You’re Killing Me, Smalls!: Let’s Play in THE SANDLOT (20th Century-Fox 1993)


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Baseball movies are as American as apple pie, and everyone has their favorites, from classic era films like THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES and TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME to latter-day fare like THE NATURAL and FIELD OF DREAMS. There’s so much to choose from, comedies, dramas, and everything in-between. One of my all-time favorites is 1993’s coming of age classic, THE SANDLOT.

Like most baseball movies, THE SANDLOT is about more than just The Great American Pastime. Director David Mickey Evans’ script (co-written with Robert Gunter) takes us back to 1962, as young Scotty Smalls has moved to a brand new neighborhood in a brand new city. His dad died, and his mom (Karen Allen of NATIONAL LAMPOON’S ANIMAL HOUSE fame) has remarried preoccupied Bill (young comedian Denis Leary…. hmmm, I wonder what ever happened to him??), who tries to teach the nerdy kid how to play…

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RIP Pumpsie Green


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Most people these days think of Boston (and the Northeast as a whole) as a modern Athens, the standard bearer for progressive, liberal thinking. But it wasn’t always so. The City of Boston in the 1950’s and 60’s was a hotbed of racial tensions, with frequent rioting over such issues as forced busing and integration. While Jackie Robinson was the first black player to break the Major League Baseball color barrier in 1947, the Boston Red Sox (owned by avowed racist Tom Yawkey) didn’t add a player of color until 1959. That player’s name was Elijah “Pumpsie” Green.

Green was born October 27, 1933 in the small town of Boley, Oklahoma. As a youth, he excelled at sports, as did his brother Cornell, who wound up playing 13 seasons as a Defensive Back for the Dallas Cowboys. After playing college ball at Contra Costa, Pumpsie turned pro in 1954, and…

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I Watched Hero


Joe Finn (Burgess Jenkins) used to the best Little League coach in the state.  That was until he decided to leave his family to seek fame and fortune in the Big Leagues.  After his wife dies of cancer, Joe returns home to discover that his teenage son, David (Justin Miles), wants nothing to do with him.  Determined to stick around and repair his relationship with David, Joe tries to return to coaching Little League but he discovers that things have changed since he left.  Runners aren’t allowed to take a lead off base.  Pitchers can only pitch for one inning at a time.  Practice can only last an hour a day.

That’s not real baseball!

Joe decides to start his own league, one where pitchers can pitch multiple innings, bases can be stolen, there’s no such thing as a tied game, and everyone practices daily for three hours.  To be a part of the league, the players not only have to get their fathers to agree to come to every game but also to practice with them at home.  It’s not going to be easy.  One player’s father is always busy with his job as the warden of the local prison.  Another player’s father is an inmate in that same prison.  But Joe is determined to teach his players and their fathers about both baseball and life.

Hero‘s a sweet movie and it made a good point about the importance of not only allowing kids to truly compete but also about teaching them the importance of both winning and losing with dignity and sportmanship.  It shows why baseball is important but why it’s also just as important to play a real game instead of a toned down version.  Burgess Jenkins, who used to play Billy Abbott on The Young and The Restless, is convincing as a coach and Justin Miles does a good job as his son.  My only problem with the film is that it spent so much time emphasizing that the fathers needed to come to their son’s games that I felt like it shortchanged all of the moms who have been there for their children whenever a father couldn’t or wouldn’t be.  Anyone who has ever been to a real little league game (or just a soccer match) knows that a mom can get just as into the game as a father.

People who complain about “participation trophies” will probably respond best to this film’s message but there’s also enough action of the field that people who just like baseball movies might enjoy it as well.

I Watched The Phenom


The Phenom is a movie that really took me by surprise.

It’s about a pitcher named Hopper Gibson (Johnny Simmons), a kid just out of high school who has a 100 mile fastball and a big future in major league baseball.  However, after a promising start, Hopper is struggling.  He has control issues.  He’s throwing wild pitches.  He’s losing games.  The team finally sends Hopper to see Dr. Mobley (Paul Giamatti), a sports psychologist who say that he can help Hopper regain his focus.

