Film Logan Polk's Film Reviews Moving Pictures Ongoing Series

Moving Pictures Vol. 38: By Choice or By Birth

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Logan’s Moving Pictures is back! In this edition, Logan talks about Ryan’s love of all things Baseball and his unwavering love of the Braves. Yes, he does talk about baseball movies, specifically Major League II!

My brother loved baseball, and not just our home team, the Atlanta Braves. He loved the stats, he loved the cards, he loved the highlights, he loved to watch it, talk about it, and he definitely loved going to a game whenever he could. So, it stands to reason that he also loved baseball movies, and in a rare occurrence of us agreeing on just what constitutes a great genre picture, we would both tell you For Love of the Game is the best of all of them. You can come at me with your Bull Durham’s and Field of Dreams and The Natural all day long, but for us, it was (and maybe always will be) the OTHER Costner ballpark classic that stands above the rest. Besides, Ryan had never even SEEN Bull Durham.

Ryan, his wife Jamie, and daughter Kaysi attending a Braves game.

A few short months ago baseball season started up anew and I’ve managed to watch more regular season games (all Braves) than I have in probably 20 years and of course, it got me in the mood to watch a movie or two. Going through his collection I was amazed at how he really didn’t have that many on DVD. Sure, I bend the rules of the column at my whim, but I really wanted to dive into something he’d loved enough to buy…but, also maybe not anything too emotional.

Fortunately, I remembered that he had the Major League series stashed away on VHS, and given our love of maligned sequels I thought it was a perfect chance to revisit Major League II. Unfortunately, it’s not streaming free anywhere, so it was either hook up the VCR or pay the $3.99 rental fee. Short story longer, I’m out $4. Since the first film IS currently available to stream, I guess that might tell you all you need to know about the quality of the second (and third) film, but really, I think it’s the one I remembered most fondly, though after rewatching I think that might just be because it played ad nauseum on cable.

The most interesting thing about Major League II is probably the fact that it’s a movie that just couldn’t exist today. We’ve started to see the legacy sequels and reboots spill over into sports films, maybe most notably with The Mighty Ducks franchise on Disney+, so it stands to reason both football and baseball movies will trend that way as well. But I doubt we’ll ever see the Major League franchise revisited. Ignored and rebooted as some new version, maybe, but never revisited.

One of Ryan’s favorite tees, combining two of his nerdy passions.

For one, it stars Charlie Sheen, a man who at one point seemed to make it his mission to get as many people as possible to dislike him. I don’t know that any major studio would want to court that kind of controversy at all these days, but hey, Mel Gibson still gets work, and Ezra Miller was heading up a giant superhero film, so maybe I’m wrong there. Second, every character who doesn’t look like Charlie Sheen is so blatantly stereotyped that it’s amazing the actors agreed to do it, to begin with. Especially Takaaki Ishibashi who plays Taka Tanaka and Dennis Haysbert as Pedro Cerrano; I’m certain their characters would be met with tons of outcry these days. Third, some of the jokes are so sexist, misogynistic, homophobic, and racist that I’m surprised they got through back then, no way they would fly now. Fourth, the team itself doesn’t even exist anymore, partly because of all the reasons I just mentioned. Lastly, Renee Russo is in one scene, barely has any dialogue, and never shows back up again, which is maybe the most criminal thing in the film! Despite all of that (or maybe because of it?) I still laughed and cheered and bemoaned the bad luck of the team, and I’ll let you decide if that makes me a terrible or insensitive person.

Our nephew KJ, wearing 79 as his number in tee ball, the year we were born.

The history of baseball is full of terrible people doing amazing things. Athletes with prejudices and personalities that would keep most of us from being in the same room as them, but hey, they sure could put that ball wherever they wanted it. So, why not enjoy a movie that pretty much exemplifies that in a nutshell?

While it didn’t hold up to my memories of it, enjoy it I did. It’s hard not to get wrapped up in the excitement when Ricky Vaughn steps onto the mound and dons his dorky-yet-badass new spectacles, and (as a glasses wearer) wonder how the silver skull and bones doesn’t just make him cross his eyes. It’s so much fun to hear Rube not bungle that last little idiom to Parkman. And to watch Cerrano walk up to the plate, all smiles, and crush one over the wall. It’s even a joy to just have Parkman embody every single most-hated player in MLB history and watch him get his comeuppance. And with Uecker making the calls at the mic, it’s almost a constant chuckle when the team is on the field, regardless of what’s going on. You absolutely WANT to pull for these Cleveland Indians.

As an Atlanta Braves fan, that’s a kind of weird thing…mostly because the Cleveland Indians were the team they beat to win their first World Series way back in 1995. I’ll specify ATLANTA Braves, since prior to being in Georgia the team had championships in 1914 and 1957, so Diamond historians can save themselves an email. I remember watching most of that series in 1995 against Cleveland with my siblings, my Dad, my Uncles, and my Grandmother, and while I remember some of the games, I mostly remember the joy on their faces. I was 16 at the time, and though I was excited with them, I think there were other things my thoughts and emotions were preoccupied with.

