My Favorite Costner Baseball Flick

 

With so many  of us within the MLB blogging Universe, we all have our own favorite baseball movies. They can be the old balck and white classics like “Pride of the Yankees“, or “Fear Strikes Out“, or maybe a new bree of movie like the 2010 release “Perfect Game“.

No matter what the title or the premise of the movie, it is the elements within that movie that make it special to us. It can be the way the characters fight through adversity, toil through heartache and misery, or just the joy of wathcing a team achieve their highest expecations. Baseball movies get us back in a groove, a pattern and make us enjoy the game even more the next time we view our favorite National pasttime. 

My personal all-time favorite movie that I tend to watch institutionally before Spring Training, and even during the Major League Baseball season is a movie that everyone knows, but might not put on the top of their own prospective lists. I put the German version of the DVD cover on the top of the blog to show you that this movie has made its move to International status, and is not just a America only baseball classic.

 I have seen this movie only about 6 times this season (even on cable twice) and the movie never seems to become dull to me. Maybe it is the fact that in each viewing, I sometimes try and  search for something new I have not seen in other viewings.Maybe within the background, or in the way the game is played. Beyond all of that,
For the Love of the Game  is by and far my favorite ” go-to ” movie when it comes to baseball and had always renewed and brought me back to why I love the game.



I actually see “For the Love of the Game” as two types of movies combined into one: A Baseball movie with a perfect romance angle to make both men and women enjoy the film. The sporting sequences are easily worth the price of admission. Little known fact here, Kevin Costner actually threw every pitch you see in the movie. He did not use a “stunt” pitcher ro any type of double in the making of the film. Every pitch came from his own shoulder and there is nor CGI magic or photographic magic to render his image over another pitcher’s body.

That is one of the elements of the film that truly spells out the love that Costner has deep within himself for the game of baseball. I know you might think that this is a fantasy role 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, in this film you can visualize he is 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 movie’s drawing point, the romance. I can also see him with a woman as complex and beautiful as Jane (Kelly Preston) in real life. I got a chance to meet his wife (by accident) at the Rays Rally in November 2007. Costner definitely 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. Some are there for the right reasons, to be your friend and want the best for you, but there are also the negative fans and people who seem to attach themselves to you who want other things.



But most that walk up and introduce themselves to a MLB player are people who love the way you play the game, but women tend to love the way you fill out your uniform just as much sometimes. 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. For the record, I tossed the phone number a few minutes later into a trash can. She was a beautiful woman, but the vibe I got from here spelled out T-R-O-U-B-L-E. 

That is a main reason why the romantic scenes 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. But there are always those who will try to push temptation to its threshold and you have to establish clear and defined lines with anyone you keep in your circle.

 

Being a bit of a Rays Renaissance man myself, I can dig a good romance movie especially if there is a sports angle to it. While this movie isn’t perfect, it’s a great “compromise video choice” for couples to watch anytime, and anywhere. 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 in pulling off a little for both sides of the couch in the film.

Aging pitcher Billy Chapel ( Costner ) is having one perfectly 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 that season. If that doesn’t seem to derail your mental confusion for one day, Chapel then learns that his New York girlfriend Jane 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 another losing season for the Tigers during that same day against his arch nemesis, the New York Yankees, and he’s basically in a sour and frazzled state of mind.

Through the course of Billy’s game day preparations and the unfolding of the game itself, the movie flashes back and forth to earlier points in his baseball career. While most of these deal with his romance with Jane, some are memories of close team friendships and some of the unhappy decisions that come with the game. 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 these momentary laspes back into Chapel’s  off the field persona as reflective moments that we all have at various points in our day. A simple 30 second day dream can sometimes take you out of the dumps or even elevate your mood and confidence before going into the boss’s office.

The moments in this picture that bring a truer focus of Chapel’s personal demons and regrets  are poised around these numerous flashbacks. You get a better sense of Chapel’s life because of the sequences where you can see his past  career highlights ( Tigers World Series appearance with his parents in attendence), his regrets and his workshop accident in the off season at his winter lodge that alienated Chapel and Jane.


 
I fall personally into the latter category, I enjoy that kind of playful reflection into a character and I actually find the movie a better picture because it is played out like elements of the game as Chapel pitches in the contest. 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 ).

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. One great hostoric note in this film is that it wll be the last time you will ever see the glorious,cavernous Tigers Stadium on film,and that is another tasty treat to baseball history buffs.

Costner does play Billy as a bit melancholy and with numerous regretful moments, which is the very types of personality elements that cause him so much trouble in his love life in this film. Unfortunately Costner never seems to fully loosen up at all. He’s always stoic and mellow  wqith a wall of steel up to outsiders. He offers up the typical “Don’t get too close to me or I’ll end up hurting you” role with his usual professionalism, but he would seem more real if he just smiled maybe twice.

Kevin Costner sometimes seems to suffer from the classic “Movie Star Syndrome”. When he plays a real character, like in “Tin Cup“, he shines like the Sun. While she’s no Oscar threat here herself, Kelly Preston easily holds her own as Jane, although her character is a bit underwritten for the female lead a romantic film. I know a few ofthe Rays wive’s, and they are strong women who can hold their own in almost any situation. But Jane has a sense of vulnerability that make you want to see her get Chapel in the end.  



What matters most in a baseball 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’. Just watch films like “Fools Rush In” or Costner’s own “Message in a Bottle” for examples of this type of 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 ) and is one of the best bankable female romantic leads we have today. 

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 Tiger’s rookie is playing in the outfield in Fenway Park, and a ball ends up bouncing off his head like it did for 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 rightfield 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.

 

While “For the Love of the Game” might not compare favorable in most people’s eyes within the same breath as some of Costner’s other impressive baseball works like “Bull Durham or “Field of Dreams”, the true test to if you might love this movie is the simple fact that you want to or can believe that Chapel can evolve during this movie. I actually see  a transformation within the films itself of Chapel morphing 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, you see the relevation on his face. And as an athlete, that magical moment is a huge thing. In regards to baseball movies, neither one of the above films can claim to have as romantic a heartfelt center and soul as “For the Love of the Game” . Since the Rays play late today I am heading to the store right now for popcorn, peanuts and some Dr. Pepper. Maybe a evening showing of the film before the Rays take the field is in the cards for this evening. Yes, definitely in the cards, but mostly because I love the game.

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