Drew Barrymore runs across Fenway Field in Fever Pitch. The scene itself (rushing in a crowded venue to be with your loved one) is clichéd and done various times, but it’s how it’s done that’s really impressive: Lindsay (Barrymore) learns through her girlfriend that Ben (Jimmy Fallon) is prepared to sell his beloved Red Sox season tickets as proof that he loves her more than his home-town team, and she rushes onto the field in order to stop him from signing away the tickets as proof that she can accept him and his fandom for Boston during a crucial post-season game. What makes this moment so special is twofold: first, that sequence was done after a home game where Boston throttled Tampa Bay in mid-September, with half of the crowd that stayed behind was cast as extras. Mid-game or not, the fact Barrymore got to run across one of baseball’s most iconic stadiums had to have been a joy to do on the day. Second, the scene in particular had to be re-done when Boston went on their miracle post-season run where they won the World Series after an 86 year drought (The original ending had the Red Sox presumably losing again).
“Wanna Have a Catch?” from Field of Dreams. This is not only an iconic moment in sports movie history, but a great moment ever captured on film, period. Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) is told by a disembodied voice that “If you build it, he will come.” At the end, after everything he endures, he is granted with his reward: seeing his estranged father as a young man catching for the Yankees, and having reconciliation between father and son by simply playing catch with each other. It’s a simple moment, but it speaks volumes to the power of forgiveness without having a grand, emotional speech tacked on at the end. It’s poignant as it is life affirming.
The “Hey, dad. You wanna have a catch?” from Field Of Dreams always gets me, because my parents were divorced, and I didn’t hang out with my dad too much.
My father was a major baseball fanatic. The sound of the game on the radio as he washed the car is an indelible memory of childhood, but I, unfortunately didn’t share the passion. Even when he took me to Yankee Stadium in ’61 to a double header with Detroit in the midst of the battle of the titans – between Mantle and Maris – I only clearly remember the fact that I ate 7 hot dogs. He made several attempts, as did I, at playing catch regularly in the back yard, but eventually I completely lost interest and eventually declined the invitations.
As I got older, our politics also came to blows. Just about everything sat at polar opposites. When I saw Field of Dreams decades later, I was absorbed in everything from the inner unresolved conflict of the main character to what Kinsella describes as “the smell of the grass”. In the last scenes of the film when we see the figure standing in the field, I went, “Oh, god, it’s his father.” The reunion alone would have sufficed, but when Ray asked, as his father’s ghost walked away, if he’d like a game of catch, it was a major cathartic moment for me. The smell of the grass is primal and trumps all the other trappings we think are important, whether they tie us together or keep us apart. Movies can sometimes capture moments like this. Although I’m a hockey fan now, baseball has a special magic. Like Kinsella said, “The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces.”
Don’t forget the Walt Whitman! The end voice over from Bull Durham where she reads the Walt Whitman poem about how baseball “will repair our losses”. The Susan Sontag reference in the speech is at her house, his list of ‘beliefs’. Definitely the best baseball movie moment.
This gets a nod, the ‘there’s no crying in baseball’ from A League of Their Own.
There are many great sports movies (Hoosiers, Rocky, Bull Durham, Raging Bull), but, for women in particular, “A League of Their Own” is a right of passage for girls who play(ed) sports. With the exception of the ridiculous choice to have Dottie drop the ball ON PURPOSE for her bratty little sister, Kit, this is a perfect movie. P.S. For any girl who grew up in the 90’s: the dropped ball will never be forgotten. #NeverForget
The Natural, 1984. The final home-run scene. Hobbs (Redford) comes to bat with ‘Wonderboy’, his enchanted bat made from a splintered tree struck by lightning. With just one, or maybe two swings, of the bat, this scene manages to wrap up all the threads of the story. Having almost lost his way again, succumbing to bribes to throw games, Hobbs finally comes to understand his failings and, now, his purpose in life. One swing of Wonderboy hits a foul ball and splits his bat in two. This breaks Hobbs free from his previous wrong-doings, from his youthful and selfish pursuit of being the best. And his second swing, with a new bat he made with Bobby – in essence, a kids’ bat – hits a home-run that smashes into the outfield lights. It sets off a magical event as glowing electric sparks drop down all over the field, as Hobbs runs round the track. In this unselfish act he’s come full circle, finding a way to return to the love of the game, and of the life he had as a child.