Sunday, July 26, 2009

Summer Baseball Movies: America's Passtime on film (and they could improve your writing, too)

My family loves baseball. Well, hubby and I do. That's a big part of why we ended up together. He used to catch for me when I wanted extra practice and couldn't meet up with one of my team catchers. And trust me, catching for any pitcher at our level was not for the faint of heart. He was the sexiest thing I'd ever laid eyes on back there behind the plate with his mask on. Yummmm... Could handle anything I could dish out (I'm fanning myself just thinking about it). Half my team was in love with him, plus he came to every game, even away tournaments to support me. And that's before we even got engaged. Sigh. Is that romantic or what? Just wait until you hear how he proposed (later post).

Now that we're married with kids, we're slowly brainwashing our two boys into thinking baseball is the best sport ever. Even if they don't see it quite yet, I know they'll come around.

I love ball. I love watching it, I love playing it (just the odd slo-pitch game now) and I love coaching it. Long, hot summer days bring back a million memories for me, having spent countless hours sweating away at practices and tournaments all over North America. The earthy scent of freshly cut grass and the tang of sunscreen instantly transports me back to my ball-playing days (I feel so old saying that!). It makes me think of all the friends I've made from the sport I love. I even got an amazing sister-in-law out of the deal (waving madly to Kara!). I feel truly blessed at the ways softball has enriched my life.

It's no surprise that I have my favorite baseball movies, like Bull Durham (all-time fave, especially when Crash tells the batter what pitch is coming to teach his rookie pitcher a lesson. Pitchers can be such head cases :)) and A League of Their Own. I actually met some of the women who played in the All American Baseball League (during and after WWII), at a B.C. Sports Hall of Fame induction dinner. That was back in 1993. Man, does time fly or what?

A lot of bad memories from that year, the worst one being from the end of the season. It took two gruelling years of tryouts to make that team (including several fast-pitch equivalents of Hell Week), but the coaches did choose me for the final roster. I was the starting pitcher for game one, and on the last play of the game I tagged a runner at third base and dislocated my pitching hand ring finger. But hey, at least the runner was out. Injuries hurt less when you get the out. That's the main thing. We mercied the other team 10-0 and finished in five innings. I got the win and a shut-out in the opening game, but that darned finger...

I didn't dare say anything to the coaching staff. I'd worked too long and too hard to be sidelined by a stupid injury I was sure I could suffer through. So I clenched my jaw and pulled the finger into place to reduce the dislocation, hoping no one would ever know what had happened. But within a few hours the thing quickly turned purple and blue, and was so swollen I couldn't move it. Not good. So much for going under the radar. My catcher saw it later that night and tattled on me. I got sent to the medical tent for x-rays and some anti-inflammatories. Long story short? That game was the only action I saw for the tournament. Five whopping innings, after two and a half years of blood and sweat making the squad. I was devastated. We came in third, much to our disappointment. But even though the memories are bittersweet, I wouldn't trade them. My love of the game was as strong as ever.

Anyway, A League of Their Own always takes me back to that memory because we watched it on the team bus on the way to the Canada Games. Then as I said, I met a few of the actual players at the induction dinner. Hands down one of my favorite movies. Great plot and interesting characters. Tom Hanks' character reminded me very much of one of my favorite coaches, only my coach wasn't a drinker. He was every bit as gruff and surly, though. We're good friends now, but when I played for him he once told me "I'm not here as your friend. If you want a friend, go buy an f---ing dog." True story. But I digress.

The Rookie's also good, a true story about a middle-aged high-school teacher who goes back and tries out for the big leagues, and winds up making it. We watched it the other night, and the scene where Dennis Quaid calls home from a phone booth to tell his young son he'd made the Majors... Well, we've seen it a few times, and I always watch my husband's face when that scene comes along. He didn't disappoint me. He always gets all choked up at that scene. How can I not love a guy like that?

My eldest loves Field of Dreams (whose author also lives in my town, White Rock), but let's not forget The Natural , For Love of the Game (also has a great romance plot), or Eight Men Out. Those are my favorites.

Okay, there's a point to this, I swear. As a writer, watching movies like those are great tools to learn plot, pacing, setting, dialogue and characterization. Since I've been writing, I can't simply watch a movie for pure entertainment anymore. I'm constantly watching to see how the writers and directors pull all the elements of the stories together. Just like when I read a book. I notice sentence construction and seem to pick out word echoes (a little pet peeve that bugs me if an author does it too much in a book). I note how a character speaks and how the pacing is developing, how the story threads are woven and joined together.

See? It's entertainment and education all at the same time. What more could you want? Next time you're watching a movie, pay attention to the details of the storytelling craft involved. You'll be even more impressed.


Katie Reus said...

That's so cute about you and your hubby. Can't wait to read the proposal story :) And I love The Rookie too. Of course, anything with Dennis Quaid I'm guaranteed to like!