Tag Archive | "Movie Review"

Movie Review: Spaceman


I have been looking forward to watching Spaceman ever since I saw someone post about it online. Unfortunately I was never able to find a place to watch it, until last night. I was rolling through Amazon Prime and saw it available to watch, so I immediately put it on.

But before I get into the movie itself, let me tell you a little about my fascination with Bill Lee. I had always heard of him from watching old baseball games and reading old stories. I never got to see him play since he played before my time. Then a few years ago I picked up the book, Have Glove Will Travel, and I was hooked. To me he is one of the most interesting people in sports history. A few years back I heard the question asked, “if you could have dinner with three people from history, who would it be?” Well I turned that into three people from baseball history, and my three would be Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, and Bill Lee.

So back to the movie. Spaceman is about Bill Lee, and apparently is based off of his book The Wrong Stuff, which I cannot wait to read. It basically tells of his story of being blackballed from Major League Baseball after he got cut in Montreal sticking up for a teammate. It is an interesting tale of one of the most interesting people ever to climb the mound in a Major League game.

The movie itself was okay. I thought Josh Duhamel played a great Bill Lee, but I felt the overall story line was lacking. To me it was a case of having so many interesting stories to choose from that I was hoping for more. So partly that is my own fault. Regardless of my let down, I still enjoyed it. It has some funny moments and even though I knew the end game I was still rooting for him, especially when he goes to Arizona. I don’t want to give away particulars of the movie to ruin it for anyone that has not seen it.

I think baseball fans might enjoy it, especially if they are Bill Lee fans. It is not the greatest movie in the world, but let’s be honest, most aren’t. Go into it with some optimism and I think you will enjoy it. It is after all a very interesting person/story.

I am not sure how you can see the film other than through Amazon. It is free if you have Prime. So if you do, it is definitely worth the time one lazy weekend to check it out.

While you are at it, if you are interested in Bill Lee check out the documentary about him going to Cuba, Spaceman: A Baseball Odyssey.

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Movie Review: Fastball


With so much emphasis on the fastball in today’s game, there is a new documentary out that tries to answer the question of who was the fastest of all-time simply called Fastball. Scouts are looking for kids these days that throw in the mid to high 90s. Bullpens are built with guys that all throw near triple digits. It has simply become a game built on power arms.

The film Fastball does a good job at not only taking a look at the new guys in the game who throw hard. Guys like Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman, Justin Verlander, David Price and others are looked at and talked to about what it is like to throw hard. But what I liked about the movie was how the film went back in time to discuss the guys that came before the new breed of flamethrowers.

Man for man I do not think there is any doubt that the guys of today throw harder on average than any other time in the game’s history. However, there were guys like Goose Gossage, Walter Johnson, Bob Feller, Bob Gibson, and Nolan Ryan that threw just as, or possibly even harder.

The most interesting thing that they did was some of the video and science behind it all. They compare a 92mph fastball with a 100mph fastball which is an interesting thing to see. If they were both released at the same time, by the time the 100mph pitch reaches the plate, the 92mph pitch still has 4.5 feet to travel. That may not seem like much, but it is a huge difference when hitting.

The film does some scientific calculations based on some old data to determine who exactly is the fastest of all-time. Aroldis Chapman has thrown the fastest recorded pitch at 105mph, but is that the fastest ever? I won’t reveal who they say the fastest of all-time is because I really think you should see the film. You can find it on iTunes, Amazon, or Netflix.

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Movie Review – No No: A Dockumentary


There was a lot of talk around the baseball world a little over a year ago when  documentary premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. No No: A Dockumentary was the film in question and was just recently added to Netflix.

Before hearing of the film I knew just a little about Dock Ellis. I knew he was a very good pitcher with the Pittsburgh Pirates back in their heyday of the early 1970s. I had also heard all of the stories of drug use. He has said many times, including in the film, that he never pitched without being under the influence of some drug.

When I first heard of the film I thought it was all about the game in San Diego in 1970 when he reportedly pitched a no-hitter under the influence of LSD. However, it was more than just this incident and in fact a documentary on Ellis’ life.

The story about the no-hitter was an interesting one and something that I can’t even imagine taking place in today’s game, or anytime for that matter. But what made the film great was the insight into his life during and after his playing career.

Before watching the film I looked up Ellis’ stats. I thought going into watching it that he was maybe close to a 200 game winner and had a solid career. That really wasn’t the case. He was good, but mostly for a short time. Perhaps it was the drug use that shortened the effectiveness of his career.

He did have a nice career. He pitched over 12 years in the big leagues, pitching for five different teams. Most of his success came early on with Pittsburgh, but he did have good years later in his career both with the New York Yankees and even a decent year with the Texas Rangers.

But the biggest thing I found from the documentary, and what was the most touching, was the work he did after his playing days were over. There is a good bit on that as well as he eventually got clean and began working with others that were in need of help. He had a lot of experiences to share and became quite a councilor from the sound of it.

Over all it was a great documentary and I really enjoyed it. It is one that will be added to my collection, and I highly recommend it to any baseball fan. It also reminded me that I wanted to read the book The Pittsburgh Cocaine Seven by Aaron Skirboll. Of course that is a story for another day and one that I hope to bring soon.

In the meantime, if you have Netflix watch No No: A Dockumentary. It is just under two hours and it is really good. You can also rent it on Amazon streaming.

Here is the trailer from www.NoNoADockumentary.com:

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Movie Review: Ballhawks


Recently I had the chance to finally see the film Ballhawks. The film chronicles the men who chase baseballs on the streets outside of Wrigley Field in Chicago.

Sheffield and Waveland are two of the most famous streets in sports as players, both Chicago Cubs and visitors, attempt to launch baseballs out of the stadium and onto the streets. Waiting, glove in hand, in those streets are men and boys alike. Some have been there for decades and some a new to the game on the streets.

The men who wait come rain or shine are interesting. There is Moe the “King of All Ballhawks”, Super Dave the “Bad Boy Ballhawk”, Rich the “Elder Statesmen”, and George the “Rookie”. They are all out there for different reasons. Some could no longer afford tickets to the games, so they took to the streets with their gloves.

