My Favorite Baseball Flick
With so many MLB bloggers posting their favorite baseball movies the past few days, I thought I might have to include my personal favorite movie that I have to watch almost institutionally before Spring Training. It is a movie that everyone knows, but might not put on the top of their prospective lists. I put the German version DVD cover on the top of the blog to show you that this movie has made the move to International, and is not just a US baseball classic.
To count, I have seen this movie only about 6 times this past off season, but the movie never seems to be dull to me. Maybe it is the fact that in each viewing, I sometimes try and find something new I have not seen in other viewings. But beyond all of that, For the Love of the Game is by and far my favorite ” go-to ” movie when it comes to baseball.
I actually see this movie as two movies in one: A Baseball movie and a romance. The sporting sequences are easily worth the price of admission. Little known fact here, Costner threw every pitch you see in the movie. He did not use a “stunt” pitcher. Every pitch came from his shoulder and there is nor CGI magic or photographic magic to render his image over another pitcher’s body.
That to me spells out the love that Costner truly has for the game of baseball. I know you might think that this is a fantasy for him, and it is, but it is also the type of role that he is born to play. He is that type of guy you can believe in this role. Not like some other sports movies made in the past, this movie you could believe that he was the character, and not just someone propped up on the mound for publicity shots. But then he is also the kind of guy you would root for if he actually had a chance at a perfect game.
As for that second part of the sequence, the romance. I can also see him with a woman as complex and beautiful as Kelly Preston in real life. I got an off chance to meet his wife, by accident at the Rays Rally in November 2007. Costner has great taste in women, I can assure you of that 100 percent. What most people do not know about professional athletes is that they do have women and people thrown at them all the time.
Most are people who have loved the way you play, but women tend to love the way you fill out your uniform. I remember when I was playing ball one time in Cincinnati this pretty little thing came up to me asking for an autograph, but the paper already had her phone number on it and I asked where she wanted me to sign since she did not want me to ruin this piece of paper. Well, let’s just say she did not have the autograph showing when I left the stadium parking lot.
That is why the romance scene actually make sense to me in the movie. I know of a few ball players on the Rays that sit in the Bullpen area and check out the stands every game. A few phone numbers have trickled down to the bench, even if they are not wanted by the players. That is a part of life playing a professional sport. Romance is on your own time, and sometimes you have to juggle a lot to even get a simple kiss.
Being the Renaissance man that I am, I can dig a good romance. Being a regular guy, I love baseball. While this movie isn’t perfect, it’s a great “compromise video choice” for couples at the video store. As tough as it seems to achieve a balance between the game sequences and the lovey-dovey stuff, director Sam Raimi acquits himself a lot better than most directors would have.
Aging pitcher Billy Chapel ( Costner ) is having one rotten day. He finds out that the only team he has ever played for, his beloved Detroit Tigers are being sold and that he’ll consequently be traded to the San Francisco Giants at the end of the season. And if that might not derail you enough for one day, he then learns that his girlfriend Jane (Preston) is moving to England to pursue her editorial dream job. (The nerve. ) But the third strike in all of this is that Chapel is scheduled to pitch his final start of a losing season during that same day, and he’s basically in a sour mood.
Through the course of Billy’s preparations and the game itself, the movie flashes back to earlier points in his career. While most of these deal with his romance with Jane, some are memories of distant friendships and unhappy decisions. Granted, the constant ‘back-and-forth’ gimmick may grow a bit tiresome, but by that point you’ll either hate the movie or be completely caught up in it.
I actually took it as reflective moments that we all have sometimes at work. A simple 30 second day dream can sometimes take you out of the dull drums or even elevate your mood and confidence before going into the boss’s office. The moments in this picture that bring the focus to the character are poised around these flashbacks. You get a better sense of the man because of the sequences you see about his past career highlights ( Tigers World Series appearance), his regrets and his accident in the off season at his winter lodge.
I fall into the latter category, I enjoy that kind of playful reflection into a character and actually find the movie a better picture because it is played out like elements of the game as he is pitching. Given some of Costner’s recent films, there’s no real reason to expect this movie to be any good. But it actually is quite an entertaining movie, thanks mainly to the direction of Sam Raimi ( The Evil Dead series, A Simple Plan ).
Whenever Dana Stevens’ (City of Angels) script veers close to true corn, Raimi pulls
up just short, flashes to the present, and presents some fantastic baseball sequences. I still think that the film crew did an outstanding job making old Tiger Stadium look like Yankees Stadium for the production. And even though they had to do multiple shots of the crowds moving around the stadium and then CGI-ing them into position all over the ballpark, it is a great job of creating the New York vibe in the film.
Costner plays Billy as melancholy and regretful, the very things that cause him so much trouble in his love life. Unfortunately ( and as usual ) Costner never loosens up at all; he’s always stoic and mellow. He offers the typical “Don’t get too close to me or I’ll end up hurting you” role with his usual professionalism, but he’d seem more real if he
smiled maybe twice. Kevin Costner suffers from “Movie Star Syndrome”. When he plays a real character, like in Tin Cup, he shines. While she’s no Oscar threat here, Kelly Preston easily holds her own as Jane, although her character is a bit underwritten for the female lead a romantic film.
What matters most in a movie like this is whether or not you care if these characters have a happy ending or not. There are several things that can ruin this for you: poor performances, a cliched and lazy script, or just an air of what I can only call ‘fakeness’. ( See Fools Rush In or Costner’s own Message in a Bottle for examples of such romantic ‘fakeness’. ) For Love of the Game avoids these romantic maladies ( for the most part ). If Costner and Preston don’t always click as a couple, that’s OK because she’s really beautiful ( I sometime hate John Travolta for getting to her first ).
If the baseball sequences seem a tad forced or convenient, that’s OK because it’s a damn well-made baseball movie. The scenes are pretty fresh. My favorite is still the one where a rookie is playing in the outfield in Fenway Park, and a ball ends up bouncing off his head aka Canseco and the Boston crowd just laugh as he looks up at them. Now I know for a fact that if that happened, it would have to be in right field at Fenway, and they would more than just laugh at or with the guy the rest of the series.
Maybe you just need to be a baseball guy like me who likes winning and happy endings, and truly loves baseball as much as breathing. But let’s put it this way: Male OR female, if you pick up the box at the video store, and it already looks pretty good to
you, you’ll like it.
In between mediocre Hollywood flicks ( I still do not get “The Bodyguard”, but have been hit in the head with the DVD a few times ) , Costner does another baseball movie. As a matter of fact, there is a rumor circulating throughout baseball circles that there might be a Bull Durham 2 being passed around as we speak. And in that movie, you might see Costner actually finally play that manager he was thinking about at the end of the original movie.
While it might not compare in the same breath as some of his other impressive baseball works like Bull Durham or Field of Dreams. But the true test to if you might love this movie is the simple fact that you want to and can believe that Chapel can evolve during the movie. I actually see this film as a morphing of him from the top flight ballplayer to finally seeing his life without the game with Jane. And in that last scene you see that he truly can let the game go without remorse or regret. And as an athlete, that is an huge thing.
As a ‘baseball movie’, neither one of the above mentioned films those can claim to have as romantic a heart and soul as For the Love of the Game does. ( Another example: If you found the previous sentence really sappy, you probably won’t like this movie, you cold-hearted cynic you. )