When people ask if I'm a religious man, my favorite response is to take a cue from Annie Savoy's opening monologue in "Bull Durham."
"I believe in the Church of Baseball," I'll say.
And it's true. Baseball is so much more than a sport to me.
It reminds me of my childhood – playing home run derby with my brother in the front lawn, throwing the ball with dad, rounding the bases as a little-leaguer. But unlike most parts of my youth, the nostalgia factor hasn't worn off.
Every time I enter a ballpark, I get chills. Every time the Astros get set for that first pitch – yes, all 162 regular-season games – I get those nerves.
Fortunately, Hollywood has paid homage to America's pastime with plenty of gems. And really, it doesn't get better than these five flicks. Without further ado ...
5) A League of Their Own – Penny Marshall captures the game perfectly, and she does it while providing a history lesson of women's baseball. Go ahead and try to find fault with the play-by-play footage. The at-bats, pitching, defensive gems ... everything holds up pretty well.
That woman kept alive the spirit of baseball during World War II, the story needed to be told. Geena Davis is the perfect protagonist, Tom Hanks the perfect antihero/manager, and all the complimentary actresses hit every high note. Bonus points for coming up with the axiom, "There's no crying in baseball," and for Tom Hanks pulling off the longest pee on screen.
Memorable Quotes: Are you crying? Are you crying? ARE YOU CRYING? There's no crying! THERE'S NO CRYING IN BASEBALL!
"Great game, Jimmy. I especially liked that move in the seventh inning when you scratched your balls for an hour."
4) Major League – I defy anyone to change the channel when Randy Newman's "Burn on" comes on to the backdrop of that those gritty blue-collar images of the Cleveland landscape. Major League has it all – great baseball rags-to-riches story, plenty of grown-up humor, an unbeatable soundtrack, plenty of live baseball action, romance, etc.
Every team has slumps. Every team has winning streaks. Every team has aging veterans holding on to the twilight of their careers – Jake Taylor, Roger Dorn, Eddie Harris -- and up-and-coming stars – Ricky "Wild Thing" Vaughn and Willie Mays Hayes. Embodying the mindset that a diminutive payroll can be overcome by hard work, heart and a little bit of talent, these Indians were the original Oakland As and Tampa Bay Rays – well, had those teams been run by an exotic dancer whose husband just died. Cleveland has had a long-suffering sports landscape, but at least the city has the memories of this fictional squad.
Watching the roller coaster ride of Randy Quaid as a fan, "Wild Thing" strike out Yankees slugger Clu Haywood with the bases juiced in the ninth inning of the one-game playoff, Harry Doyle providing the color commentary drunk with a flask nearby, and a pajama-laden Mays Hayes outrun players in Spring Training ... so many great moments.
Memorable Quotes: " I play for the Indians. Here in Cleveland? I didn't know they still had a team! Yup, we've got uniforms and everything, it's really great! (Especially funny being an Astros fan)
"Forget about the curve ball Ricky, give him the heater."
"I hit like Mays and I run like Hayes."
3) The Sandlot – Aside from Bull Durham, I don't think there's a more accurate portrayal of the spirit of baseball. Sticking to its namesake, the movie at its core is about kids playing ball around an old sandlot. It's not glamorous; It's gritty, play-until-the-sundown --- or in their case, until the ball clears the outfield fence – baseball with guys with names likes Ham Porter, Smalls, Benny, Squints, Yeah-Yeah, Bertram, Repeat, Timmy.
The complimentary plotlines of that desirous lifeguard Wendy Peppercorn, a chew-experience gone bad, tree-house shenanigans with free-flowing s'mores, and a ball-hoarding dog known as The Beast, whose biggest prize proves to be a ball signed by The Colossus of Clout make this one of my childhood favorites.
Memorable Quotes: "Hey, Smalls, you wanna s'more? Some more of what? No, do you wanna s'more? I haven't had anything yet, so how can I have some more of nothing? You're killing me Smalls!"
"You play ball like a giiirrrrrrrrl!"
"I've been coming here every summer of my adult life, and every summer there she is oiling and lotioning, lotioning and oiling... smiling. I can't take this no more!"
2) Bull Durham – This placement surprised even me a bit, and it says more about the perfection of Bad News Bears. Whenever someone asks me, "What's my favorite baseball movie?, nine times out of 10 I say Bull Durham. So what's changed?
The unquestioned No. 1 baseball on most lists begins with Savoy's oh-so-perfect baseball monologue and ends with Crash Davis – the journeyman minor-league catcher who breaks the minor league record for career home runs, a mark no ballplayer wants to break – returning to Durham to Savoy and the possibilities of life as a manager. In between, Davis grooms Nuke Laloosh for life in the majors while still holding out hope for that promotion from obscurity to the show. Crash can't quit because that'd be admitting failure and leaving behind the only thing he loves, but he can't hold on because the sport he loves is keeping him from something meaningful with Savoy and a bright future in managing.