The main characters have caught thousands of balls. They all have their spots and their routines. Their lives are as varied as any other group.

The film follows them through the 2004 season when the Cubs fell apart at the end of the year to lose out on the Wild Card spot. Then the following season as they also head to spring training, but not for the same reasons as most fans. They head to spring training and use it as their own spring training to get ready for the season of catching balls.

It’s an interesting film as you get an inside look at some of these Ballhawks. A few of them keep miticulous records of all the information from their catches.

However, not everyone in the film seems to think these guys are enchanting. Harry Teinowitz, a Chicago radio personality, seemed to think they were a bit more like losers than anything else.

I can’t say I fully agree with Teinowitz, but I did find I was tuning out after awhile of the film. It’s well made and even has Bill Murray as the narrator, but it seemed to go a little too long.

If you are a huge Cubs fan, I would say give it a go. It’s an interesting part of Cubs history, but the characters themselves weren’t as captivating as I had hoped.

You can find more information at the Ballhawks website or watch  it on YouTube’s movie channel. Check out the trailer below and decide for yourself.

Ballhawks Trailer 2012 from Mike Diedrich on Vimeo.

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Movie Review: Knuckleball


I spent many hours in the outfield and on different mounds of baseball fields all over Texas practicing my knuckleball. Growing up in Texas in the 1980s, I was always Charlie Hough when pretending to be a knuckleball pitcher. It was a lot of fun, but my knuckleball was never that great.

Fast forward to the 1990s and I can remember watching Tim Wakefield pitching for the Pittsburgh Pirates and pitching well. I’ve always been a fan of knuckleball pitchers. It’s a fascinating pitch that people think is easier to throw than it really is.

So when I saw they made a movie about the pitch, I had to see it. Knuckleball! was a great film. It is a documentary on the most unpredictable pitch in baseball.

The main stars of the film are Tim Wakefield and R.A. Dickey and it takes place during the 2011 season which was Wakefield’s last. I loved how the film documented the careers of both Dickey and Wakefield as neither of them started off as a knuckleball pitcher. Both converted to one in a last ditch effort to make it, or in Dickey’s case stay, in the big leagues.

They showed the path of both careers pretty well which made for an interesting story since both had completely different paths to big league stardom. They demonstrated that they are not only pitchers but good athletes. Sometimes knuckleball pitchers are seen as lesser athletes because they don’t throw as hard and many times are much older. I liked that they showed this wasn’t really the case.

I was glad they brought in some of the older guys to talk about the pitch including Jim Bouton, Charlie Hough, Wilbur Wood, and Hall of Famer Phil Niekro. The pitchers seem to have a special bond with one another that I found interesting.

What I didn’t like is they didn’t talk much about the history of the pitch. They talked to a few old timers that threw the pitch, but I would have liked them to go further back in time and talk about when and how it started and why some of the older guys started throwing the pitch.

With that being said, the film was very interesting. I was curious how they would show the pitch in they eyes of conventional thought. They basically had the pitch coming off as unreliable and a second tier pitch that is almost looked down on at times. I can understand that to an extent, but if it was so unreliable then guys that throw it well wouldn’t have lasted so long in the big leagues and gotten so many starts.

I’d definitely give it a look if you’re a baseball fan. It’s an interesting film about a pitch that not many people throw.

 

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Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Movie Review: The Emerald Diamond


Originally posted on BaseballJourneyman.com

What country won its first international baseball game against a country that no longer exist and the first player to get a hit in international play was born in another country?

Ireland

I have always been fascinated with baseball played in countries other than the USA. Sure it’s the same game, but at the same time it’s not. Awhile back I came across a documentary on baseball in Ireland, and I had to see it.

The Emerald Diamond is a beautiful film. It chronicles the emergence of the Irish National Baseball Team on the European baseball scene. It is an interesting story told by film maker John Fitzgerald.

Up until 1995 there was no Irish National Baseball Team. It basically formed out of the desire of a few softball players who wanted something a little more. They continued the hope and formed a team that would eventually play internationally in 1996.

The European B Pool Championships were being held in England in 1996, so the boys in green got ready and made the trip.

Most of the players on the team had very little or no experience playing baseball growing up. For the most part they were far outmatched by their European counterparts, but they never quit.

After a successful trip to England, for a developing team at least, they received some help from an Irish-American. Peter O’Malley at the time was the owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers but was a player in helping develop baseball globally. He helped build the  O’Malley baseball fields in Corcaigh Park in Clondalkin, West Dublin, Ireland which is considered the home of Irish Baseball. It also happened to be the first baseball field in Ireland.

The team continued to play in the European Championships gradually doing a little better each time as they gained more experience. However, it was when the team raised funds and took off on a trip to the USA that things really seemed to turn around.

In 2001, the Irish National Team and an all-star youth team took a two-week trip to the east coast of the States to play exhibition games. They learned a lot on this trip and it eventually helped them improve in the long run. Both the youth team and the National Team quickly learned from seeing other teams practice and play. They also received some help from coaches in the States that they met in the games. It was a great learning experience that helped propel the team to further heights.

However, the highlight of the trip had to be playing an exhibition game at Fenway Park.

Throughout the film you see the want and desire on every players face as they go through a learning curve. But that desire to compete and improve never leaves. It’s an infectious thing that no matter how bad the loss might have been would always creep back into the minds of the players and coaches.

That’s the beauty of the film. It’s great seeing the improvement of the team, and they really did improve but I don’t want to give everything away (you’ll have to watch the film). But the real beauty if seeing the growth of the game on every level. Not only did the adult program expand and improve, but so did the youth programs and that is really where the growth of the game will come from. The first adults to play the game will get old, but if the kids find a love in the game you will have baseball forever.

It’s a great film. Head on over to IrishBaseballMovie.com to read more about it and don’t forget to pick up a copy. You might be surprised how quickly the team went from nothing to winning games internationally.

I have to give this a 5 glove rating. It’s definitely one you’ll want to own.

Stay tuned for more reviews coming soon….

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Movie Review: 10 Men on the Field


A crisis has happened upon Major League Baseball and the owners have decided to meet to discuss a possible solution. This is the basis of the short film 10 Men on the Field by Scott Essman.

