Editor’s Note: In the spirit of seeking sunshine during a gray winter, and to help usher in the upcoming baseball season, we will be featuring baseball movies every Monday between now and Opening Day. Today’s choice of silver screen Baseball goodness looks at what happens when one gets a second chance to follow a dream.
Today we return to the world of real events captured on film as part of our journey to what we feel are the best baseball movie of all time.
While there is certainly no shortage of baseball movies about real people, the quest for a second chance often rings throughout the narrative of many of these movies which is certainly the case with The Rookie starring Dennis Quaid.
While I never really bought into the fantasy elements of Angels in the Outfield, there was one Disney baseball movie deemed worthy to join my collection and that movie was The Rookie.
The Rookie ells the true life tale of a high school baseball coach from Texas getting to live out his dream of pitching in the big leagues for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays after he thought that his dream had been shattered following an injury.
As a fan of the Devil Rays turned just plain Rays, I try to soak up as much of the team’s history as possible.
Granted there are only about 15 years of history so far but I have lived each one of those years with the team and can remember covering the announcement of their birth into the league so I guess you could say they hold an extra special place in my heart.
After being drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers, Jim Morris (played by Dennis Quaid), blows out his shoulder ending his hopes of achieving his lifelong dream of pitching in the Major Leagues.
Fast forward a few years to 1999 and Morris is now married with three children, is a high school science teacher, and is the head baseball coach in Big Lake, TX.
After discovering that Morris can still bring the heat, his players offer him a deal that if they make the state playoffs, Morris will try out again for the Major Leagues.
After the Owls make the playoffs, Morris tries out for the Devil Rays and after being signed to a Minor League contract is assigned to the Class AA Orlando Rays (now the Montgomery Biscuits). After a quick stop in Orlando Morris moves up to the AAA Durham Bulls.
In September Jim is told that the Major League club has called him up, and that they will be playing in Texas against the Rangers. In true Hollywood fashion Morris makes his Major League debut against the Rangers in front of many of his friends and family who traveled to see his debut.
Morris pitched for the Devil Rays for a couple of years before finally hanging up his glove for the final time.
The movie and real life story of Jim Morris show that it is never too late for one to chase their dreams, which is an important lesson for everyone to keep in mind and is what makes The Rookie worthy to be on our countdown.
Editor’s Note: In the spirit of seeking sunshine during a gray winter, and to help usher in the upcoming baseball season, we will be featuring baseball movies every Monday between now and Opening Day. Today’s choice of silver screen Baseball goodness is our first doubleheader.
Today Baseball Movie Monday focuses on two movies, Talent for the Game and Trouble with the Curve, which shed light on some of the unsung heroes of baseball, the scouts.
Although the movies came out around 20 years apart they each do a superb job of showing the life of a professional baseball scout.
Throughout the history of baseball individuals have scoured the back roads of America looking for that hidden gem of a player that can be the missing piece of the puzzle for a team looking to have long term success.
Countless hours are spent by these scouts out on those back roads watching baseball games at Ballparks across the country trying to find players for their organization to draft.
In recent years teams have focused on international players with baseball academies in the Dominican Republic and other nations but the fact remains the bulk of Major League Baseball players are still from America and someone needs to discover them.
Of course with the addition of the internet and other factors the need for scouts to physically travel the back roads has diminished in some way over the last couple of decades as You Tube and other sources provide a way to track players nearly from the first time that they pick up a ball or a bat. Several teams have even made drastic cuts in the size of their scouting departments while ramping up efforts on the analytical side of the game.
Both movies focus on the scouts dealing with pressure from their management to change with the times while struggling to hold on to the tried and true evaluation techniques that decades in the game have given them.
Personally I prefer to think of baseball with the scouts as part of the game and not some area to be replaced by computers and spreadsheet.
A few years back I attended a Baltimore Orioles Spring Training game at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, FL and was seated in the “scout section.” Throughout the entire game I was entertained by stories from these rough around the edges baseball lifers and was given a firsthand look into a piece of the life of a scout.
Many of the stories from that game amongst the scouts cannot be repeated in a family column, but they showed insight into a brotherhood where there was a kinship among the nomadic brothers in arms despite the competitive nature that goes along with the job.
For those without access to scouts of their own, Talent for the Game and Trouble with the Curve transport the viewer into a scout’s life as they balance their love for the game with the elements of time that are encroaching to make their fate seem like that of the dinosaurs.
