Baseball Movie Countdown is a real Natural

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 was literally a natural to include on the countdown.

Last time on our Baseball Movie countdown we looked at Moneyball which showed the future of the game of baseball through the use of advance metrics.

Today it is only natural to balance things out a little bit by looking at a film that celebrates the pre sabermetrics Golden Age of baseball.

Roy Hobbs and his bat named “Wonderboy” anchor The Natural which is a tale of making the most of second chances and knocking out a few stadium lights in the process.

The movie came out in 1984 and is an adaptation of Bernard Malamud’s 1952 baseball novel of the same name.

At the cork core of the Natural is a story about a man, his homemade bat and some sparks on and off of the field. Photo R. Anderson
At the cork core of the Natural is a story about a man, his homemade bat and some sparks on and off of the field.
Photo R. Anderson

Starring Robert Redford, Glenn Close, Wilfred Brimley, Kim Bassinger and Robert Duvall the movie recounts the experiences of Roy Hobbs, a player in the 1930’s with great “natural” talent, and questionable decision making when it comes to members of the opposite sex.

After being shot when he was 19 by a crazed female fan, Hobbs makes a comeback attempt in his mid-thirties with the New York Knights managed by Pop Fisher (played by Brimley).

There are of course many baseball clichés included in the movie from the grizzled “seen it all manager” to the “intrepid baseball reporter” looking for a scoop, but all in all the clichés do not distract from the overall tone of the story.

And the movie’s climax is certainly one for the ages with the cascade of sparks falling down from the busted stadium lights after Hobbs hits the home run as the iconic music plays in the background.

It is an iconic scene in and iconic film and certainly one to remember.

The music from that iconic scene can be heard at Ranger Ballpark in Arlington whenever a member of the home team sends one over the outfield fence.

I am sure there are other teams that do the same thing but the only one I have seen do it in person is the Rangers.

Admittedly I am sure many of us have hummed along to that song after achieving some feat of skill or other accomplishment while picturing a shower of sparks falling around us.

Some days just getting out of bed can be cause for humming the theme to The Natural as we make our way around the base path of life.

In addition to creating lasting memories of home runs that knock out the stadium lights the film was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Supporting Actress (Glenn Close), and nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress (Kim Basinger).

So with all of that in its corner it would be only natural for The Natural to make our countdown.

Now if you’ll excuse, I need to go dodge a shower of sparks.

Copyright 2016 R. Anderson

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Baseball Movie Countdown gets Analytical with Moneyball

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 travel to the land of sabermetrics.

In the Dr. Seuss classic Green Eggs and Ham,  one of the characters goes into great poetic details on the many ways that he does not like eating green eggs and ham.

While I will spare you the poetic prose on the topic I will say that the way that character felt about green eggs and ham is very much like how I fell about sabermetrics, or the heart of over-analyzing baseball to the point where players become merely plots on a spreadsheet.

Few people can argue that the game of baseball was forever changed when the sabermetrics element of the game was moved from the back rooms, and fantasy baseball leagues to the general manager’s office.

Like it or not the advanced analytics are here to stay and are featured in the movie Moneyball which is the true story of how one team’s front office broke with tradition by using charts and graphs to build a team in a way that changed the game of baseball.

The film is based on Michael Lewis’s 2003 book, Moneyball, which follows the Oakland Athletics 2002 season and general manager Billy Beane’s (Played by Brad Pitt in the movie) attempts to assemble a competitive team through non-conventional means.

Instead of relying on the eyes and ears of baseball scouts on the road, the new analytical baseball method relied on computer programs showing where certain players excelled based on historical averages and on base percentage.

Moneyball starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill star in Moneyball which brings the world of sabermetrics to the big screen. Photo R. Anderson
Moneyball starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill star in Moneyball which brings the world of sabermetrics to the big screen.
Photo R. Anderson

The idea behind this new approach was that small market teams could spend more wisely on players who got on base more often instead of trying to go dollar to dollar with big market teams who spent more on a single player than many teams spent on their entire rosters.

