Wednesday, March 20, 2002

Baseball Film Day, 2002

"The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It's been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again. Oh people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come." - James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams.

With Major League Baseball's season opening this week, right now every team is a champion. Of course, come April 2 you can eliminate the Royals, Pirates, Orioles, and Expos (oops, shouldn't say 'eliminate' around Montreal or Minnesota; their eyes get all twitchy). But even they feel good today.

Opening Day also brings another tradition, my annual ritual of immersing myself into the game: Baseball Film Day.

This year, though, I'm actually taking notes. Here it comes, 18 hours of baseball with the boys of summer on the screen - movie and television - or about the average length of an American League slugfest.

Baseball is the American pastime, then and now. We know who plays third base for the Florida Marlins (Mike Lowell), but I couldn't tell you any of the names of the Miami Dolphins defense, or the shooting guard of the Denver Nuggets, and especially not the right wing of the Ottawa Senators.

Everyone's got their baseball memories and fantasies, such as when I would bounce a tennis ball off the roof of our home growing up, and off the back window of the car (although I swear it's pure coincidence that the window shattered unexpectedly one morning; it was an old car).

Good thing about this year: I actually have a baseball flick being released on Baseball Film Day: The Rookie.

4:10p - Cool. Better than getting a piece of chocolate before Chocolat, I get a pack of three cards when I buy my ticket for The Rookie. Of course, the cards are Fernando Vina (2B, St. Louis), Bobby Higginson (OF, Detroit) and Pat Burrell (OF, Philadelphia), so I must have just missed out on getting the '57 Mickey Mantle.

4:25p - The trailers are absolutely awful. Since The Rookie is rated G, the theater put only trailers for kids' movies in front. So I get blistered with cheesy films like Spy Kids 2, a movie featuring the Crocodile Hunter that had some cute stuff with the MGM lion, some Spirit animated horse flick that looks absolutely PC-vomit-inducing, and some animated flick about an alien that looks like a six-armed blue koala that surfs. Oy!

The Rookie
2002, 2 hrs 10 min., Rated G. Dir: John Lee Hancock. Cast: Dennis Quaid (Jimmy Morris), Rachel Griffiths (Lorrie Morris), Brian Cox (Jim Morris, Sr.), Beth Grant (Olline Morris).

4:30p - The Rookie mercifully begins. It's a good story, the true story of Jimmy Morris, a 35-year-old high school science teacher and baseball coach who became a reliever for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 1999 and 2000; a mix of Bad News Bears and The Natural. I'd recommend it to sports fans, since it made me tinigly in all the right parts.

To others, though, I'd warn that it can move along pretty dang slowly in several parts, and I'm not one to fault a movie that takes its time getting to the point. I just didn't feel like it was going anywhere anytime soon, and I usually don't mind movies that take their time.

Let me put it this way: The father of a family in front of me showed up a half-hour into the film. I don't think he missed much.

Something that isn't really a problem, yet one can't help but notice, is that Dennis Quaid has an actor's pitching motion, meaning that it's not fluid at all and thus not believable that he's firing 98-mph heat. Think Tim Robbins in Bull Durham as the ultimate example.

Is Jiffy Lube supposed to get a credit in a supporting role? Do we need to see him in that hat more than we see his daughters? And why do they show Orlando's AA Southern League ballpark as a hole-in-the-wall no bigger than a normal single-A Gulf Coast League park?

Overall a little disappointing if undecided.

6:30p - Hurry next door to Kroger for crackers and a newspaper. In line behind a very cute Hispanic or Indian young lady. Immediately smitten. Attempt googly eyes. She doesn't recoil in horror. It's something to grow on.

7:00p - Home in time to see the start of a Braves preseason game against Baltimore. Thank the Lord, baseball time is here, and I can hang out with my buds Skip Caray, Joe Simpson, Pete Van Wieren and Don Sutton for the next 162 games on TV and radio.