The crisis is a fall off in attendance and a few of the larger market team owners have the solution that will revolutionize the game and put fans back in the seats. And that is to add a 10th man onto the field on defense.

There is a cast of eight owners, mostly of large market teams but others as well. The other man in the room is the assistant GM of the “other” New York team and he is the lone dissenter of this master plan.

I thought it was an interesting approach to what seems like a shot at some of the baseball owners. The assistant GM of the “other” New York team fights a valiant effort to find a way to bring the real fans back to the game that it is slowly alienating due to the high costs of attending games.

I found it a little humorous in the portrayal of some of the larger team owners. In no way do they resemble the present owners, but it really has the feel of a lot of fans these days in that the bigger teams sort of run the show for their own good.

They talk about the expanded wild card system and how it will bring more money to those who play in it each year. Only to have the Kansas City owner bring up the fact that it is only for those teams that play in it each year hinting at the fact that his team won’t be one of them.

The part I really loved was when the assistant GM brought up the salary cap instead as a way to rein in costs and help the average fan get back to the game by lowering the costs of attending. Of course, it was immediately thrown out by the big owners for two reasons. First, the player’s union is too strong and they would never go for it. Secondly, it would only help the big teams by lowering salaries and raising their revenues.

However, the assistant GM of the “other” New York team wasn’t dissuaded at all. He almost laughed at their notions when bringing up how the middle market teams in the NBA were doing under their salary cap.

There were a few other moments I really enjoyed but I don’t want to give it all away.

It’s a short film under 30 minutes, and it was entertaining. Most of it, 95% or more, it just owners sitting in a meeting room talking, but it was nicely put together. I especially liked its message which to me seemed to be make the game more affordable so the average person can get back to attending more games like it was in the past. And make the league more competitive top to bottom so every team can once again compete.

I’ve felt that way for a long time, which is why I think I really enjoyed watching this film.

So check out 10 Men on the Field. You can find more information on their website. If you would like to purchase the film, email Scott Essman at scottessman@yahoo.com. DVDs are $10 postpaid.

Below is the trailer. Check it out for a short glimpse of what it is about.

 

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Movie Review – Harvey’s Wallbangers: The 1982 Milwaukee Brewers


I grew up watching Robin Yount play for mostly mediocre and sometimes bad Milwaukee Brewers teams, but I always loved watching him play. I got to see his MVP season in 1989 and know him only as a center fielder as my baseball conscious didn’t start until after he injured his shoulder. I had only heard stories of the 1982 season.

I’ve never been a huge Brewers fan, but I always rooted for them when they had a chance for the playoffs because they always seemed to be on the outside looking in during my childhood. I admit to having my issues. I didn’t like their move to the NL. I’m not a huge fan of their former owner turned commissioner, but I have always been curious about the team I always heard about, Harvey’s Wallbangers.

I finally got the chance to view the video on the Milwaukee Brewers 1982 season, Harvey’s Wallbangers. It was a treat even for a non-Brewers fan.

I think the best description for the 1982 team was a softball team playing baseball. The pounded the ball with 5 guys hitting 20+ home runs (Molitor hit 19), 4 guys with 100+ RBI (Simmons with 97), and 3 guys with 200+ hits. It was a stout lineup that captured the imagination of a hard working city, and it made for a great story.

I learned a lot about the 1982 Brewers. I was glad the film talked about the previous seasons and how a lot of the players came to be Brewers. It was interesting to see how the team was built, and what brought Harvey Kuenn to manage the team.

The cast of characters on this team was amazing. It included four future Hall of Famers in Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Rollie Fingers, and Don Sutton. Throw in a good helping of colorful guys like “Stormin” Gorman Thomas, Pete Vuckovich, Jim Gantner, Ben Olgivie, and Cecil Cooper and you have not only a great lineup, but a fun group of guys.

The team started off slow, then they fired their manager and handed over the reigns to Harvey Kuenn. That’s when it all turned around. They stared pounding the ball in a fashion that would lead them to an eventual spot in the World Series.

What a great season 1982 had to have been. Unfortunately I was too young to watch any of it having been only 6 at the time. But the American League East came down to the final day of the season in a game that pitted two future Hall of Fame pitchers in Jim Palmer and Don Sutton.

The Brewers won that game, then defeated the California Angels in 5 games after trailing 0-2 to reach the World Series.

The World Series would go 7 games with Milwaukee leading 3-1 late in the game only to see it slip away.

It was a great film that had a lot of character and an interesting story. After all, can you think of another team that lost their major championship and the city still threw them a parade? That’s capturing the fans of a city.

I learned a lot about the Brewers of the early 1980’s, and it was nice to see some of the guys I grew up watching on TV.

If you’re a Brewers fan, I think you’ll love this. If you’re not, you’ll still love it. You can pick up a copy on Amazon.

 

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Movie Review – Ballplayer: Pelotero


After a long wait, Ballplayer: Peloterowas released on July 13, 2012.  Pelotero is the story of two Dominican kids as they prepare for the July 2nd international signing day.

The film follows Miguel Angel Sano, the most sought after player of the year in the Dominican in 2009, and Jean Carlos Batista.

The atmosphere in the Dominican for baseball is fierce. Players can spend a year or more away from home with trainers living and breathing nothing but baseball for 8-10 hours a day. The months leading up to the July signing day is a hectic schedule of tryout camp after tryout camp as the young kids put on a display for the Major League clubs.

The interesting thing is the age that MLB teams look to sign Latin players. In the USA, top prospects out of high school are typically 18 and are sometimes given millions in signing bonuses. However, an 18-year old Dominican prospect has lost serious value. The MLB clubs want to sign the kids at 16 and each year over that only hurts their value.

So what do players routinely do? They lie about their age in order to try and cash in on the millions offered by MLB. After being burned many times, MLB now has an investigation unit in the Dominican to research the identity and age of prospects.

This is what made Pelotero such an interesting film. It exposed the underbelly of the process.

Jean Carlos Batista

Jean Carlos left home to train with Astin Jacobo at the age of 13. For the next three years Astin helped mold him into a legit prospect as a switch hitting infielder.

