Baseball is about Life

March 30, 2011

Bull Durham is the best sports movie I have ever seen. People always want to say of a good sports movie: “It’s not really about sports, it’s about life.” Bull Durham is about baseball. It just so happens that baseball is about life.

Baseball is a game of failure. Just because that’s a cliché, doesn’t mean it’s untrue.

Last year, my favorite team (the Reds) made the playoffs and were promptly destroyed in three games (including only the second post-season no-hitter ever thrown) by the Phillies. And this was a good year. The Reds had not had a winning season for a decade. They had not been in the playoffs since I was a sophomore in high school (1995). They have not won the World Series since 1990. It has been a long drought.

There are 30 major league teams. Obviously, it doesn’t work this way, but statistically speaking, the average team will win the series only once every 30 years, though there will be at least seven near-misses (playoff appearances) in that time span. Of course, there will always be teams like the Cubs, who haven’t won in more than 100 years and the Yankees, who win more than their fair share.

In baseball, as in life, some of us are lucky and some of us are not. Some of us have lots of money and some of us don’t. There are elements of fairness – rules common to all – but neither is a truly equitable endeavor.

But this is what baseball offers and this is why I love it: There is always the chance, even if it’s only the ghost of a chance. And mostly, you have more than that. There are seven teams this year who made the playoffs last year, but did not win the World Series. Perhaps, they think, things will break right this year. There are eight more who had winning records and they have to be thinking that if things turn right, maybe they will be in the playoffs this year. And that would feel like a success, even if it isn’t the ultimate goal.

And there are other teams who signed the big player or have the young kid coming up who are thinking that maybe they won’t make the playoffs this year, but the team might win more than it loses. Or maybe they know that won’t happen this year, but they can see it on the horizon. Maybe next year. And if we can have a winning season, why not the playoff? And if the playoffs, why not the Series? We think about it long enough and it doesn’t seem so far fetched. We can always get better. It can always be better in the future.

But it doesn’t always get better. Crash Davis, despite a call up in some forgotten year, does not become a big league ballplayer. The Pirates haven’t had a winning season in almost 20 years. We all know people like that. At one point or another, most of us are people like that. We fail and we fail and we fail. Sometimes it is because we might not try as hard as we could, but often it isn’t and there aren’t any explanations beyond, “Well, that’s just how it goes.” Sometimes, we age out of our old dreams and we stop trying to be big league players and start trying to be big league managers. We think, maybe this is what I can do. Maybe this is what I’m good at.

Some of us may never find that one thing. We may never reach the World Series. Some of us have to be the Cubs. And it might not even be your fault. Sometimes, the sun just doesn’t shine. To paraphrase Mickey Mantle, Crash Davis was good. Maybe we’re stuck behind somebody (like Crash was). Maybe we’re born in the wrong time and will only be appreciated after we’re gone. It’s so hard to know. And that’s where it turns. Because you never know.

You never know, and tomorrow it might turn around. The shortstop will start to hit and the pitcher will find his control. Many of us will see it coming, but for some it will be inexplicable. Teams go from last to first. It happens all the time and you can’t always see it coming. This is just the way it happens for some of us. It can start to turn and you can barely feel it. Crash Davis might make a good manager someday.

Tomorrow, baseball season will start and there are some teams out there, I am sure, for whom it will start to turn. And some of them won’t see it coming. A groundball will poke through the infield or homerun will sneak over the wall and something will happen. And I love it.

Cate and I finally went to see Star Trek on Memorial Day. I had been lokking forward to it for a while, and I was hopeful — it has gotten pretty good reviews. But I wasn’t going in blind I wanted to see it live up to the billing.

The Star Trek franchise has had some issues lately. The last movie (Nemesis) came out in 2002 and, while I thought it was underrated, I’ll be the first to admit it’s been a while since I found myself really impressed. First Contact was, I think, the last really excellent film, and that came out in 1996. So, it’s safe to say that if Star Trek was going to keep going, it needed something big.

I don’t think it pulled it off.

I’m sure there will be sequels. This is clearly a setup movie, and it’s already made a ton of money, but, and here comes the nerd part, I don’t think it was much of a Star Trek.

Four things have contributed to my being an embarrassingly large Star Trek fan:

1. It’s character based, not story based. More than any other sci-fi movie or franchise, Star Trek has always been about the people. Yes, they are in outer-space, but they are still human (or half-human) and they still have human stories. I like that. I like that it isn’t usually your standard “defeat the bad aliens” kind of thing. Or, at least, that when it is, there is more going on under the surface.

2. It’s like Shakespeare, but in outer space. Really, it is. I don’t know what else to say about it, but go watch The Wrath of Khan or The Undiscovered Country and tell me it isn’t Shakespearean.