Baseball is so much more than the sum of its six-figure-salary superstars, postseason battles and sell-out crowds. It's about the process, and that includes the daily grind of life in the minor leagues that Bull Durham both glorifies and picks apart so well.
Memorable Quotes: "Well, I believe in the soul ... the small of a woman's back, the hanging curve ball, high fiber, good scotch, that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, overrated crap. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter. I believe in the sweet spot, soft-core pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve and I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days."
"I've tried 'em all, I really have, and the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball."
"Relax, all right? Don't try to strike everybody out. Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic."
"A good friend of mine used to say, "This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains." Think about that for a while."
"You guys. You lollygag the ball around the infield. You lollygag your way down to first. You lollygag in and out of the dugout. You know what that makes you? Larry! ... Lollygaggers!"
1) Bad News Bears (the 1976 original) –This is the ultimate underdog story, where a team full of cast-offs -- bugger-eating spazzes, criminals, nerds, fatties, minorities, a girl pitcher, a drunk manager – unite to forever change the structure of the little league baseball in Southern California. They start out as the players who are forced to sport Chico's Bail Bonds unis, and they end with a second-place trophy and a cooler full of beer at home plate.
This gem, this ode to what baseball is all about – camaraderie, empowerment, friendships and rallying – will be required watching when I coach a little league team. In Walter Matthau's greatest acting achievement, "Boilermaker" is a drunk that on the surface has no business coaching this group of ragtags. But in reality his blunt honesty is what the cast-offs need.
He's flawed. They're flawed. No one believes in him. No one believes in them. But they believe in each other. Despite Kelly Leak and Amanda Whurlitzer being the only players with discernable talent, the Bears make it work. They become the penultimate team.
Memorable Quotes: " Hey Yankees... you can take your apology and your trophy and shove 'em straight up your ass!"
"Now, my old coach used to say a tie is like kissing your sister, but the way we've been playing, it's more like kissing a really hot stepsister."
Ask Choctaw boys’ soccer head coach Chris McDaniel or any one of his players to highlight the team’s greatest attribute, and “chemistry” will prove to be the operative word.
“We do a lot of team bonding and we’re always hanging out,” junior forward Shane Nicholson said. “I’d say the team chemistry is better than any other team in the state.”
Chemistry is what spurred the Indians on to a fourth straight district title. It’s what led the Indians to a come-from-behind 2-1 win over defending 3A champion Ponte Vedra in Friday’s Region 1-3A championship. And it’s the guiding force once again as they look to capture the program’s first state title In Melbourne, Fla.
But first things first, the Indians must get past Archbishop McCarthy in tomorrow's 3A State Semifinal at 11 a.m. locally. The Indians are making the program’s ninth Final Four appearance and their third in four years. They are 1-6 in the state semifinal round, their lone win coming in 2011 when their bid for a state title ended in a 3-2 loss to 4A champion Cape Coral.
Boding well for the Indians is they haven’t lost since a 3-2 setback to Gulf Breeze on Dec. 17 and, during the postseason, they’ve outscored opponents 15-2 en route to Final Four.
To watch Choctaw’s 3A State Semifinal matchup at 11 a.m. locally against Archbishop McCarthy, tune in to Bright House Sports Network on channel 47 (1147 HD) or visit http://www.bhsnlive.com/.
When it comes to covering sports, deciphering the perfect venue is obviously subjective. Each sport has its creature comforts. And each sport has its noticeable drawbacks.
Football typically comes with a heated press box seat and a sterling view, but is far from the action. Basketball and volleyball, meanwhile, can be enjoyed in the friendly confines of climate-controlled gyms, but those gyms can be stuffy and crowded. That’s also the case of wrestling and weightlifting, but be prepared to be on your toes to catch the non-stop action.
Baseball and softball can be enjoyed with a bag of peanuts from the bleachers, but back support is tough to come by. Meanwhile, swimming, soccer, track and field and tennis can be covered from the sidelines in a comfortable chair brought from home, but the frenetic pace demands the reporter to be organized and focused. Meanwhile, golf and cross country will get the blood flowing and caloric tally reduced because of their dependence on moving from location to location, which can be viewed as both a positive and a negative. Simply put, each is uniquely different.
As for stat keeping, each has its drawbacks.
So what’s my favorite? Although I love America’s pastime and was a former golfer and tennis player in high school, I’d tell you my preferences are always changing. There’s just no perfect answer.
Speaking for Brandon, I think he’d tell you The Arena at Northwest Florida State College is his favorite. It’s warm but never stuffy, stats are provided alongside food and refreshments, and interviews with coaches are intimate and easy to track down.
