It's the home opener for the Milwaukee Brewers, and even with the late start, there's genuine excitement surrounding the game – not just because it's a great excuse to day drink during work hours with the smooth sounds of Bob Uecker once again providing the soundtrack on the radio.
No, after last year's impressive campaign – complete with an NL Central crown, a no-hitter and a Cy Young winner – there's legitimate promise for this year's crew. Add in a nice recovery after the season-opening stumbles against the Chicago Cubs, and fans' hopes (as well as hoppy beverages) have continued to pour. October, hope you're ready for another visit from the Brewers! (Hopefully, this time, with an offense!)
The excitement doesn't have to be limited to American Family Field, however. Here are five of the best baseball movies that are definitely worth calling out of the bullpen and pitching on your screen today – or any day for the next six months or so.
1988's "Bull Durham" may be about a minor league baseball team, but there's nothing minor about this sports classic. It just gets the game better than almost any other movie about the sport. It's not about the prestigious, magical sport featuring mythical figures and dramatic clutch hits. "Bull Durham" is about the modest romanticism of playing a pretty much meaningless game on a hot, muggy night for a crowd of locals and mosquitoes in a small homey North Carolina town. It's not about greatness; it's about walking the long grimy road to greatness (while wearing clean shower shoes, of course; dirty shower shoes just mean you're a slob).
Since it's not as reverent, "Bull Durham" feels less about just a game and more about a real, earnest way of life and the many unique, hilarious characters who live it. Thankfully, Ron Shelton's Oscar-nominated script fills the team with memorable characters, likeable performances and legendary lines. There's probably no movie I quote more than "Bull Durham" ("Anything that travels that far oughta have a stewardess on it!"). They never get old, and neither does the movie that spawned them.
This is going to sound crazy, but I almost forgot to put "The Sandlot" on this list. It's such an essential part of childhood that it almost seems more like a cultural touchstone or ritual rather than just a movie.
Everything about this 1993 American classic is perfect. The child actors are terrific (a difficult feat; just ask M. Night Shyamalan about "The Last Airbender"), the script is funny, the relationships between friends as well as father and son are honest and the baseball IQ is high. The best thing, though, is the tone. It's sweetly nostalgic and wholesome, while also having authentic childish rowdiness and banter that makes the characters feel like real kids – not a 45-year-old writer's blandly sepia-toned version of childhood. "The Sandlot" is a part of cultural cannon that well deserves its spot. Just ask the Milwaukee Brewers.
"Field of Dreams"
Considering I have a cold, black obsidian heart, any movie that manages to pry a tear from my eyes is always considered a quality film. And when it comes to manly tearjerkers, it doesn't get much more satisfying tear-jerky than "Field of Dreams." What starts as almost a baseball-themed mystery turns into a beautiful and emotion-packed family reunion, all thanks to the power of America's pastime.
Costner has a reputation as being a somewhat bland actor, though he's very sly and charming in "Bull Durham" – and I think his everyman-ness actually works to "Field of Dreams'" advantage, allowing the audience to project itself onto Ray Kinsella and his emotions. The audience can easily imagine itself having a catch and feeling the magic of that seemingly simple yet timeless interaction between father, son and some chunks of leather.
"Major League," starring Tom Berenger and Charlie Sheen, isn't a revolutionary sports movie by any standard. It doesn't have the real sweat and grit of "Bull Durham," and its story – featuring a cute romance and ragtag band of losers suddenly in the thralls of a pennant chase – is far more conventional. Plus, I always argue the ending is not as happy as it seems because Berenger's knees seemingly exploded while running to first, leaving the team without their starting catcher for playoffs.
That being said, "Major League" is still a great movie. The characters, including the "Wild Thing" Ricky Vaughn and "Willie Mays" Hayes, whose catchphrase is another entry in my personal book of great quotes, are memorable, and the script is filled with hilarious lines – most of which coming from the inimitable Bob Uecker. ("Just a bit outside!") Plus, much of "Major League" was filmed at Milwaukee County Stadium, so it gets several extra points for nostalgia. Yay for homer-ism!
"Moneyball" is a very peculiar baseball movie. For one, it doesn't seem to care all that much for the actual game on the field. Most of the exciting baseball action takes place off screen; even Scott Hatteberg's climactic game-winning home run is only really seen through Billy Beane's (Brad Pitt) locker room reaction. Plus, the witty, whip-sharp Steven Zaillian/Aaron Sorkin script is far more interested in the team's failures than in their triumphs.
These elements can make "Moneyball" hard to love – strange, since sports movies are usually liked more for their emotional pull rather than their technical intrigue and story approach – but they also make the Best Picture nominee one of the most fascinating baseball movies out there.
Director Bennett Miller takes the audience beyond the typical baseball movie and into the difficult business side without losing our interest – with plenty of help from a terrific understated yet superstar turn from Brad Pitt at the helm. Most sports films follow a band of underdogs into triumph, but few movies understand cheering on the little guy – the endless struggle, the inevitable disappointment and the small but satisfying joys that bring you back next season even when the game feels rigged – like "Moneyball."
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.