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Oct. 20, 2021

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Baseball movies – a U.S. pastime

‘Field of Dreams’ streaming series gets greenlight

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The baseball movie is as much a fulfillment of dreams and heartbreak as America’s favorite pastime.

Last week’s greenlighting of the 1989 classic “Field of Dreams” as a streaming series shows that while the sport itself hasn’t been packing stadiums the way it once did, the entertainment industry believes in baseball’s ability to fill seats.

The Tom Hanks and Geena Davis flick “A League of Their Own” is also being turned into a streaming series for Amazon. The 1993 kids film “The Sandlot” is likewise getting the streaming treatment on Disney+.

In baseball, it’s tough comparing teams and players from different eras. Could the 1975 Cincinnati Reds of Pete Rose, Joe Morgan and Johnny Bench have held their own against Babe Ruth and Lou Gerhig’s 1927 New York Yankees? We’ll never know. But many generations have and will continue having that discussion in bars and at barbecues from coast to coast. Same goes for the debate over the best baseball movie.

Few know baseball or movies better than Ken Burns, whose 1994 docu-series “Baseball” is in a league of its own when it comes to capturing the history of the game. He told the Daily News that “Field of Dreams” isn’t even his favorite Kevin Costner baseball film.

“My favorite by far is ‘Bull Durham,’ ” he said of the 1988 comedy about a love triangle between two minor league players and a groupie. “It doesn’t tug at the worst sentimental nostalgic goop of baseball, but loves it as fully as any film has ever loved a sport.”

Burns calls “Field of Dreams” a “lovely film” but says “Bull Durham” is something else.

“It’s just a great film — period,” he said. “And it also happens to be about the greatest game that’s ever been invented.”

Turner Movie Classics host Ben Mankiewicz agrees “Bull Durham” is tough to beat. “However,” he tells The News, “ ‘Field of Dreams’ made the biggest impact” on his life.

Mankiewicz recalls seeing that film on opening weekend in San Francisco with his college girlfriend.

“Since my dad and I had an intense connection through baseball — I willed myself to become a fan at 9 because it was a way to connect to him — I called him after seeing the movie, during which I wept and thought of nothing except how much he’s meant to me. I couldn’t wait to tell him.”

Before he could even get started, Mankiewicz says his dad threw him a curveball.

“Oh, my God, what drivel, right?” his pop allegedly said. “If you build it, they will come. Who comes? So silly. I almost walked out. What did you think?”

That answer stunned Mankiewicz and left him feeling defeated.

“Uh, yeah, so silly, Dad,” he replied to his father, who now denies that ever happened and counts himself among the film’s many fans, according to his loving son.

Baseball writer and Deadspin founder Will Leitch also cast his ballot for “Bull Durham.”

“ ‘Bull Durham’ is a movie that is smart and funny and wise about life and also happens to make sure to get the baseball right, too,” he told The News. “That’s why it works: It tells a universal story using baseball, rather than simply telling a baseball story.”

Leitch ranked “A League of Their Own” as his runner-up in an article penned last week for MLB.com.

Tracy Reiner, who played left-fielder Betty “Spaghetti” Horn in “A League of Their Own,” remembers all of her showbiz peers doing baseball movies in the decade leading up to that 1992 film. “Everybody attempted to do a beautiful story about baseball,” she recalled. “My mom happened to like things that were a little more obscure, or unrecognized stories that were real.”

Reiner’s mom, Penny Marshall, shattered a glass ceiling when she directed that grand slam of a film about women’s baseball which, according to her daughter, was originally going to be directed by a man. She doesn’t think “A League of Their Own’s” ranking among baseball movies will be its legacy.

“I think what it did was help women’s sports reemerge,” Reiner said. “The point of baseball movies is to find the kindred sportsmanship experience that we don’t always necessarily get to feel in real life all the time.”

She recalls a scene in that film where a Black woman tosses back a ball that rolled out of play, reminding the white women on the field and audiences alike that not everyone was part of the magic that saw some female athletes enjoy a brief heyday in the 1940s, when the film took place.

Despite Marshall’s allegiance to the Yankees, Reiner was never a sports fan, but she said shooting that film brought she and her mom much closer together. Reiner last threw a baseball in 2017 in Coney Island when the Brooklyn Cyclones invited her to toss out the first pitch.

When Variety wrote up its top baseball movies at the start of the 2021 season, that list began with 1942’s “The Pride of the Yankees.” Gary Cooper plays Lou Gehrig in the Oscar-nominated tale of a Bronx Bomber legend struck down in by illness in the prime of his life. Gehrig died a year before the movie debuted.

Film critic and Chicago native Richard Roeper wrote the book “Sox and the City” in 2007 about his beloved Chicago White Sox. It’s no wonder that when he was asked about his favorite sports films in April, “Eight Men Out” came to mind.

“The film as a whole is really good,” he told The Sports Section.

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