As spring training for the Tampa Bay Rays kicked off in Port Charlotte earlier this month, fans all around the country eagerly embraced the new season of America’s pastime: Baseball.
What is it about the game of baseball that captivates the imagination of the American public like no other? Both on and off the field, people can’t seem to shake the almost mystical hold that the “All American Game” has over us.
Consider the depictions we’ve come to know and love on “The Big Screen” — films that have fascinated audiences both young and old over the years:
Bang the Drum Slowly (1973), The Bad News Bears (1976), Eight Men Out (1988), The Natural (1984), A League of Their Own (1992) and The Sandlot (1993), just to name a few.
A particular favorite among moviegoers was the 1988 release of the film Bull Durham, considered to be one of the most authentic portrayals of the game of baseball. It depicted the players and fans of the Durham Bulls, a minor league team in Durham, N.C.
A relatively low-budget film, Bull Durham owes much of its success to the chemistry of the cast members, which included Kevin Costner as “Crash” Davis, a veteran catcher hired to teach rookie pitcher “Nuke” LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) how to prepare for the Major Leagues.
Susan Sarandon plays Annie, a baseball groupie who finds herself attracted to Crash, a romance that captured the favor of the movie-going audience. The film became a minor hit when released, and is now considered by many (including Sports Illustrated) to be one of the most beloved sports movies ever made.
Costner quickly became a public sensation. His popularity continued into his starring role in the 1989 Field of Dreams, which epitomized the magical influence that baseball can have over us all. The film also featured Amy Madigan, James Earl Jones, Ray Liotta and Burt Lancaster in his final role. An adaptation of W.P. Kinsella’s mythical novel Shoeless Joe, the film was nominated for three Academy Awards.
The movie was a risky one to make, as it required that the viewer suspend all logic and surrender to pure “movie magic.” Like baseball itself, it was a simple story that could also be seen as beautifully complex, and, not surprisingly, it hit a homerun with the American public.
Trouble with the Curve, released in 2012 and starring the legendary Clint Eastwood, is a more recent baseball story that became a moderate box-office success. The film also starred Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake and John Goodman.
The story revolved around an aging, ailing baseball scout whose daughter joins him on one last scouting trip. Like many other humble yet endearing baseball movies, Trouble with the Curve leaves the audience cheering and emotionally satisfied in the end.
Beloved baseball stories don’t just happen in the movies. Here in Tampa Bay, baseball has had a long and storied history. Since 1914, more Major League Spring training games have been played in Tampa Bay than in any other city.
Iconic baseball players from Tampa include Al Lopez, from Ybor City, the first area native to play in the Major Leagues and the first to be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Many current and former Major League players hail from the Tampa Bay area, including Lou Piniella, Fred McGriff, Gary Sheffield, Tino Martinez, Luis Gonzalez, Dwight Gooden, Howard Johnson, Brad Radke, Craig Lefferts, Tony La Russa, Matt Joyce, Chone Figgins, Ryan Raburn and Hall of Famer Wade Boggs.
To celebrate 125 years of Tampa’s rich baseball history, The Tampa Baseball Museum opened in 2014 in Ybor City, and is packed with memorabilia honoring more than 80 baseball greats from the Tampa Bay area. To find out more about the museum, visit tampabaseballmuseum.org.