Monday, March 31, 2014

Batter Up! Five Great Baseball Movies

Today marks Opening Day for the 2014 Major League Baseball season. As my favorite team prepares to defend their World Series title (Boston Strong!), it seems like an appropriate time to recommend some of my personal favorite baseball-themed movies. So grab some peanuts and cracker jacks and check out these cinematic odes to America's pastime.

Field of Dreams (dir. Phil Alden Robinson, 1989)

There's something about baseball that brings out the romantic in all of us. It's a sport that's become quintessentially American in the national imagination (despite European origins), and has also become synonymous with summer wholesomeness. So Field of Dreams, in which Kevin Costner stars as a man who is told by voices to build a baseball field in the middle of his farm, is naturally reverent, cheesy, and sentimental. But when the 1919 Chicago "Black Sox" step out of the shadows, just try not to be enthralled. This is a story about redemption, through and through, and it's a moving tribute to the power of sports to inspire.

Bull Durham (dir. Ron Shelton, 1988)

Kevin Costner's kind of the all-star of baseball movies. Just one year before Field of Dreams, he starred in Bull Durham, which finds him playing aging minor-league pitcher Crash, who's brought up to help an up-and-coming pitcher (Tim Robbins) who has a shot at the majors. The only problem: they both love the same woman (Susan Sarandon), who's a self-proclaimed worshipper in the "Church of Baseball." No other film does a better job at portraying the limbo of the minor leagues, and the film firmly believes in the tradition and power that baseball carries. And I will admit, this one is a personal favorite for being a North Carolina production that features two of my "hometown" teams: the AAA-level Durham Bulls (which gives the film its name) and the A-level Asheville Tourists* (where Crash eventually plays).

*Yes, the Asheville team is really called "the Tourists." The scoreboard reads "Visitors" and "Tourists." If you're going to have a ridiculous mascot, you absolutely have to own it.

The Sandlot (dir. David M. Evans, 1993)

A group of kids play baseball together on an empty lot and have various adventures over the course of a single summer. It's a coming-of-age story, sure, but it's the kind that kids everywhere can relate too: building friendships off a shared sport, navigating the perils of adolescence, and being part of a world that seems to be constantly expanding. I played Little League baseball some as a kid, but my fondest memory of this movie was seeing it in rotation on every school field trip between 5th and 8th grade that involved a charter bus with televisions on it (the other movie was, without fail, Like Mike). It perfectly captures those moments growing up.

A League of Their Own (dir. Penny Marshall, 1992)

"There's no crying in baseball!" Tom Hanks made this line famous, but the film itself proves that there can be crying, be it from the agony of defeat or the glory of triumph. Telling the story of the all-women baseball teams that emerged during World War II, the film features terrific performances from Geena Davis, Hanks, Madonna, and Rosie O'Donnell (no kidding!), and belongs to a long tradition of films about sports as an act of rebellion. Most importantly, though, it's entertaining throughout, and just try not to get choked up by the ending.

Moneyball (dir. Bennett Miller, 2011)

Moneyball is a baseball movie that's not really about baseball. Brad Pitt, in the single greatest performance of his career thus far, plays Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane, who experiments with a new way of building his team: instead of going for expensive stars who can hit home runs, go for less-expensive players who may be "misfits," but can get on base. Though his experiment gets them to the playoffs, it doesn't win the A's a World Series, but his system of "sabermetrics" forever changes the way teams view players. At it's heart, though, this is a film about constantly being an underdog, with Beane's daughter providing the film's ultimate message: "just enjoy the show."

What are your favorite baseball movies?

1 comment:

Shane Slater said...

This further reminds me that I need to see Bull Durham. I always read such great things about it.

My personal favourite baseball movie is Moneyball.