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Starting Nine: The best baseball movies

Grab some popcorn, and enjoy this list of flicks.

People have told me that it has snowed or is snowing in many parts of the country. I have no idea what they're talking about. It was seventy degrees a few days ago, which preceded a monsoon and tornadic activity earlier this week.

Nevertheless, it is the time of year where people spend more and more time indoors, typically not speaking to one another and watching a screen of some kind tell them about things they kinda sorta want but can't afford. That and politics. A lot of politics.

You know what's fun and not politics? Movies. Baseball movies. It's a great way to get through the off-season. So here's my starting nine of baseball movies to get you to the start of Spring Training.

9. Sugar

Want to put a human face on all of the prospect fetishization that floods the pre-Spring period of baseball? Sugar will do that for you. Telling the story of a kid from the Dominican Republic as he tries to navigate his way through the minors, it's a quiet, contemplative film that focuses less on the corporate polish of the game and more on the human element that gets lost in lengthy discussions about ratings and grades and lists.

8. A League of Their Own

Look, I don't have to argue for A League of Their Own. The only thing I have to argue for is whether or not Jon Lovitz portrays your favorite character in the film? Or your favorite character in the history of cinema past, present, and future?

Probably not. But, it's a well-worn story through the unique perspective of historical adaptation and a cavalcade of strong performances, from Geena Davis and Lori Petty to Tom Hanks and the rest.

7. Bad News Bears

A paragraph from the Wikipedia page of the film says everything you need to know:

Buttermaker becomes coach of the unlikely team. It includes (among others) a near-sighted pitcher, an overweight catcher, a foul-mouthed shortstop with a Napoleon complex, an outfielder who dreams of emulating his idol Hank Aaron, two non-English-speaking Mexican immigrants, a withdrawn (and bullied) boy named Timmy Lupus, and a motley collection of other "talent". Shunned by the more competitive teams (and competitive parents), the Bears are outsiders, sponsored by Chico's Bail Bonds. In their opening game, they do not even record an out, giving up 26 runs before Buttermaker forfeits the game.

6. The Sandlot

Not every childhood baseball movie kindles the same fire as you age. The Sandlot does that for me. It reminds me of backyard games of catch and hotbox, trips to Kauffman and its orange-and-yellow seats, breaking in the glove you got for Christmas, mimicking Ken Griffey Jr. in the basement. The Sandlot reminds me of all the people I played on teams with, how I still remember their names, and wonder once in a while what they went off to.

5. 61*

Roger Maris is an interesting figure. Overshadowed by the greater legends of his time, the team he played for, and the record he would break. It all serves as a backdrop for the interesting internal workings of clubhouses and, to a lesser extent, a peek into what the men behind the personas were dealing with while living the stories that made them famous.

4. Major League

Infinitely quotable. Consistently funny. As an avatar for every bad Royals team from 1999 to 2010, it served a good purpose of reminding you that baseball could be enjoyed, not just for its spectacle and grandeur, but for its absurdity as well.

3. The Natural

Have you ever seen the most famous scene in baseball movie history? Even if you haven't seen it proper, you've seen it played in parody and pastiche in countless iterations throughout popular culture.

And that's more or less what The Natural is. Less than a seamless narrative, but a series of insights and stories about baseball, life, and everything in-between.

2. Moneyball

"Is there another first baseman like Giambi?"
"If there was, could we afford him?"
"Then what the $%&# are you talking about!?"

1. Field of Dreams

As far as I can measure, there are four great baseball speeches in cinematic history. Field of Dreams has two of them. The first, by Moonlight Graham, is everything beautiful about the game and the way it is played. The second, and certainly more famous, is by Terrance Mann, who talks about the indestructible nature of the relationship between America's culture and the game, remaining as the grounding source that pins society. 'Baseball has marked the time' is not an affectation, but a statement of fact. Every measure of American history since the start of the 20th century has been reflected in this most American of games.