The Week Ahead: Timmy to the rescue?

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lincecum_090913.jpgTim Lincecum will take the mound for the San Francisco Giants on Monday after missing his last start with “spasms and inflammation” in his back. His return couldn’t come any sooner.

This is a huge week for San Francisco, a surprise contender this season that is currently on the verge of dropping to the fringe of the playoff race.

The Giants enter the week at 77-66, 7 1/2 games behind the Dodgers in the NL West, and 4 1/2 games behind the Rockies in the NL wild-card chase.

With three games at home against Colorado followed by three more in Los Angeles against the Dodgers this week, the time — Giants fans — is now.

Lincecum will go against Colorado’s Jason Hammel on Monday. Then, if everything goes well, he would likely start again on Sunday against the Dodgers’ Jon Garland.

While these will be huge starts for Lincecum, the Giants will also need help from other sources if they are to make up ground. And Lincecum knows it, saying before Sunday’s game that recently acquired Brad Penny was the guy to do it. (He did, indeed, do it, beating the Dodgers on Sunday).

“He’s that guy. He wants to rile people up in the dugout, he’s big on rah-rah and spirit. He wants to get everybody awake. We’ve been pretty lax the last couple of days. I think it’s time for something to kick us in the butt and say, ‘Hey, do you realize it’s frickin’ September?’ We have to turn something on. This is where it counts.”

Well said.

FIVE SERIES TO WATCH
Rockies at Giants, Sept. 14-16:
As stated above, Tim Lincecum returns to the mound in a key game for the Giants. Actually the whole series is key as Colorado tries to maintain its hold on the NL wild-card spot.

Marlins at Cardinals, Sept. 14-16: Florida enters the week 5 1/2 games back in the NL wild-card race, which makes this a poor time to catch the mighty Cardinals in St. Louis. Suffer a sweep, and that just about does it.

Angels at Red Sox, Sept. 15-17: The Red Sox have had the Angels’ number in the playoffs in recent years, so Los Angeles would be smart to do what it can to keep Boston out of the postseason altogether. Also, some wins would be good with the Rangers lurking 5 ½ games back in the AL West.

Angels at Rangers, Sept. 18-20: Speaking of the Rangers, this series is key for them. The division title might not be realistic, but with the wild card in play, there is plenty to shoot for.

Giants at Dodgers, Sept. 18-20: It’s already a rivalry. Throw playoff implications into the mix, and you’ve got a doozy of a series to watch.

ON THE TUBE
Wednesday, 7:10 p.m.: Angels at Red Sox (ESPN)
Wednesday, 10:15 p.m.: Rockies at Giants (ESPN)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Tigers at Twins (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.:  Giants at Dodgers (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.:  Cubs at Cardinals (FOX)
Sunday, 1 p.m.: Angels at Rangers (TBS)
Sunday, 8:05 p.m.: Cubs at Cardinals (ESPN)
*Check local listings

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If you Twitter, you can find me there at @Bharks.

There is no need to lament the loss of “The Great Hollywood Baseball Movie”

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Today in the New York Times Jay Caspian Kang writes about what he calls the loss of “The Great Hollywood Baseball Movie.” About how there are few if any big baseball movies anymore. Movies which traffic in baseball-as-metaphor-for-America with Jimmy Stewart (or Kevin Costner)-types playing characters which seem to transcend time, elevate our emotions and rack up the dollars at the box office.

It’s a bit of meandering column, with just as much time spent on Kang’s seeming dissatisfaction with modern baseball and baseball telecasts as his dissatisfaction with baseball cinema, but he winds it up with this, which sums his argument up well enough:

Baseball’s cinematic vision of Middle America no longer means what it once did. The failing family enterprise and the old, forbearing white — or Negro Leagues — ballplayer now remind us of an extinct vision of the country and the growing distance between Middle America and the coasts. The attempts to update the archival, sun-kissed, Midwestern vision — whether on last year’s “Pitch,” the Fox TV show about a woman pitching in the majors, or “Million Dollar Arm,” the 2014 Disney movie in which Jon Hamm goes to India to convert cricket bowlers into pitchers — are canceled or bomb at the box office.

