A Film Geek’s Guide to Baseball

A Film Geek's Guide to Baseball
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Baseball is all over the movies, so it’s possible to be both a film geek and a baseball lover, but does combining the two do the sport justice? We’re not so sure and here’s why.

“Swing and a Miss”: Misconceptions

I love baseball. I loved playing it, and I love watching it. I don’t often like the films that depict it.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy The Sandlot, and A League of Their Own, but it isn’t really because they are about baseball. They are just fun movies.

But you can’t think of baseball, the game itself, in terms of baseball movie “fun.” I’ve heard a lot of people say that baseball is slow, or that nothing is happening, and it’s easy to see how someone could think that. But I think, at least for some people, that’s because they are expecting the fun, and the spirit of a baseball movie.

Robert Redford baseball movie "The Natural"

Baseball games aren’t really like that though. At least, not all the time. They are suspense; they are slow burning thrillers.

“The Bases are Loaded”: Building Tension

There are moments in baseball almost everyone knows. The 2016 Cubs winning the World Series after 108 years. Kirk Gibson “with two bad legs” winning Game One of the 1988 World Series. These things are highlights, the climaxes, the stand-up-and-cheer. But they aren’t the entire “movie.”

Kirk Gibson - Game One of the 1988 World Series

If they were, no one would say baseball was “boring,” and “slow.” I would be sitting here writing that baseball is an action movie directed by Michael Bay, with a thousand home runs instead of explosions. Or, more likely, I’d be writing about a different sport.

Baseball isn’t Michael Bay, it’s Alfred Hitchcock. It’s Shadow of a Doubt, or Vertigo. Or, to choose a film with a different director, Alien by Ridley Scott.

Ripley at end of movie Alien

As a Yankee fan, the feeling I get in the ninth inning of a game against the Red Sox isn’t the awe of seeing an 18 wheeler morph into a giant robot. It’s the heart pounding intensity of watching Ripley quietly try to blow a monster out into space so she can escape with her life.

My mother loves Alien, but can’t handle the intensity of the ninth inning.

“A Rally in Their Bones”: The Hope of Resolution

That intensity comes from the same place as an improbable Hollywood narrative. It’s based in the idea that anything can happen in baseball. In just about any way. That is what keeps me glued to the screen from the first pitch to the last; the sense that no lead is safe or, conversely, that no lead is insurmountable.

No baseball movie could end in absolute heartbreak, no more than it could end with an uninterrupted path to victory. The audience would riot, or lose interest. But the game itself can do those things. The feeling of watching my Yankees surrender a five run lead in the eighth inning is only comparable to the all-encompassing dread that comes with the best horror films.

“Here’s the 3-2 Pitch”: What Happened Next?

Baseball isn’t always pleasant. It isn’t always triumphant. But you watch it anyway because you care what happens to your team, just like you care what happens to Ripley, or Daniel Kaluuya’s Chris in Get Out.

Young man in tears watches movie

So when you watch a game, don’t think of a called strike or ball four as “nothing happening”. Think of it as another beat in the narrative. Every pitch, every beat, is a chance for a monster to spring out, a hero to rise, an empire to fall. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t. But that chance, not knowing what is going to happen next, is what makes each game as suspenseful as Psycho, as unexpected as Alien. And it keeps me coming back for more.

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