These are grim days. The Legislature may raise taxes. Russian aggression. Terrorism. No Nevada teams in the NCAA tournaments.
But just when there’s no hope, the days begin to get longer and players report for spring training. Hallelujah! Let’s talk baseball!
There’s no better way than to talk about the best sports film ever. Which is also the best date film ever. The greatly under-rated, For Love of the Game.
Kevin Costner – who else for a baseball film? – is Billy Chapel, the legendary ace pitcher of the Detroit Tigers. Raised in Michigan. Now 40, a Tiger forever. Hero of the 1984 World Series. Sure Hall of Fame career. One of the nice guys and real gentlemen in the game. (And eye candy for the ladies.)
But it’s the second to last game of the season, with the Tigers again mired deep in the standings. And Chapel is in his worst season ever at 8-9, having barely recovered from an awful off-season pitching-hand injury that nearly ended his career.
The Tigers are playing the Yankees at Yankee Stadium, determined to win a game that means nothing to them in order not to let the pin-stripers take the pennant. The manager names Chapel to start on only three days’ rest. And the Yanks’ Star hitter is his long-time best friend and former teammate who took the NY megabucks as a free agent.
Also, the long-time Tigers owner – one of the last non-corporate owners in the game – is considering selling the team to a group that would trade Chapel if he doesn’t retire.
Best of all, the game is being called on TV by Vin Scully, the best baseball announcer ever, and Steve Lyons, who’s also very good.
As Billy warms up despite a hangover, he has great stuff. But he has a preoccupation much more serious than the game: His on-again, off-again girlfriend Jane. As he pitches, his thoughts wander from pitching, especially against the Yanks’ other star hitter who is his worst enemy, to the last five years that have been blessed and challenged by their romance.
Jane is rendered perfectly by the lovely Kelly Preston. She had no interest in baseball until she met Billy. At 16, she had had a daughter with a jerk who bolted. But, spunky, hard-working and determined, she became a very successful writer and editor.
Jane was initially skeptical of Billy as too good to be true – he really is a prince of a guy – and not her type. But it took them exactly one day to succumb to mad passion for each other.
With him on the road and her consumed by her New York career and teen daughter’s challenges, their relationship is quite fraught even as they seem perfect for each other and enjoy some of the warmest moments ever as a family in the off-season. After they’ve separated and now at a turning point in his life, Billy is emotionally wrought, realizing how much he loves and needs her.
With some great baseball, New York color, brilliant cinematography, and poignant on-field sub-plots narrated as only Scully can, the game is one of the most riveting you’ll ever see. But Billy, preoccupied by Jane and the sense of mortality fostered by his injury and his age, barely notices.
Until the seventh inning, when he realizes he’s so far thrown a … perfect game. Will he make it? Is this the end of his career? Can he get Jane back? All I can say is, the perfect climax is exceeded by an even better epilogue. See it and forget taxes for a day.
Ron Knecht is Nevada State controller.