When the 2009 signing day came, the offer on the table was $450,000 from the Houston Astros. Batista turned it down against the advisement of Astin. He asked for $600,000 but the Astros didn’t have the money and signed another player for $370,000.

Then the real problems came.

MLB investigated Batista and determined he had lied about his age. Unbeknownst to Astin, Batista was actually 17. Having lied about his age, MLB served him with a year suspension. After serving the suspension, Batista signed with the Astros for $200,000. He was initially hoping for $1.5 million.

The rift between Astin and Jean Carlos was huge after he lied about his age. Astin felt he was betrayed and lied to and even won a lawsuit against Batista for damages to his baseball academy due to his age fraud.

Migual Angel Sano

Sano was the big fish everyone wanted in 2009, but his asking price scared off a lot of teams. However, one team that was extremely interested was the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Pirates knew they couldn’t give Sano the money he was asking for. Then all of a sudden there were reports that Sano lied about his age. The family felt this was an underhanded trick to scare away other teams and bring down the price so the Pirates and their scout Rene Gayo could sign him.

Sano’s mother even went as far as hiding a camera in her house before a meeting with Gayo. In the meeting, he told the family that “Unfortunately, this is the country of lies”. He basically told them he was Sano’s only way to get a visa to the US which he needed to be signed.

The MLB investigation was a peculiar one. It lasted quite a while and although he was eventually cleared as far as his identity, they said his age was undetermined. This meant they could not prove or disprove he was 16 at the time. But the most peculiar thing is when during a meeting with the MLB investigator (who is only there to investigate right?) told the family that if he signed with Pittsburgh the investigation would be over and there would be no suspension.

Sano didn’t sign with Pittsburgh. Late in 2009, he finally came to terms with the Minnesota Twins and received a $3.15 million signing bonus, which was a lower than the initial $4.5 million they thought he could get.

Today Sano is one of the top prospects in all of baseball.

The film gives us a fantastic look into the world of the Dominican baseball pipeline. The work they put in at such an early age to get off the island and into the big leagues is astounding. They are worked and, in many cases, taken advantage of by many people along the way. One of the opening lines of the money says it best,

“It’s like when you go and harvest the land. You put the seed in the land, and then you put water in it, you clear it. You do all this and then, when it grows you sell it.”

Whatever they are doing is working. Twenty percent of the ballplayers in the minor and major leagues are Dominican. But are they doing more good or bad when most of the players that are put through the trials of baseball in the Dominican aren’t making it in baseball?

I’d definitely give the film a watch. It’s an interesting look at the process.

You can find the movie on iTunes and Amazon. It can also be found at several theaters across the country.

 

 

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Movie Review – Spaceman: A Baseball Odyssey


Originally posted on BaseballJourneyman.com

Bill Lee may be known as the Spaceman, but you could very easily call him Mr. Baseball. Lee has a passion for the game that really comes out in the film Spaceman: A Baseball Odyssey. Bill Lee joins a team from San Diego on a trip to Cuba for a little barnstorming trip.

It’s an interesting ride in that you not only get to see a different side of Bill Lee from what you might see on TV in interviews, but you get to see a small insight on baseball in Cuba.

Nobody on the trip to Cuba from the US was ever paid to play baseball with the exception of Bill Lee. This is a group of adults who love the game. Traveling to a game on a bus and getting off together as a team is their major leagues. To do that in another country  has to be an absolute thrill. Throw in that you are doing it on an island that is baseball crazy and it has to be a trip of a lifetime.

All of the Cuban players are older adults who have played their entire lives, and it shows. They play good baseball and put the American team to the test in each game. Not only do the players show a love of the game, but you see people showing up to games as fans to watch that love it. Some show up to practice their English, some show up to see the former major leaguer play, and others simply want to watch baseball.

Everywhere the players go they are greeted by friendly people and most are fans of the game. It’s an amazing insight, albeit small, into a culture that has almost been closed off completely to Americans. The opposing teams and people on the streets are interested in talking about the old guys who played with Lee, and they know them. They remember Fred Lynn, Luis Tiant, Fisk, and others.  It’s amazing how much the casual fan knows there.

Another aspect of the movie that is interesting is seeing the fields they play at. Of course, they are all older but the field itself always looks like its in pretty good shape. You see some nice fields with makeshift fences at times or old concrete stands that were erected in the 50?s or earlier.

A lot of the movie is about Bill Lee and his history which is pretty interesting. I enjoyed it especially since I only know Lee from what I have read because he was out of baseball before I can remember watching. He had a lot of interesting things to say and was quite a character. I can easily see how he got the nickname Spaceman, but don’t get fooled into thinking he isn’t an intelligent man. He reminds me of a baseball version of Dennis Miller. He uses a lot of references that most people won’t understand which to me makes him even more interesting. In the day of internet and Google, you can actually search some of the references with the click of a mouse.

He’s also part Satchel Paige in that he is still playing into his 60?s (I believe he was 58 at the time of the film). He talks about Paige in the film as well saying he is his idol for having played so long at such a high level. The both have some interesting quotes as well.

You get some insight on Bill from some of his contemporaries and others that he was around in the game of baseball. Fred Lynn, Dick Williams, Luis Tiant, and others are interviewed about Bill Lee. They all have something interesting to say and when you combine that with some old interview footage it makes for an interesting look at the man himself.

This film has made me more of a fan of Bill Lee and has made me want to read some of the books he wrote. You can also catch Bill on another trip to Cuba in the Film Gift of the Game

I highly recommend watching this film. It’s only just over an hour long so its not a huge time commitment, but it’s extremely interesting. Take an inside look at baseball in Cuba, if only for a minute. And get a look at Bill Lee and you can’t help but love his love of the game whether you are a Red Sox fan or Yankees fan or anyone in between. I give it a rating of 4 gloves.

 

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Clint Eastwood to Star in Baseball Movie


Last year Brad Pitt and Moneyball put baseball back in the limelight in Hollywood. With all the buzz surrounding last year’s hit, Clint Eastwood is busy making a baseball movie of his own.