While a new concept when it was introduced by the Athletics in the 1980’s, almost every team today using sabermetrics to one degree or another to build their rosters each year.

Whether sabermetrics is good for baseball in the long run is still up for debate. It has certainly allowed many smaller market teams the ability to be competitive and stand toe to toe with the big spenders in baseball for the past few decades.

The big spending teams are still around but through Moneyball inspired roster building a few smaller teams have found ways to crash the playoff party now and then.

Of course even the big spending teams have adapted some of the sabermetric philosophies including the Boston Red Sox who used a variation of the Oakland formula to compile the roster that won the 2004 World Series.

While the past few decades have certainly proven that sabermetrics is certainly not going away any time soon, for those wanting to see how it all began Moneyball is the way to go.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all this talk about statistics and math has me feeling a bit queasy.

Copyright 2016 R. Anderson

 

Baseball Movie Countdown is in Love with the Game

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 explore the first side of the Kevin Costner Baseball Movie triangle..

Kevin Costner has made three baseball movies in his career playing a Minor League catcher who creates rain delays and catch phrases, a farmer who hears voices in the corn and builds a ballpark, and a Major League pitcher who dates John Travolta’s wife.

Today we are focusing on the movie where he played a pitcher, For Love of the Game, which also happened to be the newest of the three Costner baseball movies.

By the time the third leg of the Costner baseball triangle rolled around though it was clear that he did not have much left in the tank.

The third side of the Kevin Costner baseball triangle is For Love of the Game. Photo R. Anderson
The third side of the Kevin Costner baseball triangle is For Love of the Game.
Photo R. Anderson

While Bull Durham and Field of Dreams provided entertainment from start to finish, along with a few tears, For Love of the Game has moments where it turns into that extra inning game that you just want to end so you can fight the traffic and go home.

Still, it is hard to not count the complete Costner trilogy in a listing of baseball movies since each one contributes pieces to the entire picture.

The movie focuses on Costner as a 40 year-old pitcher for the Detroit Tigers.

Throughout the course of pitching what could be the final game of his career Costner flashes back to various points of his career both on and off the field and thinks about the events that made him the person that he became.

The movie is helped by the presence of Vin Scully calling the on-field action as only Vin Scully can.

When the day comes where Vin Scully is no longer able to call baseball games it is nice to know that his voice will live on not only through his massive archive of actual games called but through a few silver screen games as well.

There truly is no one left in the world of baseball who calls a game like Vin Scully.

Of course For Love of the Game is not just a baseball movie.

Like the previous movie on our countdown, Fever Pitch, For Love of the Game probably could also fall into the romantic category but as Fred Savage’s character in The Princess Bride comes to learn, you likely won’t mind the “mushy stuff” as the movie draws to its conclusion.

The baseball action is strong for the most part and the flashbacks do not seem to water down the present day action.

Not to give anything away for those who have not seen the movie but viewers are rewarded in the end of the film in much the same way that a fan is rewarded with a walkoff home run after watching a 21-inning game into the wee hours of the morning.

Again, For Love of the Game is not Kevin Costner’s strongest baseball movie, but it does deserve a place on the shelf next to the other two sides of the Costner baseball triangle. And of course like I said there is Vin Scully to listen to so one really can’t go wrong there.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to listen to some vintage Vin Scully broadcasts.

Copyright 2016 R. Anderson

Our Yearly Movie Countdown is Feeling Feverish for the Red Sox

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 travel to Red Sox Nation on the big screen.

In the movie What About Bob?, the title character, played by Bill Murray, sums up the world as being comprised of two types of people, those who love Neil Diamond, and those who do not.

My aunt falls into the category of someone who loves Neil Diamond. Her love of all things Neil Diamond goes so far as having “Sweet Caroline” as the ringtone on her phone.

