Saturday, March 23, 2013

March 23- Durham Bulls

I think the first time I ever watched “Bull Durham” was around the time I was 12. For years I had shied away from watching it primarily because of the cover. My mom had bought it on VHS around the time I was eight or nine years old. I was curious about it because I had seen “Field of Dreams” and assumed that any baseball movie with Kevin Costner was probably going to be pretty good. At the same time I didn’t like girls, and seeing Susan Sarandon on the cover just didn’t do it for me. I should also point out that seeing Tim Robbins in his underwear and tied up to a bed on the back of the tape jacket didn’t exactly scream “Watch me!!!” So, it sat and collected dust. If I can recall correctly the first time I saw any scenes from it was while it was on during the summer on Comedy Central. There were a few good scenes and a lot of funny lines, but I could also tell that they were edited and censored. I knew that the next time I visited my mom I had to watch it. And the rest is history.

Not only is “Bull Durham” one of the greatest baseball films of all time, but it’s probably one of the Top 3 most quoted. Not a season goes by where I don’t use the term lollygagger. I think the time in my life when this movie held true to its authenticity in the day-to-day routines of professional ball players came in 1999 and 2000 when I was doing my bat boy duties for the Bakersfield Blaze. Whether it was in the clubhouse or on the field at least one of the guys from the team would spout off some sort of reference to the film; most of the time having to do with fungus growing on the floor of the shower and how shower shoes were a necessity. If not that, then it was the unremitting use of the word meat in reference to an up-and-coming pitcher. Yeeeeeep, those were the good old days, but who am I kidding? Those days never really ended for me. Every year I venture out to as many Minor League games I can get it in, and no matter what the level is I can tell who has seen the film and who hasn’t. It’s almost become a right of passage for anyone who decides to cleat up and make a go at it professional.

I think one thing that I’ve found very intriguing about this hat is that it was truly made famous by the film. While the Durham Bulls were a real club as early as 1902, it was the A-level affiliate of the Atlanta Braves from 1980-1997 that became iconic because of the film which came out in 1988. This hat was first introduce for the 1986 season, a year before filming began, and it is still used today in the form of a navy blue style for batting practice and a two front white paneled version for home games. Because of the success and nostalgia of the film, any thoughts for changing things up have pretty much gone out the window. As far as any notables from the 1986 squad are concerned, there were a few: Jeff Blauser, Ron Gant, Chris Cron and David Justice. In 1998 the original Bulls were relocated to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and became the Pelicans. The current Bulls squad is a new team that has been the AAA franchise of the Tampa Bay Rays who also come into the league the same year

As far as marking this hat is concerned; there were two numbers I couldn’t pass up.

#8- I read a review once which said that Kevin Costner’s portrayal of Crash Davis was the worst character of all three of his baseball films. That critic can go to hell. Crash Davis could not have been more perfect of a character by any other actor… except maybe Timothy Olyphant if there is a remake, but I hope there isn’t; just throwing that out there. Anyway, Crash was the kind of wily veteran figure that any ball club needs at any level. He knows the game, he knows what kind of talent he’s working with, and most importantly he knows how to get the girl in the end… even if she is sloppy seconds. True story. Aside from calling a good came, Crash can still hit. I mean, the guy held the record for most career Minor League home runs at 247, at which he subsequently retired after his final long fly with the Ashville Tourists near the end of the film. The real record is actually held by Mike Hessman who is currently still playing ball in the Cincinnati Reds organization, but that post is upcoming. Crash knew how to deal with the media; he knew how to handle his pitchers even if that meant giving up a home run or two to get them to focus. Yes, Crash Davis is a true man for all seasons if you will; however, there was one thing in the film that has bothered me for years. This…

As you can see the #20 is affixed to Crash’s catcher helmet; however, he has the #8 on the back of his jersey. One of two things can be taken from this.

1. A blatant continuity error that only some film and hat aficionado like myself would notice.

2. Because it’s A-level ball; the equipment gets recycled year-after-year.

To be honest, I mostly buy into option two, but, I’m still keeping an eye on the situation.

#37- Tim Robbins did a wonderful job at playing the young, but mentally absent phenom Ebby Calvin LaLoosh. I’ve been around a number of guys like him in my lifetime. You know, the guy who KNOWS he’s going to be a star and can bed any woman he pleases. I’m not going to name names, but yaaaaaaaahhhh. At the beginning of the film LaLoosh was a hit or miss kind of pitcher. He struck out as many as he walked, but all the kid needed was a bit of guidance to help correct his wild ways on and off the filed. Enter Crash Davis. Like most relationships the bond that Crash and Nuke shared was tumultuous at first, but as games went by the two become familiar with one another, comfortable. Nuke matured in front of our eyes with additional assistance from Annie Savoy played by Sarandon. Not only was she able to get him to breathe through his eyelids like the lava lizards of the Galapagos (and Fernando Valenzuela), she was also able to help him relax on the field and hone in on his pitches while wearing this…

The one thing that I’ve always found most intriguing about this movie is that while baseball is the overwhelming topic of discussion, the real story that’s going on is a family’s love. Despite the fact that Nuke and Annie were obviously banging each other, what really going on is that Nuke is really trying to get that sort of female attention he never really received in life. Proof of this comes when Nuke introduces Annie to her father when his losing streak comes to an end. While we don’t get to know much about him, it’s pretty obvious that Nuke comes from a one parent home and that his father did the best to raise him with the game of baseball. Crash’s role is the sterner role of the father that Nuke never received. While his actual father obviously supports what Nuke wants to pursue for a career, he doesn’t know how to discipline him on the field. Crash knows how to control him and get him to a Major League caliber level. This is why, in the end, when Nuke finally makes the Show Annie is saddened by the news. Year after year she had a new player to entertain and have fun with, but this is the first time she truly feels lonely after he leaves. Crash and Annie were always flirtatious, but while Crash wanted her to commit to just him, she didn’t know or understand how to do that. Now that Nuke (essentially their kid) is all grown up, they can finally be together.

I may or may not have written a paper on this subject, but that was the Cliff’s Notes version. This film is important to anyone who has ever picked up a ball or merely watched from afar. It’s funny, it’s quirky, it’s romantic, and it’s all the things that make baseball so special.  

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