7:30p - Baseball Film Day means baseball food. So I sit down with a few chili dogs and nachos with cheese dip. Although, I at least pretend to be healthy, using fat-free smoked turkey franks, 99% fat-free turkey chili and low-fat cheese salsa dip. And I'm drinking Diet Coke. I am not even a man anymore. Shoot me in the head.

8:00p - Reading an ESPN.com interview with the real Jim Morris, here's a part I wish we could have seen in The Rookie:

Q: Did the other Devil Rays treat you like a rookie -- you know, make you carry their bags and sing your school song?

Morris: I got treated like a rookie. I had to wear a dress from Anaheim to New York City on a plane. I had to get off at the Grand Hyatt with a dress on in rush hour traffic. They had me wearing a long skirt and wig. I was a school teacher and the other rookies were students. But the other guys had to wear miniskirts.

8:35p - Is there any worse ad campaign than mLife? I still don't know what it is. It could promote prostitution for all I know. Okay, I'd know that. No reason.

9:10p - One of the new TBS bells and whistles for the season is to play popular songs going into the commercial break. So far they've used Guns N' Roses and Lionel Richie. I can't wait for the Bangles block.

9:15p - The Braves better keep pitcher Tim Spooneybarger. Just fun to say his name.

9:35p - Braves win, 3-2. Who cares? It's preseason. Break time for last night's CSI and ER.

11:10p - I just read that Major League Baseball has instructed teams to hold a moment of silence at 9:11 p.m. during their first home games. Call me heartless ("Jeff, you're heartless, and callous, and unfeeling. . ." Hey, I just said heartless, that hurts.), but didn't we take care of all the special moments and remembrances last autumn, when baseball fully felt the emotion of Sept. 11?

11:14p - Insert DVD of Eight Men Out, the true story of the 1919 Black Sox scandal, in which the Chicago White Sox threw the World Series. The Blockbuster box says that Shoeless Joe Jackson was "the subject of 1989's Field of Dreams." That's not right. Sure, he had a part, but the "he" of "build it and he will come" was Costner's father, not Joe.

11:45p - While watching the movies tonight, I'm tabulating the projected stats for my fantasy baseball league. I like number-crunching stats, but while the idea of organizing a budget is as appealing as ripping nose hair out one at a time, I will carefully calculate the RBIs for the Pacific Coast League on an Abacus.

11:51p - I love movies that don't dawdle *coughTheRookiecough**. Eight Men Out gets right to the point. You don't feel as if you've missed anything about the players' motivations, especially since the movie makes no bones about White Sox owner Comiskey being a cheapskate. Hence the nickname "Commie." And you thought Jane Fonda had that one covered.

Midnight- Ed McMahon shows up to give me a million dollars.

(OK, I made that one up. Just checking to see if you are still awake.)

12:05a - I wonder if the people who feel cheated the most are the Cincinnati Reds players, owning a tarnished trophy. And was Shoeless Joe really so innocent? Is this truth or legend? Maybe he was dumb like a fox?

12:22a - I love that the main insult for these guys is being called a "busher," as in Bush-Leaguer. It just sounds naughty. By the way, were the real players this obvious in throwing the Series? I've seen better acting at a Special Olympics dinner theater.

Great cast: John Cusak has the best performance. Too bad he mainly sticks with cheesy romantic comedies. Others include Charlie Sheen, John Mahoney ("Frasier"'s dad), David Strathairn, Gordon Clapp (the dorky detective in "NYPD Blue"), Bill Irwin (right now Elmo's neighbor on "Sesame Street" - trust me, you'd recognize him), Michael Rooker, Clifton James as Comiskey, etc.

12:50a - Has there been a more eagerly awaited, yet contrived moment in a film than when the freckle-faced kid silents a hundred adults with, "Say it ain't so, Joe?"

1:15a - Time for my special edition DVD of Bull Durham. For the first time I'm going to listen to the audio commentary by Kevin Costner and Tim Robbins.

