Category Archives: Baseball Movies

With MLB Players and Owners no Longer Negotiating it is Best to Try Again Next Year

With a little under a month to go until the 2020 Major League Baseball (MLB) All-Star Game was set to be played at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, the first pitch of the regular season has yet to take place.

Historically, the All Star Game marks the midpoint of the MLB season. This year, it is likely that any All Star Game played will take place after the conclusion of the season. Assuming that there is a season.

The blame game for why the season has yet to commence is in full swing. Players blame owners. Owners blame players. Over the weekend the MLB Player’s Association, and the MLB owners halted negotiations on what a 2020 season would look like and tossed the ball over to the Commissioner’s Office to end the stalemate. It seems like the only thing both sides can agree in is that COVID-19 is to blame.

Speaking of COVID-19, on June 16, 2020, Florida and Arizona, the regular season home of the Rays, Marlins and Diamondback, as well as the home of all 30 spring-training facilities, reported their highest single-day total of positive tests for the virus. The Sunshine State of Florida counted nearly 2,800 positive cases. The Grand Canyon State of Arizona tallied in at 2,400 new positive cases.

With a little under a month to go until the 2020 Major League Baseball (MLB) All-Star Game was set to be played at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, the first pitch of the regular season has yet to take place thanks to COVID-19.
Photo R. Anderson

In baseball terms, the launch angle for the COVID-19 spike in those states is headed for the upper decks and may clear the ballpark. Or, as Crash Davis, of Bull Durham fame, would say, “Man that ball got outta here in a hurry.”

In Texas, here at the gigaplex, we are also seeing daily increases in the number of positive COVID-19 cases, the number of hospitalizations, and the number of deaths.

Overall, 17 U.S. states reported weekly increases in the spread of COVID-19, as well as an increase in the percentage of people tested who are positive. If the virus was stable, the percentage of people who test positive would remain stagnant regardless of how many people were tested. Higher percentages of positives mean that more people are catching the virus, not that more people are getting tested.

But you don’t have to take my world for it, just follow the science.

The COVID-19 virus is real. It is deadly. It is not going away any time soon. And no, despite what some people try to say, the virus will not just magically disappear if we stop testing people for it. Social distancing and wearing masks are the only ways to control the spread until a vaccine is developed and widely distributed.

Still, with rising numbers from sea to shining sea, there are still rumblings that what the world needs right now is baseball. Unless baseball is code for a vaccine, or therapeutic treatment, for the COVID-19 virus, I am pretty sure the last thing the world needs right now is baseball.

As I have said many times, and in many ways, I miss baseball. I want baseball to return. I want to go see new Ballparks. I want to revisit old Ballparks. I want to eat hot dogs in the club level of Constellation Field next to a lime green mosquito mascot named Swatson.

I miss baseball, but I am perfectly content to have the 2020 Season cancelled, and wait for a return to action in the spring of 2021. One of my first stops when baseball does return next spring will be Publix Field in Lakeland, FL.
Photo R. Anderson

So, when I say sit this season out to the MLB powers that be, I am not saying it as someone who could take or leave baseball. I am saying it as someone who loves baseball but also sees little value in a regular season lasting about as long as the postseason. Proceeding with baseball at this point will likely do more harm than good for the baseball brand.

The owners will say that baseball needs to happen this year in order for people to not forget about it. The owners will also say that they need a long postseason lasting deep into October so they can make money from the television rights.

But having a 50-60 game MLB regular season, and then going to the postseason, stains the spirit of the game worse than a steroid tainted home run record chase, or a trash can banging World Series run.

It is okay to sit this one out baseball. One of the worst things that can happen is to force a season to occur and then see a majority of the big-name players sit the season out in order to protect their health.

While MLB still tries to decide if a 2020 season will occur, the NBA is set to resume their season July 30 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney World Resort. All eligible playoff teams will be kept in three hotels and will play all of their games inside the borders of Disney World.
Photo R. Anderson

Why would a player risk their health from both the COVID-19 virus, or a freak injury, for an abbreviated season at prorated pay if they have the means to sit out four months and return to Spring Training in February of next year?

Still, the MLB powers that be seem determined to proceed regardless of the consequences, or the optics. Instead of following the herd and just being another sport to try and play, while hoping their star players do not get sick, MLB has a chance to be the sport that puts safety over profit if they choose.

