Sunday Rewind: “My Favorite Baseball Movie”
With so many MLB bloggers posting their favorite baseball movies the past few days, I thought I might have to include my personal favorite baseball movie that I watch almost institutionally before Spring Training. It is a movie that almost everyone knows, but might not put at the top of their prospective “All-Time” lists. I put the German versions DVD cover on the top of the blog to show you that this movie has made the move to the International audience, and is not just a US baseball classic movie.
So far this off season, I have watched this movie only about 6 times, but the movie never seems to become dull to me. Maybe it is the fact that I try and find something new within the film that I have not seen in other viewings. But beyond all of that, “For the Love of the Game ” is by far my “go-to” movie when it comes to baseball.
I actually see this classic as two movies in one: A Baseball movie and a romance. The sporting sequences featuring the “live action” in the film are definitely worth the price of admission. A Little known fact here, Kevin Costner actually threw every pitch you see in the movie. He did not use a “stunt” pitcher, but wanted a realism that only the actor actually throwing his pitches could provide to the audience. Every pitch came from his shoulder and there is not a single frame of CGI magic or differentail photographic magic to render his image over another pitcher’s body. It was all Costner….All the time.
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 seems to have been born to play. He is that type of actor that you can believe in this role. You could believe that he was the character, and not just someone propped up on the mound for publicity shots. And he is 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 romantic angle. I can also see him in a relationship with a woman as complex and beautiful as Kelly Preston in real life.
Most of the solid relationships with women who are attracted to baseball players that seem to succeed in baseball are by women who are attracted to the way you play the game and not just by the way you look in your uniform on the field.
That is why the romantic scenes make sense to me in the film. 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 get beyond that first “hello”..
It seems on the personal level that aging pitcher Billy Chapel (Costner) is having a completely rotten day. He finds out that the only team he has ever played for, his beloved Detroit Tigers are being sold and that the new ownership group wants to trade him to the San Francisco Giants at the end of that season. And if that might not derail a normal person for one day, he also learns that his love interest girlfriend Jane (Preston) is moving to England to begin her career dream job. But the third strike in all of this is that Chapel is scheduled to pitch his final start of a losing season for the Tigers against the hated Yankees and his mind is not in the game.
I actually took it as life reflective moments that we all have had at some point in our lives. You get a better sense of Chapel because of the flashback sequences where you see his past career highlights (Tigers World Series appearance), his remorse and regrets, plus his accident in the off season at his winter lodge that could have derailed his baseball career.
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. Kevin Costner suffers from “Movie Star Syndrome”. When he plays a real character, like in the film “Tin Cup’, he shines brightly. 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 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 ala Jose 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 the guy the rest of the series.