Edward James Olmos and Clint Eastwood each give strong performances as the scouts. Both movies also feature strong supporting casts and story lines that have one pulling for the scouts to defeat the odds and find a way to continue doing what they are doing.
It is very possible that a day will come when the sabermetric movement eliminates the use of all baseball scouts. If that day does come at least there will be movies like Talent for the Game and Trouble with the Curve to show future generations the way talent used to be found.
Hopefully next year I can once again find a Spring Training seat with the scouts to hear more tales of a nomadic live on the road. Until then, I have these two movies and my memories to act as my guide to the life of a baseball scout in search of the next big thing.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some movies about scouts to watch.
Editor’s Note: We are taking a break from our regularly scheduled Friday feature on the history of Spring Training over the past 40 years to focus on a superstitious day. We will resume our historic series next Friday with a doubleheader that covers Spring Training in 1985 and 1995. And now without further adieu, we bring you, Friday the 13th.
Today is Friday, February 13, 2015.
For some people this means nothing more than the fact that yesterday was the 12th and tomorrow is the 14th.
For the superstitious among us today means all of the things above in addition to it being an unlucky day all the way around.
While many may think that the Friday the 13th craze started with a certain movie character named Freddy, the roots of Friday the 13th actually run much deeper than late 20th Century cinema.
Since the 19th Century Friday the 13th has been considered an unlucky day in Western and Eastern superstition.
Friday and the number 13 were considered unlucky by some on their own so it was only logical that both occurring at the same time would be even unluckier.
In fact fear of Friday the 13th even has a name; friggatriskaidekaphobia (Frigga being the name of the Norse goddess for whom Friday is named in English and triskaidekaphobia meaning fear of the number thirteen).
Personally I have never feared Friday the 13th and am among the people who consider it just another day.
But the arrival of Friday the 13th on the same day that many teams started sending their equipment down to their Spring Training facilities made me think about sports and the superstitious rituals that many players seem to follow.
There are players who will eat the same pregame meal because they feel that to eat anything else would risk certain disaster on the field.
Hitters on a hot streak in baseball are notorious for continuing whatever “routine” it is that they feel is behind their streak since they feel any deviation will likely mean the end to the streak.
The movie Bull Durham did a very good job showing the superstitious side of baseball through chants over bats, breathing through one’s eyelids, chicken, and of course a garter belt where the rose goes in the front.
Baseball is not the only sport with superstitions. Across all level of sports there are athletes who have a lucky shirt, or other article of clothing that they can’t go onto the field of battle without.
The link between superstitions and sports can start at a very early age.
Back in high school I did a feature article on the goalie of my school’s woman’s soccer team, who attributed her on-field success to a lucky argyle sock that she wore during every game.
Granted it was not a pair of socks but one single sock that took over when her “magic shoes” fell ill.
Throughout my career I have been around many other superstitious athletes, and I am sure I will meet many more. To date though a single “lucky” Argyle sock has been the most memorable superstition I have encountered.
So on this Friday the 13th beware of those around you who are extra cautious of their surroundings.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to see if I can find a black cat while walking under a ladder and holding a broken mirror while stepping on all of the sidewalk cracks I can find.
Next Monday is President’s Day, or Washington’s birthday as it is also known here in the United States of America.
While originally the holiday was thought of as a way to recognize the two presidents with birthdays in February, Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, President’s Day has grown to include a time to honor all of the men, and most likely someday the women, who have served in the nation’s highest office.
Through the years President’s Day has also become a time to buy furniture, appliances and cars at unheard of savings as many companies have sought to capitalize on the fact that many people have the day off of work. While the founding fathers wanted us to enjoy various freedoms, I doubt they had no interest financing on washers and dryers in mind when they spoke of “self-evident truths.” Then again maybe they did.
So for our purposes let us not focus on the retail aspects of the holiday. Instead let us try to focus on the office of the President and what that entails.
To date, 44 men have served as President of the United States. The 45th President of the United States will be elected next year.
I was fortunate enough to come face to face with two of the men who would go on to become president although I was only old enough to remember one of them
I have been told by my mother that my first encounter with a future President was during a rally for Jimmy Carter.
Of course at the time of that rally I would have been perhaps just turning 1 so needless to say I do not recall meeting him but I am sure it was a lovely time for all.
As for the encounter with a Commander in Chief that I do recall, in 1992 I met Bill Clinton at a campaign event in Orlando, FL. While the election was still months away, and Governor Clinton had not yet become President Clinton, there was still something cool about meeting someone on the campaign trail.