While this causes some members of the family to burst out into fits of side splitting laughter whenever she gets a call, it is something that she enjoys.

Like Neil Diamond, one tends to either love or hate the Boston Red Sox. It probably is not too surprising then that Neil Diamond and the Red Sox are so intertwined that Boston Red Sox fans belt out that same Neil Diamond song as my aunt’s ringtone during every home game.

While the Red Sox have a long history of winning, they also had a long period of “cursed” play where the diehard fans wondered if their beloved BoSox would ever hoist the World Series trophy again.

The world of a Boston Red Sox fan is explored in the baseball movie, Fever Pitch. Photo R. Anderson
The world of a Boston Red Sox fan is explored in the baseball movie, Fever Pitch.
Photo R. Anderson

After winning World Series titles in 2004, 2007 and 2013, the Red Sox have certainly been on a bit of a winning streak lately.

But before the start of the winning streak, members of Red Sox nation had to look towards the silver screen to see a place where the Sox could be champions.

Enter the movie Fever Pitch which explores the fanatical side of Boston Red Sox fandom while also exploring interpersonal human relationships in the form of a baseball Rom Com, or romantic comedy.

At its surface the terms romantic comedy and baseball should not really be uttered in the same breath. But upon deeper inspection, one can accept that baseball fans have long had a romance with the game that often starts when they catch their first game or pick up a ball and glove for the first time.

In Fever Pitch, the romance is between a Red Sox loving man, played by Jimmy Fallon, and the conflict that arises as he tries to choose between his love of his team and the pressure he feels to grow up.

The movie resonates with fans in different ways depending on where they see themselves along the spectrum.

For some people at a crossroads they can think about whether they need to give up their childhood love of the game and get a real job.

For others watching, perhaps they long for a return to when they loved the game as much as the characters in the film.

Others may be somewhere in the middle finding balance between a so called normal life and support of the home team.

Regardless of where one stands in terms of their personal baseball journey, Fever Pitch offers a glimpse into a year of fandom related to one of the teams with the most rabid fan bases in all of baseball.

Of course, the movie also may or may not have helped break some of those dreaded Red Sox curses so it should be a must have for any member of Sox Nation.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I suddenly have the urge to listen to some Neil Diamond.

Copyright 2016 R. Anderson

Presidents and Baseball are as American as the Fourth of July

Today is President’s Day, or Washington’s birthday as it is also known, which was set aside as a way to honor the first person who held that job .

The holiday was first thought of as a way to recognize the two presidents with birthdays in February, Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, but it has grown to include a time to honor all of the people, who have served in the nation’s highest office.

Monday we celebrate Abraham Lincoln's Birthday along with honoring every other person to occupy the Oval Office. Photo R. Anderson
Monday we celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday along with honoring every other person to occupy the Oval Office.

Through the years President’s Day has also become a time to buy furniture, appliances and cars at unheard of savings as many companies have sought to capitalize on the fact that many people have the day off of work.

While the founding fathers wanted us to enjoy various freedoms, I doubt they had no interest financing on washers and dryers in mind when they spoke of “self-evident truths.” Then again maybe they did.

So for our purposes let us not focus on the retail aspects of the holiday. Instead let us try to focus on the office of the President and what that entails.

To date, 44 men have served as President of the United States.

Later this year the United States will elect the 45th person to hold the office of President.

I was fortunate enough to come face to face with two of the men who would go on to become president although I was only old enough to remember one of them

I have been told by my mother that my first encounter with a future President was during a rally for Jimmy Carter.

Of course at the time of that rally I would have been perhaps just turning 1 so needless to say I do not recall meeting him but I am sure it was a lovely time for all.

As for the encounter with a Commander in Chief that I do recall, in 1992 I met Bill Clinton at a campaign event in Orlando, FL. While the election was still months away, and Governor Clinton had not yet become President Clinton, there was still something cool about meeting someone on the campaign trail.