Eastwood stars as an aging scout who is taking his daughter on one last recruiting trip. The movie is full of stars with Eastwood, John Goodman, Amy Smart, and Justin Timberlake.

The movie titled Trouble with the Curve is scheduled to be released in late September of this year.

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Movie Review: Gift of the Game


Originally posted at BaseballJourneyman.com

In 1980, writer Randy Wayne White was in Mariel Harbor, Cuba to help a friend retrieve his family during the MarielBoatlift. After the week plus that he spent under armed control in the harbor by the Cuban military, he swore he would never go back.

Twenty years later, White set out for Cuba to try and resurrect a children’s baseball league founded by Ernest Hemingway many years before. He set out to find a team to go with him to bring equipment to the kids where Hemingway taught the game years prior. His team would include a priest, his son, and along with many others two former Major Leaguers in Bill “Spaceman” Lee and Jon Warden.

It took them a year to get the people and equipment in place, not to mention talking the American government into allowing them to go. But with equipment in hand, they set off for Cuba and what took place showed how great this game is.

The original plan was to go to the same area where Hemingway lived to seek out the old players from Hemingway’s Gigi Stars team and try to resurrect the children’s league. Things don’t always go as planned, especially when you are in a place like Cuba.

After first arriving, they were denied by the Cuban government help in finding the former players and were told they couldn’t even play a pick up game. So White, with names of the old players in hand, wonders the streets looking for them and finds some of them. They are greeted by smiles and hugs from Hemingway’s former players who are eager to talk about playing baseball with the great writer. They meet with several of the team members and agree to return in 5 days with the equipment to give to the children and hopefully restart the league.

Back in 1980, White had heard about a pitcher nicknamed “the man with 100 moves” and he was anxious to see if he could find him, so he set off to see. Finding the area where he lives, White was told he was not home but to come back the next day. Little did he know that would not be necessary as Perfidio (sp?) Perez would come find him after hearing they were looking for him.

Throughout their trip, White and the guys saw kids playing baseball everywhere with homemade bats and balls. The bats would be hand carved out of tree limbs and they would fashion balls out of anything they could find. It was amazing to see the love of the game there. They don’t have cable TV, Nintendo, and things like malls that take up so much of the attention of kids in other parts of the world. Seeing the looks on the kid’s faces when the guys would stop their bus and hand out equipment was priceless. Holding a real ball or bat in their hands their smiles would light up the night sky.

Twice White, Lee, Warden, and the rest of the guys play pick up games. They were usually out manned but everyone involved always had a great time. After every game a party would spring up and dancing, eating, and drinking would spring about. Just the simple happiness seen in the people of the land was infectious. But it wasn’t always the case.

In downtown Havana things were quite different. There people were much more aware of the police presence around them and were quick to quiz the Americans if they were some sort of police. On one hand you can see the passion for the game and the pure simple joy they get out of it, and the next minute you can see the oppression and fear that these people experience on a daily basis.

Perhaps the best example was from the former players themselves. After returning to hand out the equipment, they were told there would be no game and no party. The joy in their faces had gone and they were very serious. It turns out that higher ups had deemed it wasn’t going to happen and they had no choice but to follow suit. A compromise was soon had that there would be no game, but there would be a party.

The government had allowed the guys to play one sanctioned exhibition game with the Cuban Over 40 team. These were all ex-players who could still play a bit. While the game highlights and banter were fun to watch, the real excitement came after the game. This is when a government official came with armed soldiers to take all the equipment they had brought. They took everything from the bus that they had on them. Luckily they were smart enough to pay someone to hide a lot of the equipment for the kids so when it came time to give it out it was there.

I really enjoyed this film. Bill Lee is always fun to watch. He is a great ambassador for the game and always funny. I was not familiar with Jon Warden but the grew on me very quickly. He is a fun-loving and funny guy who just wants to make people smile. But the best part of the film was the kids. They benefited in the form of equipment and were very excited anytime a hat, ball, glove, or bat was handed out. It’s a shame that they are unable to get the proper equipment needed for the game. There is, and always has been, a wealth of talent there.

I highly recommend anyone who is a baseball fan to watch this film.

If you enjoy this film, you might also want to check out Bill Lee’s journey to Cuba to share the game in Spaceman: A Baseball Odyssey.

 

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Movie Review: Time in the Minors


Time in the Minors

I have watched a lot of documentaries on baseball. My favorite ones deal with what minor leaguers do in order to reach the major leagues, and Time in the Minors delivers.

Time in the Minors is a film by Tony Okun that follows two minor league players in their quest to reach the major leagues through the 2006 season. The best part of this film is that it follows two players in different times of their career. The first was a 6th round pick out of one of the best college baseball programs in the country in Stanford named Tony Schrager. By this time, Schrager had been in the minor leagues for 8 years and had reached the AAA level, but had not reached the majors. The other player followed is a high school player drafted in the 1st round by the Cleveland Indians in John Drennen. With a million dollar bonus, Drennen heades to low A ball as he starts his professional career.

With each player you get to see different aspects of minor league life, the breaks you need to advance through the levels, and the hard work that has to go in everyday.

Minor League Life

Whether you are a 1st round pick that got a million dollar signing bonus or a 6th round pick who only got an $87,500 bonus, life in the minors is going to be similar. No matter where you get drafted, you aren’t going to make a living playing single A baseball. Pay is just not that much. In 1998, rookie league players got paid $850 a month. By 2005, rookie league players were only up to $1175 a month in pay. Then take in the fact that you only get paid during the baseball season, you aren’t talking about enough to make a living through the year. Plus they do not get paid during spring training. This is something that is often overlooked in different documentaries covering minor league baseball, so I was glad to see it addressed in Time in the Minors.

It’s a difficult time for the players, but also for their loved ones. At one point, Tony Schrager and his wife talk about some of the things they went through. I was glad this was included in the film because its the little things like this that are too often overlooked. At one point in the year, Tony was playing with Carolina but was promoted to AAA Albuquerque. He had to jump on a plane and get to the Salt Lake City where Albuquerque was on the road and leave everything behind. So his wife was given the task of driving from their home in Arizona to North Carolina, pack up everything, and drive it back to Arizona. This isn’t they type of thing that you hear about often if at all. But it gives you more insight of the difficult things a minor leaguer, and his family, can be put through.