Years later, meeting candidate Clinton is still one of the more memorable moments of my journalistic career. I am sure that reporters that cover the Presidents on a daily basis lose some of the wow factor at some point but there always needs to be a respect for the office at some level.
There are of course many perks that come with residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington D.C. One of those perks is throwing the ceremonial first pitch each year on Opening Day.
President William Howard Taft started the ceremonial first pitch tradition in 1910 linking the Commander in Chief with the National Pastime ever since.
While the first pitch did not occur until 1910 the link between Presidents and baseball actually goes back to post Civil War America when Andrew Johnson invited the first team of professional ballplayers to the White House.
The first presidential first pitch occurred on April 14, 1910, at National Park in Washington, DC. during a game between the Washington Senators and the Philadelphia Athletics with Taft connecting on the pitch to Walter Johnson.
The Senators moved to Minnesota to become the Twins and the Athletics packed up and headed west to Oakland but the one constant for over a century has been presidents and baseball.
From 1910 to 1971 the President traveled to the home ballpark of the Washington Senators to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day.
To put that streak into perspective it stretched from Taft to Richard Nixon.
While Presidents had thrown out first pitches at the World Series as well President Nixon became the first president to throw out an Opening Day pitch outside of Washington D.C. in 1972 when he threw out the pitch in Anaheim, California since there was no longer a team in Washington.
Various other ballparks were used for Opening Day after 1972 but Baltimore and Washington D.C. were the most widely used due to proximity to the White House.
For around 70 years the first pitch was thrown from the stands. Bill Clinton became the first president to throw from the mound and each president since has also toed the rubber on their pitch.
The Presidential links to baseball are not limited to first pitches alone however. Both President Bush 41 and President Bush 43 also have deep baseball roots.
George H.W. Bush was a baseball player in college at Yale and can often be seen behind home plate at Houston Astros games.
It is also a given that if both President Bush and his wife, Barbara, are seated together they will end up on the Ballpark’s kiss cam.
George W. Bush also has a baseball pedigree. Before becoming governor of Texas en route to the White House, the younger President Bush served as the owner of the Texas Rangers who, as one may or not know were once the expansion team that replaced the first version of the Washington Senators who left town to become the Minnesota Twins. It is sort of a neat bow to tie it all together.
So during this time that we honor our Presidents, let us not forget that soon it will once again be Opening Day and when the President steps onto the mound to throw that first pitch he will be continuing a long standing tradition that honors both the past, present and future of both the Oval Office and the game of baseball itself.
Now if you’ll excuse me I think I need to practice my pitching just in case I am ever called on to throw out a first pitch. After all, no one wants to be the person that bounces it a few times on the way to the catcher. Right 50 Cent?
Editor’s Note: In the spirit of seeking sunshine during a gray winter, and to help usher in the upcoming baseball season we will be featuring baseball movies every Monday between now and Opening Day. Today’s choice was literally a natural to include on the countdown.
Last Movie Monday we looked at Moneyball which showed the future of the game of baseball through the use of advance metrics.
Today it is only natural to balance things out a little bit by looking at a film that celebrates the pre sabermetrics Golden Age of baseball.
Roy Hobbs and his bat named “Wonderboy” anchor The Natural which is a tale of making the most of second chances and knocking out a few stadium lights in the process.
The movie came out in 1984 and is an adaptation of Bernard Malamud’s 1952 baseball novel of the same name.
Starring Robert Redford, Glenn Close, Wilfred Brimley, Kim Bassinger and Robert Duvall the movie recounts the experiences of Roy Hobbs, a player in the 1930’s with great “natural” talent, and questionable decision making when it comes to members of the opposite sex.
After being shot when he was 19 by a crazed female fan, Hobbs makes a comeback attempt in his mid-thirties with the New York Knights managed by Pop Fisher (played by Brimley).
There are of course many baseball clichés included in the movie from the grizzled “seen it all manager” to the “intrepid baseball reporter” looking for a scoop, but all in all the clichés do not distract from the overall tone of the story.
And the movie’s climax is certainly one for the ages with the cascade of sparks falling down from the busted stadium lights after Hobbs hits the home run as the iconic music plays in the background.
It is an iconic scene in and iconic film and certainly one to remember.
The music from that iconic scene can be heard at Ranger Ballpark in Arlington whenever a member of the home team sends one over the outfield fence.