Tidbits learned early on: The movie was made for $8 million in 1988, but considered too expensive. Because of politically-correct worries, they reshot a scene in a billiards hall that originally took place at a strip club featuring black girls as the dancers. Both actors would put Pete Rose in the Hall of Fame. So would I, but I'd slap him around first.

1:29a - Best entry in a baseball movie, by Costner's Crash Davis: "I'm the player to be named later."

1:35a - Kissing everyone's butts a lot in the commentary. Costner is completely up the rear of director Ron Shelton, as if Shelton had a gun to Kevin's head during this recording session.

1:59a - Bull Durham is the epitome of sports movies. Great use of players' ineractions, superstitions, on-field discussions, inner thoughts, traveling, et al. So many good quotes, too. After a long homer given up by Robbins, Costner tells him: "Man that ball got out of here in a hurry. Anything travels that far ought to have a stewardess."

2:31a - Time for a cherry popsicle.

2:51a - Baseball movie rule No. 14: If a manager tells you to shut the door when asked into his office, then your life will change dramatically; either cut or promoted to 'the show.'

2:53a - Robbins jokes that the extended sex scenes between his now-wife Susan Sarandon and Costner: "This is the part of the movie I don't like watching." And he won't show the movie to their kids until they're old enough to understand why mommy is frolicking with that strange man.

The two-day sexcapade between Costner and Sarandon makes Bull Durham one of those Uncomfortable First-Date Flicks, where you have an unexpected and very involved love scene, right up there with About Last Night.

2:55a - Another cherry popsicle. Boy this movie's making my mouth water.

3:04a - Robbins makes a good point, that this is a sports movie that doesn't rely on a big game at the end. Reminds me of how all teen movies end at the prom or a big party.

3:06a - Movie over. Great commentary by Costner and Robbins. Made the purchase very much worth the price, even as much as the sex scenes.

3:09a - Turn off DVD player to see ESPN Classic's "SportsCentury" program on Joe DiMaggio. Nothing comes close in terms of the quality of sports biographies than ESPN.

3:37a - Joltin' Joe was way over his head with Marilyn Monroe, married only nine months. Why would he be so upset over her career, when any other man dreams of the opportunity. Maybe he should have just married a no-name sweet Italian woman who would do what he wanted, staying home and being the good housewife who also likes to boogie at night.

4a - Talk about a change of status. After DiMaggio's bio, we get "SportsCentury: Albert Belle," the biggest dumbass in Major League history.

4:05a - Belle dominated the 90s, but his personality will keep him far from the Hall of Fame, and rightly so. He was insane. So much so, in fact, that I worry he'll read this, hop a plane to Atlanta and knock on my door with a bat in hand. I'm not scared of him unless he threatens to eat my liver with fava beans and a nice chianti.

4:21a - Time for the Albert-is-smart segment, where we learn he's great with crossword puzzles, and Albert-is-religious, where he autographs everything with his name and Phil 4:13, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Thus brings the question, if he's so smart, are all geniuses a little crazy? And did Christ strengthen him to be able to hurl baseballs at fans in the stands?

4:30a - Time out to go online and download porn. . . er, I mean check my fantasy rosters.

5:05a - "Classic Sports Reporters" on ESPN Classic is picking the best players by position in Major League history. Wow, that is difficult, but fun to try.

Let's see if I can try my hand at it:
C - Yogi Berra. Not just for his stats, but his all-around contribution to the game. Johnny Bench would be a clear runner-up.
1B - Can't argue with the guys on the show. Lou Gehrig stands out.
2B - Rogers Hornsby. No great stats except for batting average, but still his double-trouble abilities in both hitting and defense looms over others.
3B - You know what? Popular opinion will say Mike Schmidt or George Brett, maybe even Wade Boggs, but I'm going with Frank Robinson.
SS - Honus Wagner may have been great, but in another era. So I'd put Cal Ripken, Jr. up top, because even though his batting was just above-average, his durability and fielding was top-tier, and he personally saved baseball in 1995 after the strike canceled the World Series in '94.
OF - Ted Williams. If not for missing several years due to military service, he would be regarded as the best ever, for any position.
OF - Hank Aaron. Yeah, a little biased. But such consistency is unBEElievable.
OF - Babe Ruth. No explanation needed.
RP - Relief pitching is a relatively modern animal, not really gaining acceptance until thirty years ago. With that in mind, I select Rollie Fingers, who had a very good ERA for several seasons against American League hitters.
SP - Gotta go with the guy who has an MVP award named after him: Cy Young. Played for 22 years, won 511 games, completed 749 of them. Second is Walter Johnson, with 417 wins and a 2.17 career ERA. Of the modern age, I'll go with Nolan Ryan and his 5,714 strikeouts. He was dominance defined.