When I was the Sports Information Director for a college, one of my main tasks was helping coaches and athletic department personnel craft statements and stay on message. I always told the people I was working with to consider the long-term impact of their words, and to not look at short term gratification. I also told them to make sure they knew the temperature of the room. If I was tasked with advising MLB during this current climate, I would suggest they release the following statement:

“We have the best fans in the world and we want more than anything to get back to work giving you our best effort on the field and off. COVID-19 gave us all a gut punch and forced the early termination of Spring Training. As much as we want to return to the game we love, the numbers of the virus infections just do not support us playing right now. Even with all of the safety precautions we have outlined, we cannot rule out members of the MLB family getting sick. It would be irresponsible for us to risk spreading the disease by traveling from city to city just to play games in empty ballparks without you our cherished fans there to cheer us on.

The short-term desire of playing baseball in 2020 cannot cloud our vision. The long-term health and safety of our players, trainers and other team employees is far more important to us than trying to rush things in order to try to squeeze in a season this year just to say we had a 2020 season. We will return when the science tells us it is safe to do so. Until then, take care of yourselves, and our players and staff will do the same. Stay home, stay safe. Wear a mask if you have to go out and about, and we will see you next year if it is safe to do so.”

I would then include a link on the press release to the official team masks of MLB which allow fans to show their team spirit, and keep their spit from going airborne.

Sadly, now that other professional sports have returned to action, it is likely adding to the pressure of the MLB to make this season work. Unfortunately, I think the desire to “play ball” will overcome the rationale to try again next year.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I feel the need to lollygag over to the kitchen and make a Ballpark inspired snack.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Baseball is Still Trying to Save Season as Other Sports Hit Cruise Control

As Major League Baseball’s owners and players continue to haggle over the parameters of what a 2020 season would look like in terms of number of games played and percentage of compensation, NASCAR and IndyCar are up and running, and the NBA is about to be up and running.

NASCAR which became the first major professional sports league to return to action last month, is set to hit another milestone on June 14 when it allows some fans into the track to see the action in person. Welcoming of fans into the facility comes with restrictions, and is also occurring during a time when nearly half of the states in the United States are seeing the number of cases of COVID-19 go up. It is also occurring as other states are being questioned about whether they are providing an accurate count of the total number of COVID-19 cases within their communities.

Make no mistake, these are truly uncharted waters, and the entire process is just one big wave away from capsizing faster than the ship in The Poseidon Adventure. Still, for many it is full steam ahead, into the great wide open.

The fact that other sports leagues are resuming their interrupted seasons is placing added pressure on MLB to start their 2020 season, which was originally scheduled to begin on March 26. While the main issues preventing the MLB from playing ball seem to be mostly financial, not all of the players are being affected the same way.

Established MLB players, and recently drafted Minor League Baseball (MiLB) players, can easily sit out the season if it comes down to it since for the most part their jobs are safe.

The fact that other sports leagues are resuming their interrupted seasons is placing added pressure on MLB to start their 2020 season, which was originally scheduled to begin on March 26.
Photo R. Anderson

For other players, a lost season could cost them their last chance to make it onto a Big-League roster and leave the long bus rides of MiLB behind.

I have been thinking a lot about those players in both affiliated and independent baseball lately. As I have noted several times before, I cut my Ballpark teeth by mostly watching Southern League baseball when I was growing up. In recent years, despite being located closer to an MLB Ballpark, than an Independent League Ballpark, I have found myself driving the extra 20 minutes and spending more time watching the Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball (ALPA) than the Houston Astros.

Nothing says Ballpark fun quite like a mascot adjacent box seat near the dugout. Isn’t that right Swatson?
Photo R. Anderson

For me, Minor League Baseball is a purer form of the game and allows me to be closer to the field for the same price as a nosebleed ticket at an MLB Ballpark. With Minor League Ballparks being about a third of the size of their Major League counterparts, one can really get up close and personal to the action.

Unfortunately, those Minor League players that I enjoy watching the most are the ones who are finding uncertain futures, as well as uneasy presents. To their credit many MLB teams and players have offered to pay the salaries of the players in their farm systems. However, with efforts to reduce the number of MiLB teams, as well as reducing the number of players drafted, in the coming years, there will be far fewer people who will get to chase their dreams of making it to the Show.

Of course, less affiliated Minor League baseball should mean an uptick in players wanting to play Independent League baseball which may lead to the rise of new leagues and teams to fill the void left behind following any contraction of affiliated baseball.