Years later, meeting candidate Clinton is still one of the more memorable moments of my journalistic career. I am sure that reporters that cover the Presidents on a daily basis lose some of the wow factor at some point but there always needs to be a respect for the office at some level.

The other day I also came face to face with a Presidential motorcade as the 41’st President, George Herbert Walker Bush, had stopped for lunch at a local Italian restaurant near me.

Although other Ballparks have been used for Presidential pitches, the home Ballparks of the Washington Senators and now the Washington Nationals hold the distinction of hosting the most presidents due to the proximity to the White House. Photo R. Anderson
Although other Ballparks have been used for Presidential pitches, the home Ballparks of the Washington Senators and now the Washington Nationals hold the distinction of hosting the most presidents due to the proximity to the White House.
Photo R. Anderson

Beyond getting to close down a restaurant so you can eat pasta in private, there are many other perks that come with residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington D.C.

One of those perks is throwing the ceremonial first pitch each year on Opening Day.

President William Howard Taft started the ceremonial first pitch tradition in 1910 linking the Commander in Chief with the National Pastime ever since.

While the first pitch did not occur until 1910 the link between Presidents and baseball actually goes back to post Civil War America when Andrew Johnson invited the first team of professional ballplayers to the White House.

The first presidential first pitch occurred on April 14, 1910, at National Park in Washington, DC. during a game between the Washington Senators and the Philadelphia Athletics with Taft connecting on the pitch to Walter Johnson.

The Senators moved to Minnesota to become the Twins and the Athletics packed up and headed west to Oakland but the one constant for over a century has been presidents and baseball.

From 1910 to 1971 the President traveled to the home ballpark of the Washington Senators to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day.

To put that streak into perspective it stretched from Taft to Richard Nixon.

While Presidents had thrown out first pitches at the World Series as well President Nixon became the first president to throw out an Opening Day pitch outside of Washington D.C. in 1972 when he threw out the pitch in Anaheim, California since there was no longer a team in Washington.

Before becoming the 41st President of the United States George Herbert Walker Bush was a baseball player at Yale University. Photo R. Anderson
Before becoming the 41st President of the United States George Herbert Walker Bush was a baseball player at Yale University.
Photo R. Anderson

Various other ballparks were used for Opening Day after 1972 but Baltimore and Washington D.C. were the most widely used due to proximity to the White House.

For around 70 years the first pitch was thrown from the stands. Bill Clinton became the first president to throw from the mound and each president since has also toed the rubber on their pitch.

The Presidential links to baseball are not limited to first pitches alone however. Both President Bush 41 and President Bush 43 also have deep baseball roots.

George H.W. Bush was a baseball player in college at Yale and can often be seen behind home plate at Houston Astros games, when he is not having lunch at local Italian restaurants that is.

Before becoming governor of Texas en route to the White House, George W. Bush served as the owner of the Texas Rangers who relocated from Washington D.C. in 1971. Photo R. Anderson
Before becoming governor of Texas en route to the White House, George W. Bush served as the owner of the Texas Rangers who relocated from Washington D.C. in 1971.
Photo R. Anderson

It is also a given that if both President Bush and his wife, Barbara, are seated together they will end up on the Ballpark’s kiss cam.

George W. Bush also has a baseball pedigree. Before becoming governor of Texas en route to the White House, the younger President Bush served as the owner of the Texas Rangers who, as one may or not know were once the expansion team that replaced the first version of the Washington Senators who left town to become the Minnesota Twins. It is sort of a neat bow to tie it all together.

So during this time that we honor our Presidents, let us not forget that soon it will once again be Opening Day and when the President steps onto the mound to throw that first pitch he will be continuing a long standing tradition that honors both the past, present and future of both the Oval Office and the game of baseball itself.

Now if you’ll excuse me I think I need to practice my pitching just in case I am ever called on to throw out a first pitch. After all, no one wants to be the person who inadvertently hits the mascot during the opening pitch a la Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh of Bull Durham fame.

Copyright 2016 R. Anderson