Sports movies have been around for almost as long as motion pictures have been enjoyed. All kinds of sports, from American football to, well, football (soccer) to hockey to even curling (Men With Brooms). However, it appears that one sport in particular has had more than its fair share of attention.
Popularly attributed to Abner Doubleday, baseball evolved from the British game of rounders over a hundred years ago. With its slow pace, the game could be enjoyed at the ballpark, on radio, and, once it was developed, on television. Many Major League Baseball stadiums have a charm of their own, from Wrigley Field and its unpredictable winds to Yankee Stadium, the House that Ruth Built. Numerous movies – comedies, dramas, biopics, even fantasy – have revolved around the sport and its mystique. Even television series, including such stand outs as The Simpsons, WKRP in Cincinnati, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, have featured baseball episodes. A baseball game builds up its own narrative, its own drama, its own comedy as play progresses. And despite the specialization of the various positions, each position contributes to a team's success, even the designated hitter*.
In 1993, Daniel Stern directed his first feature, Rookie of the Year, a coming of age fantasy comedy featuring Henry, a twelve year old boy who is recruited by his home team, the Chicago Cubs as a publicity stunt to get people into the seats. Henry had injured himself at the end of the school year, fracturing his arm and tearing his rotator cuff. The injuries healed, leaving his tendons a little tight and able to throw a baseball 103mph (165km/h). Henry's first outing is shaky, resulting in a lead-off home run, a hit batsman, and a wild pitch leading to the final out. His second appearance starts similarly, with another hit batsman, but after a confusing pep talk from his hero and reluctant mentor, played by Gary Busey, Henry settles down to get the next batter to ground into a double play and finally gets his first strikeout.
The movie goes on to show Henry as he is separated from his friends, getting caught up in the life of a major leaguer and baseball's business end. The glint of being a baseball player loses some of its lustre, but Henry's awe at being in the majors remains. After all, he is a twevle year old living out his ultimate fantasy.
Does the movie work in the terms of adapting the game of baseball into its narrative? Yes. Notwithstanding that the entire premise is built around a kid living a fantasy many boys, girls, women, and men have had, the story is written competently and directed well by Stern. A great movie, no, but fun and worth watching on its own merits. Helping with the getting the feel is filming most of the baseball scenes at one of the iconic parks of the sport, Wrigley Field. The climactic game builds, tying together several character arcs into the tension as the Cubs work towards getting into the playoffs. Thomas Ian Nicholas is believable as Henry, with sheer awe pouring from him. The supporting cast, though not A-listers outside Gary Busey, include Dan Hedaya, John Candy, and Albert Hall, with cameos by baseball players Bobby Bonilla, Pedro Guerrero, and Barry Bonds. Most of the plays on field are believable; baseball has seen stranger. The pitch used by Henry in the last at bat has also been used by Atlanta Braves pitcher Phil Niekro. Overall, the movie succeeds at adapting baseball for its story.
Next time, Klytus, I'm bored. What reboot do you have for me today?
*But in real baseball, the pitcher takes his turn at bat.