On November 7, 1973, Sylvia Pressler, a hearing examiner for the New Jersey Civil Rights Division, made a ruling that ultimately resulted in the admittance of girls into Little League Baseball, making the Garden State the first to allow girls to play on Little League teams. Prior to the decision, regulations had prohibited girls from participating with boys in the program.
I don’t know how it is that I’d never heard of this movie before, but I stumbled upon it at the library last week, and I’m glad I did. Based on a true story, The Perfect Game is about a group of boys from Monterrey, Mexico who became the first non-U.S. team to win the Little League World Series in 1957.
The movie begins when César Faz moves to Monterrey, Mexico after being let go by the St. Louis Cardinals from his job as a clubhouse attendant. César seems content to drink the rest of his life away, but then he meets a boy named Ángel Macías, a wannabe pitcher who is crazy about baseball. Ángel convinces César to first play catch with him, then later convinces him to help recruit and coach Monterrey’s first-ever Little League team.
The Monterrey Industrials become an impressive team, and before long, they find themselves traveling to Texas to play on the competitive stage. Upon their arrival in the United States, they are met with racism, a language barrier, and visa troubles. Even though they are physically smaller than any of the American teams, the Industrials pull off a series of victories that endear them to the media and to fans. With some outside help and support from a sports reporter, a groundskeeper, friends and family back home, and some other unexpected sources, the team wins its way to the Little League World Series championship game.
I could go into more detail about the plot, but with this particular film, I feel more inclined to discuss what I like about it. Throughout the movie, the boys who make up the Monterrey Industrials are complete reverent about baseball. They consider it to be a gift from God himself, and when Ángel stumbles upon the first real baseball he’s ever held, he is convinced it was dropped from the sky by God. Ángel, who has a rough relationship with his father, is even willing to put up with his father’s shame in order to pursue his passion for the game.
In spite of how his career with the St. Louis Cardinals ended, César Faz also continues to show a love for the game. Twice he accidentally stands up a girl who has invited him for dinner. César is deeply interested in the girl, but he gets so caught up in coaching the team that he constantly loses track of time.
Beyond baseball, and sometimes even on the diamond, the movie tackles the issue of racism in the United States, against Hispanics and African-Americans both. It also highlights the kindness of people, even in the midst of a turbulent time. We see everyone from a diner waitress to the Secretary of State stepping in on this team’s behalf to help them on their journey through Little League baseball.
Overall, the movie has moments that are just so real. We see struggles with alcoholism, a strained father-son relationship, a death in a family, a clash of cultural differences, a love interest, harsh working conditions, and the juxtaposition of leading a practical life versus chasing one’s passions. I wouldn’t call The Perfect Game the best baseball movie I’ve seen (I hesitate to go that far with any movie, really), but it ranks pretty high on the list.
I was in Little League. I was on first base-I stole third base. I ran straight across the diamond. Earlier in the week, I learned the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. I argue with the umpire that second base was out of my way.
The other baseball-related activity from my New York trip was a viewing of the movie The Bad News Bears (1976 version), which, believe it or not, I had never seen before. I had heard of it, of course, though I really only had a vague notion of what the movie was about.
Walter Matthau (“Hey, Mr. Wilson!”) plays Morris Buttermaker, a former minor league ballplayer turned alcoholic who has been drafted to coach a team of misfit little leaguers. The season does not start out well for the Bears. In their first game against the appropriately-named Yankees, the Bears do not even record an out, and Buttermaker finally opts to forfeit on the team’s behalf.
Buttermaker eventually comes around and realizes he needs to do something more than just drink beer in order to help the team, and so he recruits 11-year-old girl pitcher Amanda as well as town bad boy Kelly Leak to play outfield. As is the case in any kids sports movie like this, the addition of these two players is exactly the boost the Bears need to start winning. Next thing we know, they are playing in the championship game.
Naturally, there are other hiccups along the way. Being the daughter of Buttermaker’s ex-girlfriend, Amanda drops hints continuously that she would like to see her mother and her coach get back together. Kelly’s reputation does little to earn him any friends, especially not when Buttermaker encourages him to become a ball hog to try to ensure the Bears make it to the championship. We even see some conflict on the opposing team’s side of the ball, as the Yankees pitcher finally decides he’s had enough of the pressure his coach and father has been putting on him.