When I was in high school, I had a friend who was a star pitcher on the school baseball team. The team made it to the state playoffs my junior year. The following year, it was not uncommon to see various pro scouts in the stands.

My friend was a southpaw pitcher, which was then, and continues to be a hot commodity sought after by many MLB clubs. My friend ended up signing with the New York Yankees in the second round of the MLB June Amateur Draft right out of high school and as Tom Petty would say, “the future was wide open.”

Setbacks on the field, as well as off the field, led him to bounce around the Minor Leagues like a fan trying to reach first base in a dizzy bat race. My friend spent six years in the Yankees organization and never advanced above AA ball, as well as playing four years of Independent League baseball. Over 10 seasons he had a career .513 winning percentage, and a career 4.32 earned run average (ERA). After 10 years of chasing the dream my friend finally called it a career without so much as a cup of coffee in the show.

My friend spent six years in the Yankees organization and never advanced above AA ball, as well as playing four years of Independent League baseball proving that not every dream of playing MLB ball comes true.
Photo R. Anderson

There are thousands of players just like my friend who seek the bright lights of big-league ballparks only to find their dreams cut short. While the answer varies depending on who you ask, most people can agree that only about 10 to 20 percent of the people drafted by MLB teams will ever make it to the Majors.

So, the thinking goes that by reducing the number of teams and the rounds in the draft MLB is forcing people who wouldn’t have made it to the MLB anyway to start their post baseball playing days earlier.

Many will bounce along as long as possible chasing the dream until the realities of life and family commitments lead them to a steadier form of work. These players are the real Crash Davis types, in honor of the character Kevin Costner played in Bull Durham.

I lost track of my friend a few years before the end of his career but would still follow his career whenever I saw a blurb on one of the Minor League sites. I hope he is doing well for himself and that he landed on his feet after he hung up his glove for the last time.

Whenever baseball does resume it will be different on so many fronts. COVID-19 exposed a crack in the professional sports diversion that people have counted on to get them through so many other trying times in the past. Now that people know that sports are not the recession proof, tragedy proof, and pandemic proof light in a time of darkness that they thought they were, people will need to decide whether they will still put their trust in sports to distract and comfort them, or if they will find other ways to deal with whatever life throws at them.

In many ways, we are all Minor League players trying to hang on to the dream for one more season, while knowing in the back of our heads that at some point we will need to put our cleats away and face life head on.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a sudden urge to watch Bull Durham.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

 

Wrapping up our Countdown with the Durham Bulls

Editor’s Note: In the spirit of seeking sunshine during a gray winter, and to help usher in the upcoming baseball season we will be counting down our favorite baseball movies for the next three weeks. Today we reach the end of our journey of baseball on the Silver Screen with the ultimate baseball movie.

After three weeks of counting we have reached the ninth inning and can reveal the final movie on our countdown of our favorite baseball movies. That movie is Bull Durham.

While Bull Durham enjoyed modest success during its theatrical run, it gained wider popularity in the years following to the point that celebrating the quarter century mark since it was released is kind of a big deal.

Our last stop on the cinematic countdown to Opening Day is Bull Durham. Photo R. Anderson
Our last stop on the cinematic countdown to Opening Day is Bull Durham.
Photo R. Anderson

While each of the sides of the Kevin Costner Baseball Triangle are good in their own ways, and each were ranked on our countdown (For Love of the Game #8, and Field of Dreams #2) I have always identified more with the comedy infused Durham.

I suppose Bull Durham resonates with me so well because while I was never a Minor League Baseball player, I was very much a Minor League Baseball fan and was attending games around the same time that the movie came out.

So the movie showed me the parts of Minor League life that I didn’t see from my view in the stands.

The movie also provided several concepts that I use even today as part of my daily life.

The concept of creating your own rain delay when the grind gets to tough and you just need a day to catch your breath is a theme that I have embraced from the movie. While I have never turned on the sprinklers in the office I have certainly found ways to give everyone a rain day here and there.

The movie also provided many timeless quotes with some of them being appropriate for repeating and some best left to the professionals.

In that respect, the members of the Durham Bulls, the real-life team that inspired the team in the movie, made a hilarious video reenacting some of the crazier lines from the film to honor the 25th anniversary of the movie’s release.

What makes the video of the players recreating the lines so funny, and perhaps makes the rest of us feel a little old, is the fact that many of the players were not alive when the movie first came out.

Another interesting aspect of the real life Durham Bulls is that they serve as the Triple-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays who were 10 years away from existing at the time of the film’s release.

