The Summer Game in Fall


The Saturday night movie was “Trouble With the Curve,” the latest Clint Eastwood offering.  A rom-com with professional complications and a baseball backdrop.  You can’t screw up baseball – the owners have proven that, try as they might – but you can make a predictable, formulaic rom-com, and that’s what they’ve done here.  It’s not exactly paint-by-numbers, but they’re not painting the corners, either.  The characters are, for the most part, barely one-dimensional and overplayed, at that.  Even the final, dramatic showdown between pitcher and catcher misses an obvious trick.

The movie aspires to be a sort of anti-“Moneyball,” with Clint playing an aging scout who thinks his eyes and ears can tell him stuff that the kids’ computers can’t.  That baseball is cruel and unfair won’t be news to fans.  But that it compounds the normal cruelty of high school athletes may come as a surprise to some.  The games are what they are, but the action for the scouts isn’t in the results, but the process.  The reason you need scouts for high school is that any major league prospect is going to so outclass his competition that the results at that level don’t suffice to distinguish between prospects and true star power.  But remember, in “Moneyball,” the whiz kids weren’t using SABRmetrics to scout high schoolers, but under-valued major- and minor-leaguers.  So the portrait of baseball resembles an Escher drawing – the details are right, but they’re placed in a world that doesn’t exist.

Clint and Amy Adams as his daughter turn in nice performances, as does Justin Timberlake, and while neither of the two younger actors has the resume of Eastwood, they can hold their own on the screen with him.  Eastwood is smart enough to know that actors bring their body of work with them to whatever new roles they play, and some skillful use of some footage of a younger Clint helps allude to the outside-the-rules Eastwood that we all remember.

Two, maybe two-and-a-half stars.  As usual, the real game is better.

Especially when your childhood team is finally playing meaningful ball in September.  In this case, that’s the Orioles.  September 2007 was magical here, and I was working a block away from Coors Field.  I got to see a couple of Rockies wins during that stretch, saw the play-in game against the Padres, and saw the two NLCS wins against Arizona, including the clincher that sent them to the Series.  But there’s nothing quite like seeing the team you rooted for as a kid go to the playoffs.

I subscribe to the MLB.com radio broadcats at something like $15/year, and Joe Angel is back doing the games after a purgatory in Yankeeland.  In fact, even as I write this, I’m listening to the Orioles broadcast, and watching the Yankees play the A’s on TV.  Would that it were the other way around, but TBS seems to have some sort of contract that requires them to show Yankees games.

On the rare occasions that the Orioles have been on television it’s been fun to see Camden Yards full again,and the ads for local brands that I had forgotten about, like High’s Ice Cream.  Camden Yards was the first of the retro ballparks, and still one of the best, with the warehouse in right field, and the Bromoseltzer Tower in past center.  It replaced one of the other trendsetter parks, Memorial Stadium, which doubled for the Colts, and really long-time Orioles fans watched a lot of games there.

So one thing that’s been a little disheartening is the crowd cheers.  In Memorial Stadium, there was a guy name “Wild” Bill Hagy who used to lead a cheer from Section 34, spelling out “O-R-I-O-L-E-S” with his body as the crowd shouted out the letters.  There’s even a blog named for it.  Now, it’s basically the same soundtrack as here in Colorado, so it’s probably the same soundtrack as most parks these days.  I know “franchise” implies a certain uniformity of product, but I don’t think that means that the experience has to be the same at every ballpark.  You want to think there’s something different about your team, that just because the players are interchangeable these days, doesn’t mean the teams are.

You like to think that the team’s success is the payoff for all those old fans who’ve suffered through 15 years of losing seasons, and then you realize that by definition, there just aren’t that many who will stay interested through that kind of a spell.  And when you talk about a cheer they haven’t used in 20 years, you sound like the guy 20 years ago who was reminiscing about how hard it was to pick up the ball against the white shirts in center field in Memorial Stadium.

But you know, who cares?  O-R-I-O-L-E-S!