3. It isn’t afraid to tackle issues. And, generally, it does it pretty tastefully. Star Trek has always been very, very good at pointing out something relevant in society and then sort of letting you look at it. It’s been a head of the curve on race, sexuality, and host of other issues.

4. There is always a sense of discovery. Or almost always. Sure, there are bad guys and whatnot, but almost always there is also something new that hasn’t been seen before in this fictional universe. This one in particular was important in hooking me as a child.

So, how does the new one do?

1. Character based? No, not really. Mostly because it tried to introduce us to too many characters, even Spock and Kirk who, theoretically have pretty compelling story lines don’t come off as characters so much as cliches. In the old films, the characters were often archetypes, but there is a difference between and archetype and a cliche.

2. Shakespeare? Maybe. I mean, there is sure as hell a lot of death, but where as in the old films, the emotions were wonderfully complex and the characters conflicted, here it’s just sort of basic revenge/quest for power stuff without any of the mess that makes Shakespeare and the old Trek so good.

3. Issues? Nope. Nowhere. No discussion. Not even close.

4. Discovery? Maybe a little, but nothing that fills you with wonder, and discovery never seems to be the object, which is disappointing.

Finally, I have to point out that there are big problems with the story. Sure, the old Trek would take some scientific leaps, but this one goes so far that there a times when everyone in the audience knows enough about black holes. for example, to understand that much of what happens isn’t even remotely theoretically possible. Additionally, elements of the human story are totally unbelievable. I won’t get to deeply into it except to say that absolutely nothing explains the ending beyond a need to make everything set up nice and neat for future films.

Did I enjoy it? Yeah, I did, but there is nothing to distinguish it from any other science-fiction blockbuster. There is no aspiration, and that, more than anything, is a disappointment.

The Reader

January 23, 2009

I’ve had several blog ideas percolating this week, but I haven’t had time to get to them until now, so expect one or two entries a day for several days…

Academy Award nominations are out and a lot of people seem to be up in arms about three movies: The Reader, The Dark Knight, and Slumdog Millionaire. For The Reader everyone seems supremely angry that it is nominated for anything, for The Dark Knight everyone seems upset that it didn’t get more nominations, and for Slumdog Millionaire everyone just seems to be generally wetting their pants over how wonderful it is. I do not understand any of these reactions.

The Dark Knight is extremely overrated. It had no story, no climax, and only two characters that were even moderately developed (The Joker and Harvey Dent/Two Face). Additionally, the last 45 minutes feel entirely tacked on. Why couldn’t Two Face get his own movie? I really don’t get the hoopla. Yes, Heath Ledger was great. And yeah, it’s violent, if that’s your thing, but even the action scenes, in my opinion, were poorly filmed (I hate action scenes that are intentionally confusing and have lots of jump cuts. Let me see what’s going on, okay?). A lot of people are make the excuse that the story was developed in the first movie. I totally agree. I really like Batman Begins, but that does not mean that you can get away with having no story/character development in the second movie. If you want me to call a movie great, you have to give me more than one great performance and a bunch of sloppy action scenes.

Slumdog Millionaire is good. I really enjoyed it, but it is not as great as everyone seems to think it is. After about forty-five minutes, it is totally clear what is going to happen. The plot is EXTREMELY formulaic, and that’s okay. Like I said, I really like the movie. It does a good job making a formulaic plot enjoyable, but it is not the best movie this year. I don’t think I would even put it in my top five. I think this is getting so much attention because of the happy ending, but that’s not enough for me.

The Reader is fantastic. I did not see a better movie this year. Many, many people seem to have a real problem with the story and an inability to relate to the characters, and I just don’t get it. The main character seems especially relatable to me. I watch him and totally understand everything he does. Kate Winslet’s character is also really interesting and complex. What must it have been like to be 20 years old in Nazi Germany? Wouldn’t it have been hard not to go along? And what do you do after? To quote one of the characters, “everyone knew”. No one was really innocent, so of course you pick up the pieces and try to live a normal life. I understand everyone in this movie and I relate to them AND the story is not predictable. I was riveted through the entire movie. Cate had to use the bathroom for the last half of it, but wouldn’t get up because she didn’t want to miss anything. Aside from Mickey Rourke (maybe), Kate Winslet gives the best performance I’ve seen this year, but there isn’t a weak performance in the entire movie. I really don’t understand the problem people have with this movie.

So that’s it, I have no idea where people are coming from with these three movies, especially the reader. If someone wants to try and enlighten me, please feel free.

P.S. Do you know what is the biggest fucking injustice of all? The song category. Peter Gabriel and two songs from Slumdog? Really? Have they heard the track Springsteen recorded for The Wrestler? The Gabriel track is fine, and clearly written to win a Grammy. I can’t remember any of the music from Slumdog, which says a lot, but the Springsteen song has been in my head since I walked out of the movie almost a month ago, and not in a bad way. It’s so haunting and evocative. I do not understand how it didn’t even get nominated.