Batter up! Sure, spring just sprang a few days ago, but no matter: The Boys of Summer are ready to take the field. Major League Baseball’s Opening Day is April 3, and after a long, cold winter, it’s none too soon. And while my beloved Colorado Rockies could indeed spend most of the season in the National League West cellar, there are still few places I’d rather be on a warm summer’s evening than at Denver’s Coors Field.
Baseball, All Saints Day, and the connection between the living and the dead
Hollywood loves baseball almost as much as I do. It created some true classics over the years, and many come with great messages that transcend the game itself. Bull Durham notwithstanding, America’s pastime lends itself to family friendly viewing: Many of the best baseball flicks are suitable for fans young and old.
Just take a look at the four movies that follow—a grand slam, if you will: good, inspirational baseball flicks that might do more than just prime you for the upcoming baseball season. At the least, they’ll make you smile. And one or two just might make you cry.
(Unless otherwise noted, you can rent and stream all the films below on iTunes, YouTube, Amazon and other streaming services for around $2.99.)
Angels in the Outfield (1994)
Okay, so this isn’t exactly a classic. The only critics who felt this Disney movie was a home run were the two pint-sized ones in my very own home. My kids loved Angels in the Outfield so much that they wore out our VHS copy of the flick.
A remake of a 1951 film of the same name, the PG-rated Angels gives us a woefully inept version of the California Angels who, in one truly remarkable season, get a little help from above. Starring Danny Glover, Tony Danza, Christopher Lloyd and a very, very young Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Angels gives us a funny, sweet and ultimately inspirational story about family, friendship and faith—and faith not just in the Almighty (though that’s a big part of it), but in yourself and your teammates, too.
The Rookie (2002)
Not many films are rated G these days. Fewer still are any good. But The Rookie, starring Dennis Quaid, was a critical fave and even won an ESPY Award for Best Sports Movie.
Quaid plays Jim Morris, a high school science teacher, baseball coach, and a father of three who gave up his dreams of playing major league baseball decades ago. Thing is, Morris still has a little mustard on his ol’ fastball, and the kids on his baseball team encourage him to try out for the newly established Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Morris makes a deal with the kids: If they get to the state baseball playoffs, he’ll try out.
What follows is a story so outlandish and so sentimental that, of course, it could only be based on a true story. As Morris pursues his long-dormant major league ambitions, we see that chasing dreams requires work, sacrifice and, sometimes, hard choices. But it also shows us that, given the right set of circumstances, it’s still never too late to chase them.
No one wears the number 42 in Major League Baseball anymore. Jackie Robinson’s old number was retired across the majors in 1997, honoring the 50th anniversary of Robinson breaking professional baseball’s color barrier. But while most of us baseball fans have heard of Jackie Robinson and know of his achievements, many of us don’t know his story. The film 42 aims to change that.
This flick, rated PG-13, is a little rougher than the ones we’ve talked about so far. The n-word peppers the dialogue more than 40 times. But arguably, the language is necessary to show the sort of world that Robinson lived in—and the pervasive racism he was confronting as he entered the majors. But in the midst of those difficult environs, Robinson (played by Chadwick Boseman) unfailingly presented himself with class and dignity, becoming not just the MLB’s Rookie of the Year in 1947, but one of the real ambassadors of the game. 42 gives us a true role model who, through grace, determination and heart, does something pretty remarkable. (In addition to being available to rent and stream, 42 is currently available on HBO Go.)
Field of Dreams (1989)
“If you build it, they will come.” When Ray (Kevin Costner) first hears the mysterious whisper in the middle of his Iowa cornfield, he believes it must be someone—something—asking him to mow down part of his crop to build a baseball diamond, perhaps to give the very great (and very dead) Shoeless Joe Jackson and his fellow shamed White Sox teammates (who allegedly threw the World Series in 1919) a place to play the game they loved. But as it turns out, that’s just the beginning of what the strange voice has in mind for Ray.
Like 42, Field of Dreams has some language issues, and it also has a couple of references to past drug use. But if Hollywood has ever written a more moving love letter to baseball, I’ve not seen it. Bolstered by home run performances by Costner and James Earl Jones (who plays a reclusive writer), Field of Dreams takes us on a journey full of faith, hope, redemption and reconciliation. Sure, “If you build it” is undoubtedly the film’s most famous line. But the ones that invariably choke me up are practically the last we hear: “You wanna have a catch?” (The film is available on Cinemax as well as various streaming services.)