The Bad News Bears is definitely a comedy, though not quite your typical kids movie comedy. It’s got an additional edge of profanity and crudeness to it that would make hardcore Disney parents freak out. I’m sure there are plenty of folks out there who wouldn’t be quite so appreciative of this aspect of it, and understandably so, if you’ve got small children. As an adult with a slightly twisted sense of humor and an appreciation for realism, however, I certainly enjoyed it.
Slowly, but surely, I have been continuing my trek through The Simpsons, and I am up to the show’s eighteenth season. In this season, the show highlights the ridiculous levels to which some fans take their obsession even with little league baseball.
The episode starts with Bart Simpson, shortstop for the Springfield Isotots (awesome little league name, by the way), catching a fly ball for the final out of a game, thus earning his team a spot in the championship game. Proud mom Marge Simpson goes out the next day to buy a new dress to wear to the game, bragging to the sales lady about what a star her son is on the field.
The championship game brings a matchup of Springfield against Shelbyville, and Springfield find themselves leading 5-2 in the bottom of the ninth with two outs. Shelbyville, however, has the bases loaded. When their batter hits the ball that could win or lose the game, it heads towards Bart. He drops an easily caught pop up and repeatedly fails to pick it up, kicking it around the field, allowing all four runners to score and giving Shelbyville the victory.
The entire crowd turns on Bart and starts throwing beer at him, but the humiliation doesn’t end there. Bart’s error even makes it into the newspapers, and the town continues to rail on him for losing the game. Bart’s sister Lisa tries to cheer him up by taking to see an old baseball star (Joe La Boot) who dropped a critical fly ball once and still went on to be rich and famous. Unfortunately, it only makes Bart feel worse, even causing a rare burst of tears, after La Boot learns who he is and makes everyone in the building boo Bart yet again.
The next morning Springfield wakes up to find that a self-deprecatory Bart has spray-painted “I HATE BART SIMPSON” all over town. The townspeople gather under the water tower, where Bart is found painting the message yet again. Driven by taunts from the crowd, Bart lets go of the rope he dangles from, in an attempt to commit suicide. La Boot, feeling remorseful, tries to catch him, but trips and misses.
Bart survives the fall, but ends up in the hospital. Still unrelenting, the crowd now starts booing outside of Bart’s hospital window. Finally, Marge snaps, and she storms outside to confront the crowd, telling them they should be ashamed of themselves for treating a child in such a cruel, abusive manner. Furthermore, she calls everybody hypocrites since they themselves probably had similar experiences when they were younger and haven’t gone on to accomplish anything of substance.
Finally, the crowd shows a bit of remorse. Lisa suggests replaying the game (unofficially, but without Bart knowing) to give Bart another opportunity and to help bring his self-esteem back up, and the crowd agrees. Bart is told the game is getting replayed due to the umpire using a non-regulation brush to clean the plate in the first attempt. After 78 tries (with a variety of reasons made up as to why that final inning needed to be replayed), Bart finally catches the ball, “winning” the game.
Little League baseball is a very good thing because it keeps the parents off the streets.
I came across this book while browsing the library yesterday. Baseball, Boys, and Bad Words is a small book, and I found the title intriguing, so I decided to go ahead and check it out. It would be a nice, fast, easy read, and it was about baseball.
The story takes place in 1970, when the author, Andy Andrews, was eleven years old. He and his friends were returning for another season of Little League baseball. This year, they were getting a new coach who was “new to the area.” The new coach’s manner of speech at first confuses the boys, but then leads to some amusing moments throughout their season. We hear about themes familiar to anyone who’s ever played Little League: the worst player is in right field, the coach’s son is automatically the pitcher, etc.
It’s a very short story, so I don’t think I can say much more about it without giving the whole thing away. If it were typed in a straight text format, I can’t imagine this tale would take up more than a couple of pages. Obviously the text is broken up to allow for conversion into book format. Besides the story itself, the book is littered with a variety of pictures and baseball-related quotes, which, if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you would know is something I enjoy.
Though I enjoyed the story (I literally laughed out loud a couple times) as well as the quotes and the photography, if you are curious about this book, I would encourage you to look for it at the library. It might make for a fun gift for a young ballplayer’s birthday, but outside of that, I honestly can’t say it’s worth the money you’d spend on it. It might have been better published in a magazine or other periodical, to be read and enjoyed once, but not something truly worth taking up space on your bookshelves.