As a bit of trivia the Bulls were a Single-A affiliate at the time the movie was made and were owned by one of the filmmakers.

But enough about things that weren’t around when the movie came out. It is time to focus on something highlighted in the movie that is no longer around.

In the movie, and in real life, Max Patkin was the Clown Prince of Baseball. For over 50 years Patkin went to Minor League ballparks across the country and Canada performing his baseball clown act.

I was fortunate enough to see Patkin perform during an Orlando Sun Rays game at Tinker Field in Orlando, FL. Patkin’s act was shown in several scenes and Patkin himself got to dance with the leading lady later in the movie.

While it was clear that Patkin was closer to the end of his performing career than the beginning by the time Bull Durham came out it, to this day when I watch his performance scenes it is like I am right there watching him in person and trying to avoid getting sprayed by his water trick.

Although Patkin died in 1999,  he will forever live on in his scenes from Bull Durham. That is both a testament to the man himself and to the filmmakers for recognizing the important role he played in conveying the essence of Minor League Baseball.

Another staple of both the movie and Minor League Baseball in general is road trips on a bus. Unlike the Major League players who travel in first class chartered planes, the Minor League players arrive by bus for all of their road trips.

When Michael Jordan tried to make it as a baseball player in the late 80′s he bought a luxury bus for the Birmingham Barons to use. Still despite the “luxury” bus features it is hard to picture Air Jordan traveling through the cities of the Southern League in a bus.

As for the bus that was used in the movie, that was purchased by a man named Dale Earnhardt Jr. Earnhardt is someone who knows a thing or two about motorized vehicles.

While Bull Durham has stood the test of time for over 25 years, every once in a while a rumor surfaces about a potential sequel being made. Sequels can certainly be tricky business as few ever really are as good as the first or meet the lofty expectations set for them.

But, even with all of that being said I would still watch a sequel to Bull Durham. Do I think it could ever be as good as the first movie? Probably not. But, it does not have to be as good as the first movie. It just needs to help show where the characters ended up some 25 years after we left them on the porch and field.

I have my own ideas about what happened to the characters so if a sequel is never made I will still carry on my version of the story in my head. But it would be nice to see the cast get back together for one more trip around the bases.

Now if you’ll excuse me I am off to swing for the fences and see if I can hit the bull to win a steak. And remember “This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.”

Copyright 2016 R. Anderson

Today’s Movie on the Countdown Answers What Happens When One Builds it

Editor’s Note: In the spirit of seeking sunshine during a gray winter, and to help usher in the upcoming baseball season we will be counting down our favorite baseball movies for the next three weeks.. Today’s choice of silver screen Baseball goodness asks the question of whether they really will come if you build it.

Our last entry on the countdown, Major League, was about humor pure and simple.

Today as we inch closer to Opening Day we switch from humor back to more serious subject matter with an added hint of the supernatural rolled in with Field of Dreams the story about an Iowa corn field and what happens when “you build it.”

Field of Dreams was Kevin Costner’s second baseball related movie and celebrated its 25th anniversary on April 21, 2014.

Field of Dreams asks viewers to go the distance in a charming baseball fantasy. Photo R. Anderson
Field of Dreams asks viewers to go the distance in a charming baseball fantasy.
Photo R. Anderson

Following the exploits of an Iowa farmer who hears voices that tell him to plow over his crop of corn and build a baseball diamond to allow the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson and his friends to play on it, the movie deals with second chances and following one’s heart which is a central theme of many of the movies on our countdown.

With superb performances from James Earl Jones, Burt Lancaster, and Ray Liotta rounding out the cast, the film delves into topics of faith and belief in both a simpler time in baseball as well as each of us.

There are of course elements in the movie that could never happen in real life regardless of how many voices we hear in the corn fields of life, but the belief that things like the ones depicted in the movie could happen somewhere are part of what make the movie one of the all-time bests.

Each of our inner children want to believe that somewhere there is a “field of dreams” where we can relive our happiest experiences and perhaps avoid some of the sadder times in life.

For some that field is a baseball diamond. For others the field might be somewhere where we can spend a little more time with a loved one who is no longer with us.

The movie tackles each of those elements perfectly and never really spends too much time explaining the supernatural elements of the film and they never seem too over the top.

It just feels natural that there could be a cornfield in Iowa that is cosmically linked somehow to allow ballplayers to be young once more and enjoy the simple joy of “having a catch.”