6:09a - I'm starting to peter out. I've been up for a long time, and now there's a thunderstorm outside. With the window up and the rain pounding, it's lulling me to sleep. But I'm not done yet! I need a relief pitcher of a film, to set me up for the finale. So I pop in the DVD of The Natural, the perfect baseball-as-redemption story, just as Field of Dreams is the ultimate baseball-as-religion film.

Much of the reason is because The Natural has such an inspirational score (by newly crowned Oscar winner Randy Newman). I wish the DVD had a special feature where I could watch the movie and nix the dialogue, listening only to the music. I guess that's why CDs were made.

6:37a - 16 years after getting shot, yet Hobbs looks the same. Is Sundance (aka Robert Redford) too pretty? He's a miracle of nature, the Dick Clark of acting. But he sure does have a knack for finding the wrong woman: Barbara Hershey, who shoots him, Kim Basinger, who causes him to slump, Barbara Streisand (not in the film, but her evilness carries over from others) and Glenn Close, an angelic figure here but later would be boiling bunnies.

Strong supporting roles for Wilford Brimley and Richard Farnsworth as the NY Knight coaches.

6:52a - "Come on Hobbs, knock the cover off the ball." Great scene as he does just that, with the rain starting to pour.

Sure, I've seen storylines on "Passions" that were based more in reality, but the story is every baseball enthusiast's fantasy.

7:00a - Dinnertime. Spanish rice, mashed taters and chicken.

7:03a - Requisite win streak as the new guy lights a fire under the ballclub and the town goes wild. Unfortunately this doesn't always work in real life, seen earlier with Jim Morris and The Rookie. Not even Roy Hobbs could inspire the Tampa Bay Devil Rays that much.

7:08a - Is there any owner (Robert Prosky) creepier than the Knights? At least in Major League, she (Margaret Whitton) is evil but hot. Can you imagine the players in The Natural peeling a cardboard cutout of the Knights' owner until he was in a bikini? *shiver*

7:22a - I refuse to believe that Basinger is bad luck. Then again, she did marry Alec Baldwin, and what's he done lately?

7:31a - Glenn Close isn't a "babe" babe, but over a glass of lemonade she does radiate.

8:20a - The ground level shots of Hobbs kneeling with the batboy in the on-deck circle are my favorite. There's something innocent, yet anticipatory about it.

8:24a - Lightning flashes in the distance. . . foul ball. . . Hobb's Wonderboy bat breaks. . . "Go pick me out a winner, Bobby." I'm tearing up already.

I wonder if the Nebraska farmboy who is pitching will be devistated by blowing the save? I suppose he'll survive as long as he stays away from Basinger (and Streisand).

8:27a - Greatest ending ever. Seriously. It doesn't get any better: . . .slow-motion delivery. . . bulbs pop as Hobbs makes contact at the seams. . . guy in dugout mouths "holy sh*t" as everyone sees the ball rise. . . ball hits the lights high above the stadium. . . sparks rain down as Hobbs runs the bases in the dark. . . mystical dissolve to a ball in flight. . . Hobbs and sono play catch in a field like Hobbs and his pop did. . . "The End."

Magic. Gives me goosebumps just thinking about the final scene and the music therein.