I am sure there are other teams that do the same thing but the only one I have seen do it in person is the Rangers.
Admittedly I am sure many of us have hummed along to that song after achieving some feat of skill or other accomplishment while picturing a shower of sparks falling around us.
Some days just getting out of bed can be cause for humming the theme to The Natural as we make our way around the base path of life.
In addition to creating lasting memories of home runs that knock out the stadium lights the film was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Supporting Actress (Glenn Close), and nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress (Kim Basinger).
So with all of that in its corner it would be only natural for The Natural to make our countdown.
Now if you’ll excuse, I need to go dodge a shower of sparks.
Editor’s Note: Today we begin a five part series on Spring Training over the past 40 years. Each Friday between now and March 6 we will feature a snapshot of what Spring Training was like in 1975, 1985, 1995, 2005 and 2015. Today we focus on 1975.
From a personal history perspective, 1975 was the most important year of my life, because it was the year I was born.
To be specific, I was born during Spring Training of 1975 and have had a love of Spring Training and baseball ever since.
Of course, to be fair, I do not remember much about that first Spring Training of 1975 and would not see my first Spring Training game in person until 1985.
But the world of Spring Training in 1975 was certainly different than the Spring Training that will begin next month.
For starters there were only 24 Major League teams in 1975 compared with the 30 ball clubs of today.
While the 30 clubs are evenly divided this year with 15 teams in Florida’s Grapefruit League and 15 clubs calling Arizona’s Cactus League their spring time home the world of 1975 had a very Florida feel with all but 7 of the clubs calling Florida home.
The Grapefruit League clubs of 1975, and the towns where they held spring training were, the Cincinnati Reds (Tampa, FL), Boston Red Sox (Winter Haven, FL), Pittsburgh Pirates (Bradenton, FL), Baltimore Orioles (Miami, FL), Kansas City Royals (Fort Myers, FL), Los Angeles Dodgers (Vero Beach, FL), Philadelphia Phillies (Clearwater, FL), New York Yankees (Fort Lauderdale, FL), St. Louis Cardinals (St. Petersburg, FL), New York Mets (St. Petersburg, FL), Texas Rangers (Pompano Beach, FL), Minnesota Twins (Orlando, FL), Chicago White Sox (Sarasota, FL), Montreal Expos (Daytona Beach, FL), Atlanta Braves (West Palm Beach, FL), Houston Astros (Cocoa, FL), and Detroit Tigers (Lakeland, FL).
The Cactus League teams of 1975, and training city were, the Oakland Athletics (Mesa, Arizona), San Francisco Giants (Phoenix, Arizona), Cleveland Indians (Tucson, Arizona), Chicago Cubs (Scottsdale, Arizona), California Angels (Palm Springs, CA), San Diego Padres (Yuma, Arizona), and Milwaukee Brewers (Sun City, Arizona).
Major League Baseball teams who were not yet on the map in 1975 were the Toronto Blue Jays, Seattle Mariners, Miami Marlins, Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies and Tampa Bay Rays.
Over the next few weeks of our every decade snapshot of Spring Training we will be readdressing the teams and watch how the Spring Training addresses of some teams changed through the years while others stayed put decade after decade.
While Spring Training and Major League Baseball in general have changed through the years one constant remains the promise of every season starts on the field at a Spring Training Ballpark where ticket prices are relatively low and memories that last a lifetime are made.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have another decade of Spring Training to get ready for.
The National Football League season came to a conclusion Sunday with the playing of the Super Bowl where the Seattle Seahawks lost to the New England Patriots, who depending on one’s opinion, are either led by the greatest duo to ever exist on the gridiron in Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, or are led be the evil emperor and Darth Vader who commute to their games in a death star and treat the NFL rule book like a collection of suggestions.
There were of course allegations that the Patriots cheated their way into the big game by having their balls a tad bit softer then the rules allowed but the fact remains for the next year, like it or not, they get to call themselves World Champions.
Regarding those soft balls used during the first half of the AFC Championship game, the NFL’s investigation into just who let the air out is still underway. While the tin foil hat society can continue debating whether there was one lone deflator or a grassy knoll full of deflators, in the bigger picture the end of football season means that the arrival of the baseball season is that much closer.
Don’t get me wrong I enjoy football, but after six months of Omaha, hut, hut, I am beyond ready for the sights and sounds of the National Pastime to arrive.
I think if the powers that be of the NFL were honest with themselves, they would also admit that they are ready for another sport to take the spotlight for a while so that the league can recover from a season where players were often making headlines more for their off field activities than anything they did on the field.