There are certainly plenty of emotional moments in the movie and despite Tom Hanks’ proclamation in A League of Their Own that “there is no crying in baseball” there are still certain scenes in Field of Dreams that get me a little watery eyed each time that I see them.

That of course is the mark of a good movie that even after seeing it countless times over the past quarter century the emotional elements still run true and can elicit a reaction despite knowing what is coming.

And of course coming is a central theme of the movie with the whole “build it and he will come approach.”

Or to put it in the words of James Earl Jones’ character…

“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.”

While the above monologue has become one of the most memorable elements of the movie, it should be noted that James Earl Jones was convinced that it would never make the final film . Thankfully for the fans of the movie and baseball it did not end up on the cutting room floor.

Perhaps no other sport is as linked with feelings of nostalgia as baseball is and Field of Dreams taps into that nostalgia in a way that is not over the top or judgmental. It just feels as comforting as a worn glove when the leather is broken in at just the right amount or perhaps like a baseball cap where the bill is curved at just the right angle to keep the glare of the sun at bay.

If you have not already done so, you should “go the distance” and add Field of Dreams to your movie viewing habits.

As for the actual field used in the movie, it is still set up for visitors. Plans were even announced to have a professional baseball team play at the complex.

There are questions as to whether that will happen but regardless of whether or not professional baseball comes to the Iowa corn field, fans of the movie will continue to make their way to the hallowed ground from the film that sparked their memories of summer days gone by.

Now if you’ll excuse me I need to get ready to go the distance to some Spring Training games.

Copyright 2016 R. Anderson

Today’s Baseball Movie Countdown Entry is Winning

Editor’s Note: In the spirit of seeking sunshine during a gray winter, and to help usher in the upcoming baseball season we will be counting down our favorite baseball movies for the next three weeks. Today’s choice of silver screen Baseball goodness is a Major League triple play.

Sometimes a baseball movie should just be about pure unadulterated humor. Yes, baseball is big business but it is also still a game, and games are meant to be fun.

With the spirit of fun in mind our focus turns to Major League the story of a rag tag group of players uniting for a common goal against a common enemy in the form of their team owner.

Baseball Monday has a triple play of Major League starring Charlie Sheen. Photo R. Anderson
Baseball Monday has a triple play of Major League starring Charlie Sheen.
Photo R. Anderson

For the strict humor baseball movies it is hard to top Major League.

Add to the equation that Charlie “Tiger Blood” Sheen did all of his own pitching in the film and you have the makings of a cinematic classic.

The movie follows the Cleveland Indians as they are in rebuilding mode following the death of their long-time owner.

The late owner’s widow has a plan to move the team from Cleveland to Miami. The catch in that plan is that they have to be the worst team in baseball in order to get out of their stadium lease.

To accomplish this goal the owner invites the worst players she can find to the team thinking that it will be a slam dunk to be so bad that a move to Miami can occur.

Of course at the time that the move came out the Marlins and Rays were not yet playing so the idea of moving a team to Florida was somewhat new and in the years that followed several teams used a move to Florida as a bargaining chip to get a better stadium deal back home.

In the end the players learn of the plot and in true underdog fashion they find a way to make it to the playoffs despite the strong odds against them.

In addition to Charlie Sheen as Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn the movie includes performances by Dennis “That Allstate Insurance guy” Haysbert, Wesley Snipes, Rene Russo, Tom Berenger, and most notably Bob “Just a bit outside” Uecker.

Uecker’s performance as the Indians play by play announcer, Harry Doyle, introduced so many quotable moments that they are forever etched in the lexicon of many fans of both the movie and baseball.

It is hard to watch a wild pitch to this day without uttering the phrase, “Just a bit outside.”

Of course a particularly rough outing from a pitcher with control issues can lead to uttering, “ball eight,” as well.

While I am sure that Uecker’s real life calls of the Milwaukee Brewers are not quite as over the top as his performance in Major League I have often wanted to hear him call a Brewers game just to be sure.

Baseball movies throughout the years have included great performances by real announcers that are able to let loose and play a slightly funnier version of themselves and Uecker definitely used every second of screen time to his advantage.

Major League begat two sequels that while not quite as funny as the original are certainly worth viewing as well.

There are even some rumors floating around of another sequel with the original cast returning but one really wonders how much comedic gas they could have left in the tank although I certainly could go for some more calls from Harry Doyle and am also curious to see if Charlie Sheen can still bring the heat.

Copyright 2016 R. Anderson