Sunday, October 15, 2006

How the movies helped me love baseball

I have to admit, I used to hate baseball. I was one of those uninformed, ignorant types who thought baseball was "slow" and "boring." I prefered faster-paced sports like basketball. I remember going to games at Tigers Stadium as a kid, but that was because my dad loved baseball and made us go. And I remember collecting baseball cards when I was younger, but that was because I had an older brother who collected them and I wanted to be a part of anything he did. I even used to go to Tigers Stadium with my friends back in high school and sit in the cheap seats and eat hot dogs and basically goof around, but I didn't really go for the baseball. I just went because it was something to do. Besides, the Tigers were bad back then. They were almost the worst just three years ago.

But I did love A League of Their Own. Make fun of me if you want, but I can recite nearly every line in that movie. And I did get a thrill when I watched Field of Dreams for the first time as a thirteen year old kid and saw Shoeless Joe emerge from the corn field. And I laughed along with my fellow 80s babies at silly kids movies like Rookie of the Year. I might have hated baseball but I loved baseball movies. I only knew who Ty Cobb was because I knew Tommy Lee Jones had played him in a movie. I enjoyed the mediocre Babe with John Goodman, then I went to Baltimore and was excited to see a statue of the real Babe at Camden Yard. I cried when Gary Cooper told Yankee Stadium he was the luckiest man on the face of the earth, and then suddenly I was a Yankees fan.

Suddenly I was watching games. Then came Eight Men Out, the White Sox 2005 season, and I was watching baseball every night during the playoffs. Suddenly I was watching baseball with my dad, only this time I wasn't being forced into it. Suddenly, the Tigers were the best team in baseball. Suddenly, the Tigers' performance in the playoffs was like something out of a movie. First we slayed the mighty Yankees, the old underdog story that's been told a million times. Then we swept Oakland, ending with a Magglio Ordonez three-run walk-off homer that looked and felt like it had been scripted in Hollywood's feel-good sports movie department.

Everything I knew about baseball I learned at the movies. Everthing I loved about baseball I got from the movies. The movies showed me the history, the American-ness of baseball. The deep tradition, the great drama of the national pastime, with its heroes and its heartbreaks.

The movies gave me baseball. And baseball has given me more than I ever dreamed it could. Bless you boys.

1 comment:

Nate said...

Hear, hear! I've always had a soft spot for the Great American Pastime (I used to throw a mean curveball in my pre-teens), but Ken Burns's documentary Baseball had a similar effect on me. Truly, baseball is the most cinematic of sports.