Being a professional baseball player isn’t always glamorous. Most people see the Major Leaguers and see the glamor that goes along with it, but life in the minors isn’t so glamorous. Between the long bus rides, low pay, old ballparks, cramped dressing areas, and sometimes living with a lot of teammates or with a host family, life in the minors takes a tough willed player to keep going.

John Drennen

John Drennen with the Akron Aeros

Catching Some Breaks

Every year, 1500 players are drafted into the minor leagues. That means a lot of players are going to lose their jobs to newer younger players. You don’t make it to the big leagues without talent, and you might not make it without catching some breaks. But in the grand scheme of things, those breaks can go against you.

That is what happened to Tony Schrager in 2005. Schrager worked hard and made his way through the minor league system. Having made it to AAA with

the Dodgers organization, he was invited to spring training and told he was one of 35 guys they thought could help them in the big leagues that year. Tony got sent down to AAA to start the season but felt this was his year to be called up. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. I don’t want to giveaway everything that happens, but as someone who dreamed of playing major league baseball as a kid, it’s a little hard to watch as Tony get past over after many solid years in the minors.

It just goes to show that the breaks don’t always go your way. Less than 10% of the players that play minor league baseball will make it to the major leagues. Sometimes it takes more than simply talent to make the big leagues.

Tony Schrager

Tony Schrager with the Carolina Mudcats

Work Hard Everyday

Perhaps the greatest part of this documentary is the inside look at just how hard you have to work everyday in the minor leagues.

When a player reaches the minor leagues, playing everyday might be the most difficult thing for him to overcome. John Drennen went from high school to the pros and you got to see his struggles which was an interesting inside look at a top prospect. Injuries, the daily grind, and simply learning how to prepare to play everyday are things that get shown in the movie. Drennen’s manager Lee May Jr. talks about the challenges that players go through. Learning how to pace themselves is key to becoming a better player. Drennen is a player who goes hard all the time, but learning how to pace himself to make it through that daily grind was one thing that he talked about.

Too many people think that being a professional player is just sleeping late, showing up to play a game, and partying all night. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. The ones that work hard everyday are the ones that have a better chance to continue the climb through the minors. The documentary does a great job conveying that each time a player moves up they have to prove themselves again.

The documentary also shows the mental side of the game, which is one thing that is so attractive about the film. This might be the part of the game that separates the cream of the crop from the everyone else. Tony Schrager talks about have a bad day in the baseball business and the possibility of losing a job. That is not something that is apt to happen in the rest of the business world. If you have a bad day at the office chances are you will come back the next day without fear of losing your job. That’s not the case with a minor league player. On a whim a player can have a job one day and not the other.

Filmmaker Tony Okun talks with some big whigs from the baseball world which was a nice added touch. Getting to hear the insight of people like Indians Director of Player Development (now the manager of the Toronto Blue Jays) or advanced scout for the Chicago Cubs Brad Kelley was very interesting. These are the people making the decisions on who to sign, who to cut, or who to promote/demote in their systems. But one of the people in the film that I really enjoyed listening to was Kenneth Ravizza, PhD. He is a Professor of Sport Psychology from Cal State Fullerton University. He was able to talk about the challenges that players face playing everyday and some of the things that they must overcome in order to continue to advance through the minors. It was very interesting to hear from a professional point of view.

I think the quote from the beginning of the movie sums up a lot of things dealing with minor league life.

Every day is an opportunity. You can build on yesterday’s success or put its failures behind and start over again. That’s the way life is, with a new game every day, and that’s the way baseball is.” Bob Feller – Hall of Fame pitcher, Cleveland Indians (1936-1956)

This is by far one of my favorite documentaries on minor league baseball. The contrasts from a player working to make the majors in his 8th season to a young kid straight out of high school makes for a great film. I would highly recommend to anyone who is a baseball fan to check out this film. It’s a great look at what it takes to make it to the big leagues. Life isn’t always sun and fun in the minors, but those that are mentally tough, willing to learn, and work hard have the upper hand to make it to the show.

You can purchase the film Time in the Minors here and you won’t be sorry you did.

Check out the trailer on YouTube –

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Movie Review: Road to the Big Leagues


Originally posted on BaseballJourneyman.com

Road to the Big Leagues (Rumbo A Las Grandes Ligas)

Besides the United States, more big leaguers come from the Dominican Republic than any other country. For many in the poor country, baseball is their life and their only way off the island. This movie is a look inside the the world of baseball in the Dominican Republic.

Kids here learn baseball from an early age. They will play anywhere they can find a stick and something to swing at. In the movie, the game of choice was “vitilla” which was a form of stick ball, except there was no ball. Instead, they used the plastic cap from a water bottle. A “safe” hit was one where the fielder could not pick up the cap before it stopped moving, whereas an “out” was when they could pick it up as it still moved.

The kids would play anywhere they could. Many had practically nothing but lived with the dreams of making the big leagues. A glove or jersey was a prized possession, and a chance to play ball is all they wanted.

The film followed a few players for a while. One was Juan Cabrera. He was a 17-year-old kid who dreamed big. He followed the circuit of tryout camps hoping to get signed. And even though he showed some talent, it took him some time before he was finally signed.

Many of the major leaguers return home during the off-season to live and workout where they grew up. They showed two of these stars as they worked out with kids from their neighborhoods. The first was David Ortiz. He is from Santo Domingo, and he would return home during the winter months to work out. The man who trained him when he was 15 was training Cabrera, so we got to see what Ortiz thought of the young talented player. It was an interesting look at the hunger displayed by someone who is trying to make it, and at the same time the hunger and drive of someone who had made it but wanted to stay at the top of his game.

The movie also showed a bit of the ugly side of baseball in the Dominican as well. There are many players who try to use fake documents to show they are younger than they really are in order to get signed. One of those players was showcased in this film.