A few years later there was a strike by the players and what little love and interest I had in baseball kind of dwindled away. But not for Ryan. He was dutiful in watching the Braves, yes, but he also kept up with a lot of players that he’d come to appreciate. For a while he played fantasy baseball, and he collected baseball cards, something I’ve spoken about before, right up until he passed away. Me, though, I’d tune in here or there, and if the World Series had an interesting team playing of course I’d watch. Who doesn’t want to see the Red Sox or the Cubs break their respective curses, right? Well, maybe the opposing team and their fans…

Our cousin Jacob and his father, our Uncle Glen, at a Braves game.

I thought that my interest in baseball would be pretty much limited to those post-season games and watching it play out on the big screen, either in new films (what was the last good baseball movie?) or revisiting old favorites like Major League II. Of course, the Cleveland team the Braves defeated was one of the best-hitting teams in the history of baseball. Even the pitchers were batting .300. My point; baseball was something I only enjoyed occasionally, and mostly on film. Then, in September of 2020, my brother passed away.

Suddenly the idea of the Braves finishing a season without Ryan watching them was so upsetting to me that I started tuning into games when I could. At some point, because of COVID restrictions, the teams started selling tickets to put life-sized cutouts in the stands and my family had the great idea to get one made of Ryan for a game. He sat off near left field, and we watched the game, getting an occasional glimpse of him watching his team. It was bittersweet, to say the least. Their season ended not too long into the postseason that year, though, something Braves fans were mighty used to.

When 2021 rolled around I continued to make an effort to watch as many games as I could, though it still wasn’t anywhere close to half of them, and by midseason, it looked like they would likely miss the playoffs altogether. In July of that year star layer Ronald Acuna, Jr. tore his ACL, and at the All-Star Break the team was 44-45, enough to net them third place in the NL East. Everyone was thinking it would be a “we’ll get ‘em next year” season. Well, maybe everyone but the front office. They acquired six players in hopes of salvaging the season. The odds of them making the playoffs were about 7%.

Me, Jamie, and Kaysi at the best ballgame I’ve ever attended.

I’ll make a long story short and jump to the end of the year. With the Braves going 36-19 in the last 55 games, they won the NL East for the fourth straight year. Fourth, which is where they were midseason…

Then they beat the Brewers in the Division round, 3 games to 1, putting them one series away from a World Series berth. Unfortunately, it meant facing the Los Angeles Dodgers to get there. It was a best of seven series, and the Dodgers fought hard, but the Braves led 3 games to 2, heading back to Atlanta from LA after getting trounced in Game 5, 11-2. That’s when Shaun, one of my oldest friends, gave me a call.

Shaun is maybe the only person I know who’s a bigger Braves fan than Ryan was. So much so that he’d bought tickets to Game 6, of course hoping that it would never get that far, but wanting to be there to cheer them on if it did. Then, miraculously, he found better seats and decided to sell his original seats, offering me the first chance to grab them. Three seats, in left field.

Ryan is in this picture, during COVID restrictions, after he passed, we got him to one lay game.

Ryan’s wife, Jamie, is also a huge fan of the team, and like her husband, she dutifully watched them win or lose. When Shaun floated the idea of the tickets I immediately asked her if she’d be interested, with Ryan’s daughter Kaysi, of course, being the third. The price, I’m sure you can imagine, wasn’t small by any means, but this was maybe a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Certainly a once-in-every-few-decades at least. I told Shaun to list the ticket, no sense in waiting while I hemmed and hawed undecidedly, so he did.

Two days later, on the morning of the game, the tickets still hadn’t sold. Unbelievably so. This was not a city used to seeing their team go this far into the postseason, and every home game had been packed. But here were these three tickets, in left field, that no one seemed to want. I told Jamie it was a sign, as sure as I knew my own name, this was a sign. 

That’s how I found myself at Game 6 of the NLCS at Truist Park in Atlanta. It was one of the most surreal experiences of my entire life, watching this franchise that had meant so much to so many people I loved fighting for their first World Series appearance in over twenty years. It was electric. And there we were; Jamie, Kaysi, and myself, sitting in left field, not more than a few hundred feet from where we’d paid to have Ryan’s picture in the stands of a game after he passed.

Electric.

Everything about that evening, down to the last out, was perfect, except for the fact that Ryan wasn’t sitting in that seat instead of me. I wore one of his jerseys, though, and some of his ashes were discreetly spread throughout the stadium of the team he loved so dearly, and while I can’t say it’s the reason the Atlanta Braves brought home the National League Championship, I won’t say it didn’t help.

When I was a kid watching the Major League franchise it was impossible not to pull for the hapless group of characters and stereotypes that made up the fictional team of the Cleveland Indians. I may not have been able to recognize some of the problematic parts, but the one thing that bothered me both then and now is that you didn’t get to see what happens next. It was never about them winning the big game, but about proving they deserved to be there. Sitting in the stands of the Braves stadium thirty years later watching them do the same thing, I think I finally understood it.

Major League II is about those people realizing that all they had to do was believe in themselves, to keep giving the effort, stick with what works, admit to what doesn’t, and back up their teammates. It doesn’t matter if they went on to win the World Series, it matters that they got there the right way, and when no one ever believed they could. It was pretty amazing to watch that happen in real life.

Of course, the Atlanta Braves went ahead and won the whole damn thing anyway. Ryan would have loved every second of it.

Moving Pictures will return in two weeks …

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