s hard not to be touched by Terence Mann’s (played by James Earl Jones) monologue late in the film:
“Ray, people will come Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say. It’s only $20 per person. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh… people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.”
Mann’s poetic refrain is undoubtedly corny, but undeniably touching. It’s about those little moments in the game that shape a lifetime’s worth of memories.