The player in question was the cousin of a major league star and was talented in his own right. However, he was caught lying about his age (saying he was 21 instead of 24) after he had signed a contract with the Red Sox. If someone is caught, they are immediately released and banned from the game. So here was this young kid who tried to cheat the system. He was out of baseball, had no job, and was hustling to make it day to day. It’s a sad reality, but one that does exist.

The film also showed life inside the academies of the Dominican. When players are signed, they are assigned to that teams academy. There they are trained as ballplayers. They eat, sleep, and drink baseball. But they also learn another important aspect for many of them, English. Here the players will compete with one another to improve enough to be assigned to a minor league team in the United States. From there they will begin their journey to the big leagues.

There are a lot of success stories from these academies, and this is why they run them. In the film, one of the big prospects at the Mets academy was Carlos Gomez who is now a major leaguer having played 2010 with the Milwaukee Brewers. There are countless stories of kids coming from poor backgrounds to the majors, and this is what motivates and drives these young kids. They see the success stories, and they want to fulfill that dream.

The academies are realistic though. They know not everyone is going to make it, but they are hopeful that they are around the average which is about 5 players in 100 reaching the majors. That’s not a great percentage, but its enough to keep the kids playing hard and the teams looking for more talent.

It’s a never ending cycle it seems but there is a lot of talent to be found. Players coming out of the Dominican Republic are some of the best in the majors. They are aggressive (the other MLB player highlighted might be the most aggressive in Vladimir Guerrero), and as the old saying goes, you can’t walk off the island.

I really enjoyed this movie, and would recommend it to any baseball fan out there. It is only 52 minutes long, so it is not a huge time commitment. I was able to stream it on Netflix, so check that out if you have it. Or you can pick it up on Amazon Road to the Big Leagues (Rumbo A Las Grandes Ligas).

It’s a good film to see, but it just doesn’t go into a whole lot of depth an any one subject which is really the only complaint I have.

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Movie Review: Touching Home: Baseball in the Bushes


Originally posted on BaseballJourneyman.com

Noun 1. bush league – a league of teams that do not belong to a major league (especially baseball)

Touching Home, Baseball in the Bushesis a short documentary about life in the minors and the 2004 Chillicothe Paints.

Located in Chillicothe, Ohio (population 25,000), the Paints are one of the founding members of the Frontier League (the team is now apart of a top collegiate summer league). The area in Ohio has a long history of baseball, and this documentary brings that out which was very interesting. Using old photos and newspaper articles, they show baseball stories going back to the beginning of baseball in Chillicothe in 1884.

The makers of the movie did a great job blending the rich history of Chillicothe into the modern day team. The chronicled some of the older players whose numbers had been retired for various reasons over their 14 year history. Talking to some lifetime fans in the area who had seen it all was a very nice touch. You got stories from someone who was there and new most of the players instead of just someone who had heard stories.

What I really liked about this movie was how they took you behind the scenes of the club and talked to you about some of the financials dealing with an independent minor league team. For instance, each team in the Frontier League had to carry 11 rookies, and each rookie was to be paid $600 a month. That is not a lot of money to live off of which is why the team has to rely on host families to provide the players with meals and a roof over their heads.

Chillicothe was the smallest market in the league, and was the only remaining original member. They were able to do this because of things like the league salary cap. MLB could learn a thing or two from this. Veterans were paid up to $1200 a month. This was for someone who had a few years of affiliated ball under their belts which wasn’t the case for most of these players.

Leagues like the Frontier League are always bringing in new players. A slump in a league like this could cost you your job and perhaps a chance to make back to or into affiliated ball. So players play hard because they know they are always close to being cut which makes this level of play, while not the highest in professional ball, some of the more interesting. There are no bonus babies who let their ego go to their head. Those players wouldn’t cut it at this level. They would be cut before they knew what hit them. Hustle is key, and to me that always makes for good baseball no matter what the talent level.

There were 3 players that they talked to. You got a good feel for their stories and lives in the minors which was nice, but I would have loved to have seen a little bit more actual baseball action. Most of that was done in the background of the stories they were telling. I understand this can be a difficult balancing act, and I am not one easily pleased when it comes to a baseball documentary. But with all that said, I really enjoyed this movie.

Sure it would have been nice to hear from more players but they did include the manager, the pitching coach, the general manager, and some long time fans which was a nice touch. Overall I thought they did a really good job with it. It’s short, but I am always going to want more no matter how long or short it is.

I would definitely recommend watching this, especially if you like minor league baseball. You get a little feel for the history of baseball in the area, and you get a good look at what life can be like for a struggling independent league ball player.

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Movie Review: Bottom of the Ninth


Originally posted on BaseballJourneyman.com

I try to watch any and all documentaries on baseball especially ones about minor league baesball. I found this one on the web some time ago but never pulled the trigger on getting it. Recently I found it on Netflix, so I had to get it to watch.

I have seen some good ones of the years on minor league baseball. I am fascinated by the life the guys in the minors go through on their journey to the majors or obscurity. So when this one came in the mail, I immediately sat down to watch it. I think my expectations were a little too high though, and I was disappointed.

Bottom of the Ninth tells the story of the 2001 season of the New Jersey Somerset Patriots of the Atlantic League. There are a lot of characters on the team managed by the great Sparky Lyle, who is a character himself. There are some former major leaguers on the team like pitcher John Briscoe. Through in some guys who put up amazing stats some years (Billy Hall stole 104 bases in 2000 with 66 in a row without being thrown out) and you have a great cast of characters. But the story was lacking with life in the minors.

The movie talked more about their run for the championship, which in itself was interesting, but I was really looking for more on life in the minors. The best part of the movie was the championship series which really was thrilling, but I wanted to see more about the players lives and how many of them have adjusted to play at the lowest level of professional baseball.

I would not say don’t watch this, but I would not recommend spending $25 to purchase it. Instead, if you have Netflix toss it in your queue and watch it when it comes. But if you are like me and have seen several of the other really good ones, don’t get your hopes up. But if you go into it knowing that it is good for other reasons, you will really enjoy it.

