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Ruminations - "Play Ball!"

Ruminations - "Play Ball!"

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Well, if you aren't a Red Sox fan, your baseball season ended early last October. The long wait until pitchers and catchers reported for Spring Training has to pass somehow, and that's where we take solace in some of the baseball movies out on DVD. Considering that the actors in these films actually have to play baseball, it's worth a look as they show off their acting talents and baseball skills at the same time. Here's a glimpse into a few titles that make the time pass a bit faster:

Okay, if you're a Red Sox fan, you understand exactly how fans of the Cleveland Indians felt until their team managed to get back into contention. The first film,Major League (1989), not only revived the career of announcer Bob Uecker but also brought baseball players back into the realm of human and funny with a great cast. Charlie Sheen (and didn't this role really revive interest in 1996's recording by the Trog's of "Wild Thing"), Corbin Bernsen, Tom Berrenger and Wesley Snipes all make interesting ball players in the first installment as the Indians go from bums to division champs, beating the dreaded New York Yankees.

Back for more,"Minor League II"(1994) offers a look at the aftermath. Winning the division was only one step, and the team didn't go to the World Series. And now with a new owner, Corbin Bernsen as "Roger Dorn" (now retired from third base), things aren't as good as they might be. But most of the cast return (Wesley Snipes the notable exception) to make it another fun film as the Indians are back for another shot at the American League Championship.

"Minor League: Back to the Minors"(1994) has Scott Bakula as a retiring pitcher managing the South Carolina (actually Salt Lake City) "Buzz" Class AAA farm team of the Minnesota Twins (now owned by Roger Dorn - again played by Corbin Bernsen). Some of the cast from the first two films return to help the "Buzz" as they take on the Twins in a pair of bragging rights games. Bakula also appeared as a baseball player in several episodes of "Quantum Leap" as well as playing in a few celebrity charity games.

Okay, so these aren't classic films that the AFI will be saluting anytime soon. They are baseball comedies and they do just fine in that role. And if you shop at the right time, Amazon occasionally offers them at a package price.

Now these three films step up a bit and offer a good mix of comedy and drama that manages to reinforce some of our fondest memories of baseball.

"A League of Their Own"(1992) is director Penny Marshall's look at the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. With many major league players volunteering or being drafted for duty during World War II, some of the team owners organized a girl's baseball league just in case the Major League games would be suspended. A very attractive cast with Geena Davis, Rosie O'Donnell and Madonna, and great locations make this another enjoyable baseball film.

Robert Redford as Roy Hobbs is the ultimate baseball comeback hero in "The Natural"(1984). One of Randy Newman's best scores and my all time favorite golden light scene (where Roy Hobbs gets three pitches against "The Whammer") have made this a film I tend to watch occasionally. It set the mark for other baseball movies to follow.

Kevin Costner must have a thing for baseball. He's managed to appear in a number of films with it as the theme. "Bull Durham"(1988) has been labeled as Sports Illustrated's all time favorite sports film. ESPN has even used it for a series of commercials where the on-air talent recreates scenes from the film. And it didn't hurt in generating interest in Minor League baseball, now gaining in popularity in towns across the country.

Costner's role in "Field of Dreams"(1989) as an Iowa corn farmer who sets off on a bit of soul searching after hearing a voice is a bit more mythical. The question asked by Ray Liotta (in his role as Shoeless Joe Jackson), "Is this heaven?" and then the answer by Kevin Costner, "No, it's Iowa", led to an entire tourism campaign by the state. Appearances by James Earl Jones and Bert Lancaster also contributed to the dream-like atmosphere of the film. And the field in Dyersville, Iowa? Still there today entertaining visitors.

And now it appears that Costner's new film,"The Upside of Anger"(2005) has him appearing as a former baseball player turned disc jockey. Folks are hoping for a bit better after the disappointment with "For The Love of The Game"(1999). As much as he is a fan of the game, having been to spring training with a team and also having played in various charity games, perhaps he should retire from baseball films. Go out with the hits and not try for any more errors?

It's rumored that Dreamworks honcho Jeffrey Katzenberg doesn't like baseball movies. Maybe some of that stems from his days at Disney and films like "Angels in the Outfield"(1994). The 1951 original with Keenan Wynn and Janet Leigh was a better film in any case. But Disney did hit a home run with Dennis Quaid in "The Rookie"(2002). A great story of Texas high-school coach Jim Morris who was signed by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays offers inspiration to children and adults.

Finally, if you're a baseball fan, and long for the better days for your team, I recommend Billy Crystal's "61*" (2001). This look at the human side of superstardom and all of the pressures of a record season is a true winner. Yes, it's a bit long on sentiment, but that's worth the telling in this tale of Yankee's Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle as they attempt to break Babe Ruth's single season home run record in the summer of 1961.

These are only a few of the titles you might want to check out. Why not visit the Amazon links below and add one or more of them to your own collection? You won't get a break on the price, but you will help support the ongoing efforts here.

Next week? Oh, that's a long way away yet. Who knows what Roger will be back to share with you then...

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