Dispatches from Kansas City: “Have you seen George Brett around?”

10 Comments

HardballTalk’s Drew Silva is filing regular stories from this year’s MLB All-Star festivities in Kansas City. Part OnePart TwoPart Three. Part Four.

The Royals haven’t won a division title since 1985 and have finished with a winning record just three times since since 1992, which has translated into over 20 years of bad attendance totals at Kauffman Stadium. But the apathy here feels temporary.

Last night’s Futures Game was a sellout — the first in the 15-year history of the event — and Kauffman remained packed for the Legends & Celebrity Softball Game that was played right after. Kansas head basketball coach Bill Self drew decibel-pushing reactions (boos from Mizzou fans and cheers from the Rock Chalk faithful) every time he stepped to the plate or was spotted on the massive HD video board that sits below the giant gold crown in center field. Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel also caused a stir.

The MLB All-Star Charity 5K & Fun Run had more than 8,000 participants on Sunday morning, smashing the previous record. The public water spouts downtown in this City of Fountains have been dyed royal blue.

There’s an excitement here for the All-Star Game and the publicity it might bring. Go anywhere in town and mention you’re covering the events and you’ll get a big grin and tips on where to eat and drink. Maybe that’s just good ole fashioned Midwest generosity. Or maybe it’s time for Royals owner David Glass — former president and CEO of Wal-Mart — to recognize that he’s sitting on another potential gold mine.

*******************

source:

I headed up the interstate this morning at around 11:45 a.m. for All-Star media day — held inside the climate-controlled club suite level at Arrowhead Stadium. The first player I encountered was Marlins outfielder and noted tweeter Logan Morrison, who was being trailed by two cameramen and a sound guy as he peaked around different corners of the room. I believe they were filming scenes for the second season of Showtime’s “The Franchise.”

LoMo grabbed a Gatorade from a cooler next to where I was checking my phone and asked if I’d “seen George Brett around.” I couldn’t help but laugh. “Are you looking for him?” I uttered back, in a total stupor. My brain was too blown to process his response. It’s not every day that a current major league star asks you if you’ve spotted a Hall of Famer. My guess is that exchange won’t make it into an episode.

I grabbed an open chair by the back of the All-Star Game press conference, which was already underway, and listened in as National League skipper Tony La Russa finished up fielding questions about his decision to start San Francisco’s Matt Cain over the Mets’ R.A. Dickey. “I’m very aware of the first half (Dickey has) had,” La Russa insisted. “The one edge that I thought would make sense is that we have Buster Posey catching and Matt was equally deserving. … We wanted to reward Cain for a great career of excellence. It’s a tough call.”

Cain is 27. Dickey is 37. And Tony is still Tony.

source:

 *******************

Next the American League and National League All-Stars were made available for interviews at individual podiums under lighting designed for television shots. I tried to capture everything in eye-and-earshot while pleading with my iPhone to hold its charge. Angels stud Mike Trout was as giddy as you’d expect a 20-year-old MVP candidate to be as he spoke about playing with Albert Pujols and learning from the slugger about proper work ethic. Anaheim lefty C.J. Wilson chatted about his passion for photography with a few photojournalists. Rangers starter Yu Darvish and Nationals phenom Bryce Harper were the biggest draws. Darvish seemed at home giving responses in Japanese to questions from a throng of Japanese reporters. Harper wore Converse All-Stars and spoke softly, trying to play it cool while fighting back obvious feelings of authentic teenage excitement.

“If you had to go out on the town with one of your fellow All-Stars,” an attractive blonde in a colorful dress asked Cardinals third baseman David Freese at a certain point, “which of the players would you choose?”

“Chipper (Jones),” Freese, the National League’s Final Vote winner responded. “Just look at the guy.”

*******************

Now I sit in the left-field auxiliary press box, built on a concourse not far from the new Royals Hall of Fame, taking in the Home Run Derby. It’s not even halfway through the first round and it’s already dragging, but there is a steady breeze blowing out to right and Kauffman has great energy. There’s simply no place I’d rather be.

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

3 Comments

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
4 Comments

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.