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Movie Review: Out of Left Field


Originally posted on BaseballJourneyman.com

Out of Left Field: The Making of the Chinese Olympic Baseball Team

This is the story of how two former major leaguers worked for four years to turn China into a formidable team for the Olympics in Beijing. Former MLB manager Jim Lefebvre led the way in teaching these athletes the right way to play the game in order to become competitive with the best on the world’s stage. Lefebvre was helped by former MLB pitcher Bruce Hurst who acted as pitching coach for the Chinese National team.

This was a short (1 hour) PBS documentary of what the team went through in order to post a competitive team as they hosted the Olympics. They had a lot to overcome in the process and it was interesting to see how they progressed as a team.

Perhaps the main issue was lack of experience. Baseball is not a huge sport in China like it is elsewhere in the world. The Chinese players don’t have the same opportunity as players in many other places  have in learning the game. So the team set out to play a lot of games prior to the Olympics. They made several trips to the US, did a tour of Italy playing other international teams, and played in the 2006 World Baseball Classic.

In their initial tour of the US, in 2005, they played a lot of junior college teams and some high school all-star teams. You would think a national team should blow these teams away, but they didn’t. They were still learning the game, but soon they would be able to field a team that could play with some of the best teams in the world.

They toured Italy in 2005 playing teams like Cuba among others. One of the big issues with this tour was food. I thought it was interesting how the movie showed how they fed the team during the course of the few years they were together. In the US they had places fix them special meals like what they would eat back home. In Italy, they had issues with finding food that the players liked. Apparently the noodles in Italy and China are very different and they did not like the Italian noodles. So, they resulted in eating at places like McDonald’s at times.

Another issue they had, as you might expect with American coaches, was the language barrier. They said the first translator knew so little about baseball that she was calling a bat the golf club. They finally got that sorted out, but it was still laborous at times to get their point across while coaching. Most of the players spoke no English, and the coaches didn’t speak any Chinese. They overcame it though and you could really see how the team became competitive. It didn’t happen overnight though.

China would go on to a 1-6 record at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Despite the bad record, many of the games were very close including a 1-0 loss to eventual gold medalist South Korea. They did manage to beat Chinese Taipei 8-7 in extra innings for their only victory.

I don’t think anyone felt China would be a medal contender in their first Olympics, but hopefully their run up to the Olympics only helped spread the game of baseball more in China.

I highly recommend anyone picking this up. I got it through Netflix, so I know it’s available there. You can also purchase through Amazon here – Out of Left Field.

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Movie Review: Nine Innings from Ground Zero: The 2001 World Series


Originally posted on BaseballJourneyman.com

Nine Innings From Ground Zero: The 2001 World Series

This was easily the most emotional documentary on baseball I have ever seen. Everyone remembers exactly where they were on that fateful day in September of 2001.  This movie (from HBO) did a great job of telling the story of NYC, and America, after 9/11 and how many people took refuge in the game of baseball at least for a brief moment.

This was a touching movie. I am a Yankee hater.  I hate the evil empire with every fiber of my being, but this documentary put them in a light where they could at least be tolerated for a short time.  And I think that is how all Yankee haters felt in 2001.  They were a symbol for the mighty city that had taken a blow, but would not quit.

The interviews in the documentary were very moving. That time is very emotional for all Americans, but as someone who only saw it from the outside looking in, it is much more emotional when I hear someone who lost family members talk about it. There were some sad stories, but they were stories of heroes. Heroes that must never be forgotten.

I would strongly recommend this to any baseball fan. It chronicles the immediate aftermath of resuming play in MLB, and the 2001 World Series which was one of the greatest ever.

Seeing this reminds me of just how much I love this game. How it can be many things to many people, but in the end it is the same to everyone, a great escape from the harshness of everyday life. You could see and hear about people who lost themselves in a game, even if for only a few hours, to help themselves deal with the enormity of the situation. To see them so caught up in the game that has brought happiness to so many during such a difficult time was great to see.

I thought the story tellers did a fine job of combining not only what the fans were going through, but what the players were going through as well as people like the mayor and his staff.

And perhaps best of all, you got to see how everyone pulled together. Seeing the heroes on the field become the awestruck was a good side to see. It reminds us how precious life is, and how baseball, while not being a healer necessarily, can help ease the pain of the time.

You can pick it up off of Amazon.  So go out today and pick up your copy.  It’s well worth it if you haven’t seen it yet.

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Movie Review: Kokoyakyu: High School Baseball


Originally posted on BaseballJourneyman.com

Each year in Japan, 4,000 high schools compete for the national championship known as the “Koshien”.  They compete in regional tournaments for a chance to be one of 49 teams to make the “Koshien”. Kokoyakyu is a look at what 2 teams go through on their quest for the championship.

This movie, from PBS’s POV, follows 2 teams on their quest.  One team is a public high school in the Osaka area with the other being a private school that won the Koshien the previous year.  It’s a great look into the differences of the two types of schools and how baseball effects the rest of their daily lives. You get to see how hard it is for the public schools to compete on the same level as the private schools in terms of practice time, fields, and school work.

Not only do you get a look into how hard they practice and how dedicated they are, but you get to see other sides of the story.  Cheering is a big part of Asian athletics, and the cheer squads for the teams are no exception. They take their job very seriously and practice very hard. It’s nice to see more than just how things affect the baseball team, but seeing how the parents, the students, and the coaches are affected as well. There are some moving scenes where non-players are very emotional.

One thing I really liked about the movie was seeing how ritualistic, and on a certain level spiritualistic, the baseball culture is in Japan. When the season is over you see just how much the games mean to the players and coaches alike. There are some touching moments that I am not sure you would ever see in America. I guess that is one of the big attractions to the Asian cultures for me. They are extremely committed to excellence and their love of the games is so pure.  It’s great.

The movie also gives a look into just how difficult this tournament is and how important it is. I can’t think of a more difficult baseball tournament.  Perhaps this is why it is so well known, and it has only strengthened my desire to see some of the tournament.

I can’t stress how much I recommend this film.  I watched it on Hulu and I am sure it is still available there. The only complaint that I can think of is that is was too short.  It was only an hour long, but I understand it was made for TV, but I would have loved to see much more.

It’s a must see.  Go check out Hulu.com today.  Find it and watch it.  You will not be disappointed.

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