8:33a - I turn off the DVD just in time to catch ESPN "SportsCenter"'s spring training report on the Red Sox. *crossing fingers* There's hope. There's always hope. If the Red Sox and Braves played in a World Series, I'd blow a gasket.

8:37a - And now, too illustrate the season dream of April 1, coming out of the bullpen I open the Baseball Film Day closer, the 1995 Atlanta Braves World Series Championship highlight video.

8:41a - Atlanta beat Cleveland, who was a big favorite because of their supposedly unstoppable offense. ... until they met the Braves' pitchers.

It really is amazing. Atlanta's offense was horrible. They hit .250 for the season, which pros should be able to do just by bunting every at-bat! Running through the names of the Braves who were supposedly big names makes me nauseous: Mike Mordecai, Dwight Smith, Rafael Belliard, Luis Polonia, Mike Devereaux. The only sluggers were the aging Fred McGriff and David Justice, with rookie Chipper Jones far from polished, and a young and underrated Ryan Klesko, now in San Diego.

As the Pastor said in Hoosiers: "And David put his hand in the bag and took out a stone and slung it. And it struck the Philistine on the head and he fell to the ground. Amen." The Indians had Manny Ramirez, Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton, Jim Thome and Omar Vizquel, to name a few. Not exactly Hickory High beating Carver, but I can't think of a baseball metaphor to match the upset we saw.

8:43a - Ouch. The video focuses first on Chipper's family. Pan to Chipper's ex-wife, who left him a few years later when Chipper fathered a child with some floozie in Florida (he later married the floozie).

8:54a - Braves win game one, 3-2, off Masterful Maddux' two-hitter.

8:56a - Javy Lopez is the hero of game two, popping a two-run homer and picking off Manny Ramirez at first base.

8:58a - First shot of Jane Fonda and Ted Turner jumping around slap happy. Braves win, 4-3.

9:01a - Braves might as well be named the Team of the Early 90s, since the Damn Yankees bought a few Series later on in the decade. Damn them. This Series, though, could be labeled the Ultimate Nightmare For Liberal PC Pantywastes, supremely ticked off as the Braves faced the Indians. Bring back Chief Knockahoma!

9:06a - Perusing the comics ... it's about time Elizabeth discovered that jerk Eric has been cheating on her in "For Better or Worse." Meanwhile, in Classic Peanuts, Charlie Brown loses the season opener. You blockhead.

9:15a - Braves lose game three in the 11th inning, 7-6.

9:20a - Yep, Cleveland fans hadn't seen much baseball success in the past forty years. Some guy in the stands keeps yelling, "It's 4th and 1 on the Goal Line!" That's what we need in baseball, more football metaphors. Dude, just go toss some more bottles at the refs.

"Remember, fans, Tuesday is Die Hard Night. Free admission for anyone who was actually alive the last time the Indians won the pennant." - Bob Uecker as the announcer in Major League.

Second shot of Ted and Jane, this time she gives him a smooch. And takes his wallet. And while trying to suck out each other's souls end up created a black hole of common sense.

9:23a - Pedro Borbon, Jr., saves game four, a Braves win, 5-2.

9:32a - Braves tease the Cleveland populace by letting them win game five, so Atlanta can win at home. Yeah, that's the ticket.

9:37a - Video touches on the controversy before game six, when David Justice asked fans to be more supportive. Atlanta fans may be fickle, but they're also very sensitive. Don't tell them they suck or they'll destroy you. No surprise, Justice was let go before 1997.

9:36a - Perfectly, after all that, Justice hit the game-winning home run in the sixth inning. Braves win the game, 1-0, win the Series 4-2, and my fave Brave, Tom Glavine, wins the MVP. Good times. Good times.

9:45a - A cheesy song plays as the credits roll - not exactly "One Shining Moment" to wrap up the NCAA Championship. Speaking of, it's time to get to bed so I can be up by 6p to watch the Final Four. There will be no Basketball Film Day, though.

"Man, this is baseball. You gotta stop thinking. Just have fun." -- The Sandlot.