You won’t be surprised that I take a great deal of issue with all of this.

Mostly because it only talks about one specific kind of baseball movie being AWOL from cinemas: the broad works which appeal to the masses and which speak to both the past, present and future, often with a hazy nostalgia in which love of baseball and love of America are portrayed as one and the same.

It’s worth noting, though, that such films are extraordinarily rare. There was a brief time when such things existed and did well at the box office — the 1980s had “The Natural,” “Field of Dreams,” “Bull Durham” and “Major League” in a relatively short period of time — but that’s the exception, not the rule.

Baseball movies are almost always niche flicks. Biopics made of recently deceased stars like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Weird slices of life like “The Bad News Bears” or “The Sandlot.” Quirky comedies that are baseball offshoots of larger cinematic trends like “Little Big League,” which was just the latest in a series of “kids doing adult things” movies popular at the time. Or “Rookie of the Year” which is essentially baseball’s version of one of those body-switch movies that come and go. Or “Mr. Baseball” which was just a fish-out-of-water comedy like any other.

We still get those kinds of smaller baseball movies fairly often. They’re still pretty decent and still do pretty decently at the box office, even if they’re no one’s idea of a blockbuster.

“Moneyball” was done well and did well, not as a mass appeal movie, but as one of many business/Silicon Valley flicks that have popped over the past few years. “Sugar” was a great movie, but a small movie, exploring a culture about which most people aren’t aware and basically serving as a character study. “42” is just an updated (and much better) version of those old biopics of baseball stars. “Everybody Wants Some” may be the quintessential niche baseball movie in that it’s a story about characters which just happen to have a lot of baseball in their lives. “Bull Durham” was like that too, but it just came along at the right time to become a massive hit. As many have noted, baseball was more background than plot in that movie, even if the background was amazingly well done. I’d argue that most good baseball movies use baseball like that rather than put it squarely in the foreground.

There will likely always be baseball movies, but they will almost always be smaller ones, not large blockbusters or Oscar bait with an epic sweep. Most baseball movies are like baseball itself in that they lack a grand consensus. Baseball is not The National Pastime anymore — it’s just one of many forms of sports and entertainment available to the masses — so it follows that the movies which deal with it will likewise not have that massive cross-market appeal.

I think that’s a good thing. Smaller baseball movies more accurately reflect the sport’s place in the culture. To portray baseball as something larger than what it actually is opens the door to a lot of artistic and cultural dishonesty and runs the risk of creating some really bad art.

I mean, have you seen “Field of Dreams?” Bleech.

The Yankees set up “The Judge’s Chambers” cheering section for Aaron Judge

New York Yankees
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The Yankees aren’t well-known for going all-in on goofy, fan-friendly fun. While some organizations are happy to jump on new and even silly or ephemeral trends for the yuks of it, the Yankees have tended to keep things rather businesslike when it comes to promotions and things. They’ve always played the long game, assuming — not always unreasonably — that their brand is best defined by the club’s history and greatness and quiet dignity and stuff.

Aaron Judge and his breakout rookie season is changing things. His fast start has caused fans to dress up in judge’s robes and stuff, so the team is having fun with it. They’ve set up a special section called “The Judge’s Chambers,” complete with a jury box vibe:

 

Fans will be selected to sit in the special section, which is in section 104 in right field, right behind where Judge plays, and will be handed foam gavels with “All Rise” written on them. To be selected at the moment it’d help if you wear one of those judicial robes with Judge’s number 99 on the back or his jersey or an English judge-style powdered wig. Going forward, the Yankees will also use the section for groups and charity events and stuff.

Judge is on a 58-homer pace right now. It’s unlikely he’ll keep that up, but he certainly looks like the real deal. And, for the Yankees and their fans, he’s giving them the chance for some real fun.