That is not to say that baseball players do not have off field problems as well. In fact Major League Baseball is preparing for the return of Alex Rodriguez after a one and a half season suspension for getting caught putting things in his body that are not allowed.
While MLB prepares for the headaches of A Rod drama few can argue that the past season was one of the biggest public relations headaches for the NFL in its history.
Hopefully the NFL can use the offseason to better define policies and procedures to provide clear cut, consistent responses across the board when issues arise instead of the shoot from the hip inconsistent approach that took center stage this year.
Speaking of inconsistent approaches, the advertisements in this year’s Super Bowl were all over the map with very few hitting the mark of viral success for making viewers laugh or cry for the right reasons.
It is almost like all of the other ad agencies decided that the beer company that is famous for spots featuring horses and golden retrievers was going to win the hearts of viewers regardless of what they did so they just phoned it in when it came to their ads.
Another item hurting companies when it comes to Super Bowl success is the early release of their ads on the internet.
While one used to have to wait until Super Bowl Sunday to see the ads at great peril to their bladders, now many ads are released days and weeks before the big game meaning that any impact already occurs before the game.
While this approach may lead to fewer full bladders during the commercial breaks, it does take a little out of the Super Bowl experience and has changed the way the game is watched for many.
The commercials I enjoyed the most were the ones I did not have prior knowledge of. There is just something about seeing a Super Bowl commercial for the first time during the Super Bowl as opposed to seeing an ad that has already been trending for a week before the game.
Hopefully marketers will realize that the best ads are the ones that are a surprise to the viewer and the trend of premature commercial release will be reversed faster than a bad call by a referee.
Ad agencies are now on the clock and have a whole year to figure out their ads for the next big game. And with Super Bowl 50 coming next February, I am hoping for some truly epic commercials, as well as a game featuring some good teams with properly inflated balls and no Death Stars parked in the employee lot.
Whoever gets selected as the halftime performer also has a tough act to follow as by all accounts Katy Perry and her dancing sharks and roaring cat set the bar very high for all who come after her.
And while a pitcher shaking off a sign from his catcher does not provide the same sound bites as a quarterback calling an audible at the line, who knows, maybe one of the umpires will add “Omaha, you’re out” to his strike out call to help those fans who are going through football withdrawal until the start of organized team activities and spring games in a couple of months.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a baseball season to get ready for.
Editor’s Note: In the spirit of seeking sunshine during a gray winter, and to help usher in the upcoming baseball season we will be featuring baseball movies every Monday between now and Opening Day. Today we look at the fantasy baseball aspect of Major League Baseball with the trend that started it all in Moneyball.
Few people can argue that the game of baseball was forever changed when the sabermetrics element of the game was moved from the back rooms, and fantasy baseball leagues to the general manager’s office.
Like it or not the advanced analytics are here to stay and are featured in the movie Moneyball which is the true story of how one team’s front office broke with tradition by using charts and graphs to build a team in a way that changed the game of baseball.
The film is based on Michael Lewis’s 2003 book, Moneyball, which follows the Oakland Athletics 2002 season and general manager Billy Beane’s (Played by Brad Pitt in the movie) attempts to assemble a competitive team through nonconventional means.
Instead of relying on the eyes and ears of baseball scouts on the road, the new analytical baseball method relied on computer programs showing where certain players excelled based on historical averages and on base percentage.
The idea behind this new approach was that small market teams could spend more wisely on players who got on base more often instead of trying to go dollar to dollar with big market teams who spent more on a single player than many teams spent on their entire rosters.
While a new concept when it was introduced by the Athletics in the 1980’s, almost every team today using sabermetrics to one degree or another to build their rosters each year.
Whether sabermetrics is good for baseball in the long run is still up for debate. It has certainly allowed many smaller market teams the ability to be competitive and stand toe to toe with the big spenders in baseball for the past few decades.
The big spending teams are still around but through Moneyball inspired roster building a few smaller teams have found ways to crash the playoff party now and then.
Of course even the big spending teams have adapted some of the sabermetric philosophies including the Boston Red Sox who used a variation of the Oakland formula to compile the roster that won the 2004 World Series.
While the past few decades have certainly proven that sabermetrics is certainly not going away any time soon, for those wanting to see how it all began Moneyball is the way to go.
Now if you’ll excuse me, all this talk about statistics and math has me feeling a bit queasy.