He’d also probably tell you one of his least favorite is soccer, considering it’s in the winter and the temperatures and wind chill around the pitch are guaranteed to be at least 10 degrees colder than anywhere in town.
Which leads me to this week, which has seen me hitting the soccer beat hard.
I have a special appreciation for soccer, and I probably make for a funny sight on the sidelines. With my beach chair, water jug, laptop bag and notebook in tow and layered to the nines in warm clothing, I make a loud entrance. And I park myself right next to the teams’ benches.
There’s something to be said about being so close to the action, a fly on the wall of a room where strategies are openly discussed, failures are lamented and moments of exuberance have no filter. It’s an intimate viewpoint, one I wouldn’t dare pass up for a heated press box or a seat in my car.
And I think having that option is what I appreciate most. I work in a room full of L-shaped desks, but my true office is the ever-changing sports arena. And with every venue, I’ve come to appreciate the small things. That’s what I’ll remind myself tonight when I’m on the pitch freezing, trying to generate some kind of circulation to my hands.
I’ve never been a fan of the term. The last time I checked, no where on college degrees is the word mentioned.
It’s subjective. It’s unquantifiable. It’s stupid.
Here’s an idea: Instead of being reckless with the term, why not just afford someone their official title. You know, the one they earned.
So that leads me to the Panel of Experts, a hand-selected hodgepodge of journalists, coworkers, an athletic director and respected people in the community who predict weekly high school and college football games.
Not to discredit anyone on the panel, but no one is an expert. Of course that should be obvious considering our records, which fall well short of our talented field of Nostradamus’s (Take our top prognosticator, NWF Daily News Sport Editor Brandon Walker, who wouldn’t even crack the top 12 of the season standings).
Then there’s me. At 52-23, I’m five games away from even cracking the top 25. As for my place among the panel, I’m ninth among 10 "experts."
I do believe my rank will rise. Because, after all, I’m not terrible at life and I do have a good sense about sports. But this is a weird contest, built on the unpredictability of amateur football.
And that's my point exactly. There are no experts. Certainly not me, regardless of my current or future standing.
It is no secret that the Panhandle is one of the richest athletic locations in terms of producing blue-chip prospects.
But it seems like our neck of the woods has been especially fruitful of late considering the recent onslaught of collegiate All-Americans, top-10 MLB draft prospects and D-1 signees.
Two days ago I sat down with Choctawhatchee senior Bryan Baker to discuss the upcoming draft (June 6-8). The day after that I had a chat with Choctawhatchee senior Brittany Brown, a standout guard who will star on the Florida State women's basketball team this fall. Meanwhile up north at the same time, Sports Editor Brandon Walker was sitting down with Niceville senior Nick Haynes, a three-sport standout and offensive lineman who will star the University of Kentucky this fall.
Then today I got wind of NWF State shortstop Nick Masonia earning honorable mention All-American honors, an accolade that has dominated the local headlines lately. Also earning All-American recognition recently were NWF State point guard and sophomore Chris Jones, who is bound for the University of Louisville next season, Niceville and NWF State alum and current Troy outfielder Danny Collins, South Walton alum and current Alabama tennis standout Alex Guarachi, and Niceville alum and current Seminole infielder Kelly Hensley (Academic All-American).
Accolades like this are nothing to gloss over or take for granted. Being grouped with the creme de la creme in the country is impressive even for the Panhandle, which I hope continues to be represented well both locally and nationally by our neck of the woods.
All-Area lists and I have a love-hate relationship.
Even drawing from the nominations of area coaches and putting in the exhasutive legwork of navigating archives and reviewing stats, the end-of-season lists never seem to come out perfect. And, really, how can they? The lists are both objective and subjective.
Objective in the fact that stats do weigh heavily on the decisions. Subjective in the fact of how we choose to uitlize those stats. For instance, team strength, strength of schedule, class size, talent around said player, team success, what stats should factor into the equation most, and so forth and so forth are all issues that factor into the decision. In a nutshell, it's impossible to devise a formula to accurately compensate for all the tangibles and intangibles in every athletic venue.
But that's true of any Best-Of list, from the prep to the professional ranks.
But being a company man, I'm proud of the Daily News' commitment to prep sports. Despite it just being a two-person staff, I feel our game recaps, roundup coverage and features are substantial. And most readers would agree that the epitome of that coverage rests in our All-Area lists, which cover a range of double-digit high schools and are inclusive to EVERY sport. As for the main sports -- think football, volleyball, basketball -- they are represented in the scope of big and small schools while also sheding light on the premiere coach of said sport.
Simply put, we put a lot of thought and effort into these lists. They'll never be perfect, but the picks are never made in jest. We're always open to recommendations to better these lists and receptive to constructive criticism. We have thick skin, which is required a lot of times in working at a paper serving the needs of so many programs.
So, have a complaint? Let us know. Have a compliment or attaboy to throw our way? We're listening.