Hopper has a lot to deal with.  He’s still just a teenager but he feels like he has the weight of the world on his shoulders.  He promised his mom that he’d buy her a new house and, at the same time, the press is constantly hounding him and demanding that he give them a good quote every time that he loses a game.  Meanwhile, Hopper’s father (Ethan Hawke), who has always put tremendous pressure on his son, is failed ball player himself and a drug dealer.  Hopper finds himself torn between two philosophies, his father’s belief that winning is the only thing that matter and Dr. Mobley’s more gentle approach to the game.  The problem is that, with everyone wanting someone from him, Hopper doesn’t know who he can trust.

The Phenom is a baseball movie and the main character is a pitcher but hardly any of the action takes place on the mound.  Instead, most of the movie takes place in either Dr. Mobley’s office or in Hopper’s head.  The Phenom does a good job of showing the type of daily pressure that Hopper is living under.  All of his life, everyone has told Hopper that he has a special gift and now, he’s so scared of not living up to his potential that he can’t get the ball across the plate.  At the same time, the film is also critical about the the emphasis that society puts on celebrities and professional athletes.  While Hopper goes into the major leagues straight out of high school, his valedictorian girlfriend struggles to pay for college.  Because Hopper can throw a fastball, no one has ever cared about whether or not he actually got an education.  But what’s going to become of Hopper and all the professional athletes like him when they can no longer play the game?  Hopper is a kid who was always told that he would never have to grow up and now, he’s expected to make adult decisions about the rest of his life.

Johnny Simmons does a really good job playing Hopper and the film really makes you think about the pressure that society puts on professional athletes to constantly win.  Most people can get away with having a bad day but, if a pitcher or a quarterback does it, the whole world wants their head.  The next time I want to yell at whoever’s pitching for the Rangers, I’m going to remember Hopper and this movie.

The Phenom was directed and written by Noah Buschel and it is currently streaming on Netflix.

The Great American Pastime: IT HAPPENED IN FLATBUSH (20th Century-Fox 1942)


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Major League Baseball’s Opening Day has finally arrived! It’s a tradition as American as Apple Pie, and so is IT HAPPENED IN FLATBUSH, a baseball movie about a lousy team in Brooklyn whose new manager takes them to the top of the heap. The team’s not explicitly called the Dodgers and the manager’s not named Leo Durocher, but their improbable 1941 pennant winning season is exactly what inspired this charmingly nostalgic little movie.

When Brooklyn’s manager quits the team, dowager team owner Mrs. McAvoy seeks out ex-player Frank Maguire, who seven years earlier was run out of town when an unfortunate error cost the team the pennant. She finds him running a club out in the sticks, and convinces him to come back to the Big Leagues. He does, bringing along his faithful bat boy/sidekick ‘Squint’, and just before the season’s about to begin, Mrs. McAvoy abruptly dies. Her family…

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Scenes That I Love: The Ending of Eight Men Out


In just a few more hours, the 2019 MLB regular season will begin when the Mariners’s Ichiro Suzuki tosses out the first pitch of the season.  The Mariners and the A’s will be playing a pair of games in Japan, at the Tokyo Dome.  In America, it will be around four in the morning when that first pitch is thrown so I’ll probably miss it.

Even if I might not be able to watch the opening pitch, I can still watch my favorite baseball movie, Eight Men OutEight Men Out is about the 1919 World Series and how eight members of the Chicago White Sox were accused of conspiring with gamblers to throw the championship.  While everyone agrees that most of the players were guilty, Eight Men Out suggests that both Shoeless Joe Jackson and Buck Weaver were wrongly accused and, unlike the other players, should not have been banned from playing in the major leagues.

The final scene of Eight Men Out takes place several years after the scandal.  A group of baseball fans think that they’ve spotted Shoeless Joe playing for a semi-professional team.  While they debate whether or not that’s really Shoeless Joe, Jackson’s old teammate, Buck Weaver, tells them that there will never be another player as great as Joe Jackson.  John Cusack plays Weaver while D.B. Sweeney plays Jackson.

Finally, it’s time for baseball!

GO RANGERS!