God, I Love Baseball

Have you ever heard a line in a movie and know that you’ve said it before, but it seemed to sound better when the actor/actress on the screen said it? The title of this piece is a line from the movie, “The Natural,” and is a line I’ve uttered many times in my life, but it sounded so much better when it was spoken by Robert Redford in his heroic, yet fictitious, role as slugger Roy Hobbs.

This is the time of year when I really start getting the itch for the return of baseball. I know there are other sports to watch, but baseball is my favorite. February brings Spring Training, the return of our Chautauqua County Baseball Umpires meetings, the beginning of planning the annual high school Baseball Showcase, which is one of my favorite events with which to be involved during the local high school baseball season. I’m starting to plan what winter clothes I’ll be wearing to the Tribe’s home opener in early April, and I just can’t wait for the season to begin.

In the last few weeks, amid the non-stop barrage of weather reports coming from East Rutherford, N.J., television has aired some baseball movies, which has thawed my blood a bit from these frigid temperatures, and jump started my heart to beat a little faster knowing that the call of, “Play Ball,” will soon be shouted from Florida and Arizona, then echoing throughout the 30 major league ballparks and the numerous minor league, college, high school, youth league, legion, etc. ball fields throughout this country.

The movies aired have made me reaffirm my feeling that baseball is the sport that creates the most emotion within the hearts and minds of its fans. That’s not to say that there aren’t some great stories that came out of football (“The Rocky Bleier Story,” “Rudy,” “Brian’s Song”), hockey (“Miracle”), basketball (“Hoosiers”); but baseball seems to have so many more, which deal with the spirit of the human heart and the evidence that so many have overcome so much, and persevered more, to play the game they loved so much.

The first movie I recently saw was “The Pride of the Yankees,” starring Gary Cooper. It’s the story of Lou Gehrig, and how his career and life was cut short because of a crippling, and fatal disease. What the move emphasized more though, was not how Gehrig died, but how he lived his life, and how he played the game, and how he made his dream to play professional baseball become a reality.

Another movie shown, which helped saturate the overflow of Super Bowl hype was “Little Big League,” the story of a 12-year-old boy whose grandfather (owner of the Minnesota Twins) died and left the team to young Billy, whereby he fired the cantankerous manager of the team, and became the manager himself.

This may have been a takeoff of the movie “The Kid from Left Field,” originally done in 1953, and later remade in 1979, where a little boy managed a major league team with the help and advice of his father, an opinionated ex-ballplayer who was now serving as a peanut vendor of the team. Former Dodger catcher, and multiple Most Valuable Player, Roy Campanella once said, “You’ve got to be a man to play baseball for a living, but you gotta have a lot of little boy in you.” I think this saying gives meaning to all those baseball movies, however fantasy-based in nature, which focus on, or involve, kids in the reason for, and plot of, the movie.

Another movie I recently watched on television was “The Rookie,” the story of Jim Morris, a high school Chemistry teacher and baseball coach, who challenged his players to reach a goal, and was challenged right back by them to attend a professional baseball tryout, which he did, resulting in him becoming a rookie pitcher in Major League baseball at 35 years of age, with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Another test of the spirit of the heart and soul portrayed on the screen which melts the freeze of winter and pushes the sun back up in the sky in preparation for the marathon which is the Major League Baseball season soon to begin.

These are just a few of the so many baseball movies that are out there to motivate, rejuvenate, entertain and excite even the average fan of America s Pastime. There are others that I’ve seen that get me all revved up for baseball season. Of course, all the movies in the “Major League” trilogy, get me fired up. After all, two are about my Cleveland Indians, (even if they are comedies). I always stop my channel surfing when I find “A League of Their Own,” is on. This movie, the past two seasons, got me jacked up to coach my girls softball team at Falconer. Then there are the movies that told more of those heartwarming, overcoming odds, bust-a-gut to reach your dream, stories that helped me motivate players and students, and made me believe that dreams can come true. Some of these include, “The Monty Stratton Story,” “The Pete Gray Story,” “One In A Million,” “The Ron LeFlore Story,” and of course films like “The Jackie Robinson Story” and “42,” “Don’t Look Back” (The Satchel Paige Story), and “It’s Good To Be Alive” (The Roy Campanella Story). There were also those fiction movies that just showed how emotional a game baseball is in the hearts and minds of so many. Who can forget the entire “people will come” soliloquy orated by James Earl Jones in “Field of Dreams,” and the end of that movie when Ray Kinsella asked his father if he wanted to have a catch, or tell me the line from “For Love of the Game,” when legendary broadcaster Vin Scully shouted the line “the cathedral that is Yankee Stadium belongs to a chapel,” didn’t give any baseball fan goose bumps.

These are but a few of the reasons that I wish the line “God, I Love Baseball,” was exclusively mine, but I don’t really mind sharing it with Robert Redford, or the millions of baseball fans who are starting to see the warmth of the upcoming season melt some of this winter’s snow, and feel that same warmth in their hearts as we all anxiously await the call of “play ball” by the men in blue.