America’s Two Favorite Pastimes

This article is about sports and Randy Newman. Sports! And Randy Newman! And the giant beard that just grew on my face! (And movies!!)

It’s not often that I go to, typing in the URL tentatively, as if it’s an address someone has given me in an unfamiliar city, and I have to read it to the cab driver from the airport, not knowing how to pronounce the street name, and turning bright red with anxiety as he asks me to repeat myself. Once I’m actually on the website, I fumble around awkwardly, groping for something familiar in a sea of strange names, faces, and terminology. It’s not my comfort zone, but when the Philadelphia Phillies are in the playoffs (and doing rather well, I might add), my mother will literally destroy me if I do not pay attention.

No, for real. She is a very small, very bubbly woman, with wiry, superhuman strength, and I got an email from her the other day that said “Shane Victorino is my favorite person!!!!!!” and I know from experience that that many exclamation points mean business. Now that she’s retired, baseball is more important to her than ever, and she will describe an entire evening’s game play by play if you let her, which I do, when I want to get the attention off of me and why I haven’t called her in a month. So I check out for times and dates of playoff games, and then my Dodgers-fan husband and I (also in my mom’s email was the line “I’m going to have to have a little chat with Cam about his taste in baseball teams!!!!!!!!!!”) sit back and enjoy the rare moments in our life together when we have tension about sports. It’s like fighting except that while we are yelling at each other, we can watch TV and eat popsicles at the same time…and no one’s feelings ever really get hurt.

This is the kind of sport I like. It’s the only one I ever really grew up watching, and the only one I really understand, try as I might to decode football. I like the pace, slow and calculated, and I like how consistently terrible everyone’s facial hair is — how I’m so utterly thrilled with a guy who can hit a ball well despite his wagging, sculpted, chin-beard. But one of the biggest reasons that I drift towards the bearded chins this time of year is that baseball has been crafted into an even more glorious slice of old-timey Americana by the zillions of quality movies that attempt to capture the spirit, etc. And when the series is over, and the Phillies stomp back home victorious, my mom is really going to need something to watch to keep her out of the valley of post-baseball depression. Here, ball fans, is my prescription:

Eight Men Out (1988) (directed by John Sayles) – I admit, I’ve never seen this one, but my pal and RVANews contributor Sean Patrick Rhorer announced tonight that he had been an extra in this film about the Chicago Black Sox’s infamous fall from grace. While combing IMDB excitedly for his name, just now I remembered why I would be so willing to take this movie on faith and assume it was good enough to exist in the baseball pantheon. Why, the names of people who played ball in the ‘Teens of course! Charlie Sheen as Oscar “Hap” Felch! James Read as Claude “Lefty” Williams! Clifton James as Charles “Commie” Comiskey! I didn’t make this up! Plus, John Sayles is a reputable director, so I’m adding this to my queue. And we can go from there to…

Field of Dreams (1989) (directed by Phil Alden Robinson) – This one hardly needs an introduction, but it might be a neat follow-up to Eight Men Out, and definitely deserves a re-watch, no matter how many times you’ve already seen it. Plus, the impassioned monologue of James Earl Jones‘s in which he keeps intoning “BBasebball,” with heavy consonants, like a gong, will remind you why you’re on this crazy quest to begin with.

Bull Durham (1988) (directed by Ron Shelton) – And we’re back to Kevin Costner, but this time he’s a little washed up maybe (up for debate) and Susan Sarandon expertly wrangles Tim Robbins, the hotshot new pitcher into submission. The South! The 80s! Minor leagues! Crackerjack! Is it my childhood???

A League of Their Own (1992) (directed by Penny Marshall) – Women get a foot in the door with this early 1990s classic about an all-female pro-baseball league during World War II. I just watched this again recently and am pleased to report that it’s held up well in the last 16 years. Madonna is still saucy, Geena Davis is still forthright, and it’s still hilarious when Tom Hanks yells, “There’s no crying in baseball!”

The Natural (1984) (directed by Barry Levinson) – One of my favorite movies of all time and the best baseball movie ever. Robert Redford is Roy Hobbs, who restarts his career as an aging ball player and navigates the crooked world of 1930s baseball with just a touch of magical realism. The only hitch to this film is that the score — like so many other nostalgic sports films — was composed by Randy Newman, the uncommon idol of like everybody I know, for some reason. And though I would so love to tell them that the score ruins the film…sigh, it’s the exact opposite. It’s a score to end all scores and ices a well-made cake with a layer of high quality, not-too-sweet strawberry buttercream frosting, my favorite. I’ve been close to getting the insignia from Roy Hobbs’s bat (aka Wonder Boy) tattooed on my arm a number of times (if I end up doing it and you see me around, we can exchange knowing looks). Like Field of Dreams, The Natural and Bull Durham are also works of elegant filmmaking, which the 1990s tended to forget clean about. It’s difficult to follow this movie with anything other than a good cry and some hot chocolate, so here is where your journey ends. If you’re not cured, repeat once from the beginning.

If only there had existed a number of seriously good Olympic-themed movies that could have carried you over your post-Phelps moodiness, eh? Cool Runnings spliced with the beach volleyball scene from Top Gun doesn’t really cut it, does it? Instead, you just perched on the edge of your bathtub, stretching your arms out, checking out your wingspan in the bathroom mirror, ready to make a colossal mistake. Major League Baseball Postseason 2008 doesn’t have to be that way. Let’s get it out of our systems.

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Susan Howson

Susan Howson is managing editor for this very website. She writes THE BEST bios.

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