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The Prodigal Nerd: Catching Up During Coronavirus

I’m a firm believer that life is all about perspective. When things go askew (like, you know, a novel virus that turns into a global pandemic disrupting every aspect of our lives and wreaking economic havoc on our communities and families…), it’s largely our choice as to whether it will completely derail us or whether we will roll with and make the best of the situation.

I’ll be honest, though – this one almost got me.

I’ve probably written more on the subject of J.R.R. Tolkien and his writings than on any other during my tenure here at Nerds on Earth. But that’s actually not the topic I am most nerdy about.

No, that would be the topic of baseball. I absolutely love baseball. There is no time of year where you can find me as consistently cheerful, upbeat, and hopeful as mid-February to early April – MLB spring training. Heck, the fact that my hometown Atlanta Braves hold spring training in central Florida is part of the reason (a small part, but believe me, it was in the equation…) that my wife and I moved our family to the Orlando area.

So you can imagine my despair when we began seeing news headlines about the NCAA tournament being played without fans in attendance, an NBA player testing positive for the virus and the league suspending all games indefinitely, and eventually the full shut-down of all professional and collegiate sports. Worst of all (maybe) – my son was playing teeball for the first time this year, and his season was essentially cancelled, too.

It has been a hard couple of weeks for me in this regard, to say the least. I almost went into full-on despair over the fact that, as things look like they’re going right now, I highly doubt there will be much of a MLB season at all this year…

…But then I remembered my spring baseball ritual.

See, for years now I have collected and honed a stable of baseball-oriented documentaries, movies, and TV episodes that I rewatch every spring. Ask my wife – Every. Spring.

And in all of the hustle and bustle of life, combined with all of the craziness of ‘Rona2020, I had almost forgotten. It’s a somewhat lengthy list, so I won’t go into much detail about everything. But, in case you’re like me and are heartbroken over the possibility of no baseball in 2020, or if you’re just looking for some fun new things to watch during quarantine, here’s my annual spring baseball routine, in not very particular order:

Movies/Documentaries

  • Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns This truly epic documentary winds its way through baseball history, starting with the origins of the game and running through the strike-shortened 1994 season in its original 9 episodes, and the steroid era in an additional two episodes from 2010. All in all, it’s almost 24 hours of content in Ken Burns’ signature style, love it or hate it.
  • The Battered Bastards of Baseball A new one for me this year, this is the true story of the Portland Mavericks, an independent class A baseball team founded by Bing Russell, longtime actor and father of Kurt Russell. If you think the MLB establishment is a bunch of stodgy, stuck-in-their-ways billionaires who deserve to have their noses bloodied by a group of free-spirited has-beens and never-weres, this one’s for you.
  • The Natural It’s a classic, and for good reason.
  • The Kevin Costner Suite
    • Field of Dreams I made the mistake last year of watching this with my son sitting on my lap. #uglycry
    • Bull Durham One of the most quotable movies of all time. It holds up better than you might expect.
    • For Love of the Game The underrated gem in the Costner Suite of baseball movies, this one hits on themes of love, loss, choosing which dreams to pursue, and it is fantastic.
  • 42 Baseball always claimed to be the national pastime, and in 1947 it actually became that with the inclusion of African American players for the first time in over 50 years. Chadwick Boseman and Harrison Ford (but especially Boseman) are fantastic in this movie. Plus, the actual stadium where the Brooklyn Dodgers held spring training during Robinson’s years with the team is about 20 minutes from my house. You can go sit in the same dugout that Jackie Robinson did, which blows my mind.
  • Eight Men Out While not totally historically accurate, this is still a very good movie about the 1919 Black Sox scandal that rocked the baseball world when eight members of the Chicago White Sox, arguably one of the greatest teams ever assembled, threw the World Series to spite their owner and earn some extra money from gamblers.
  • The Sandlot If you don’t love The Sandlot, we can’t be friends. It’s the small-town boyhood feel of The Wonder Years mixed with the coming-of-age adventure of Stand By Me, and layered around the game of baseball. It’s a fish-out-of-water story, a Greek demi-god tale, a story about confronting your fears, the story of a boy’s first kiss, and it culminates with James. Earl. Jones. Also one of the most quotable movies ever.
  • Brewster’s Millions While not exactly a baseball movie, it is definitely baseball-adjacent. Richard Pryor plays Monty Brewster, a minor league pitcher who must blow through $30 million dollars in 30 days and have nothing to show for it at the end in order to inherit a much greater fortune. Part of the plot involves spending huge amounts of money to set up an exhibition game against the Yankees. Plus, it has John Candy in it!
  • Major League “Juuuuuuust a bit outside…” I’m led to believe that some people actually prefer Major League 2 over the original, but I’m all about the original.
  • Honorable Mentions: I don’t include these every year, but they still find their way in sporadically.
    • The Rookie The true story of Jim Morris, a high school baseball coach who made a deal with his under-achieving team that if they won the district championship, he would take his 98mph fastball and try out for the majors. They did. He did. It’s a great story.
    • Rookie of the Year A 10-year old breaks his arm, and something about the way it heals allows him to throw a 110mph fastball. So, naturally, he gets picked up by his hometown Chicago Cubs.
    • Four Nights in October If you’re an Atlanta Braves fans of a certain age (my age, specifically) you hate the New York Yankees for one reason and one reason only – the 1996 World Series. It was a heartbreaking series for Atlanta, but was also the start of the Yankees’ dominance in the late 90s and early 2000s. Seeing that dominance broken in 2004 by the underdog Boston Red Sox brought so much joy! And seeing that commemorated in an ESPN 30-For-30 documentary is like a pleasant warm blanket on a cool night. Plus, the ’04 Red Sox were just a fun group of players to watch.

TV Episodes – The “baseball episode” is a classic American TV trope, so much so that there are literally too many to even hope to see them all. Shows from all over the map have baseball episodes, everything from Ugly Betty to The Twilight Zone, Grey’s Anatomy to WKRP in Cincinnati, Frasier to Freaks and Geeks, Curb Your Enthusiasm to CSI… Here are my annual favorites.

  • The X-Files, season 6 episode 19: “The Unnatural” – I think my article on this episode was actually the first thing I ever published here. It’s the first episode David Duchovny directed, and it has Mulder chasing down a lead from Arthur Dales, a recurring FBI agent character in the series. Dales ends up telling Mulder a story about his encounter with a shapeshifting alien who played for the Roswell Grays, and who was fundamentally changed by his love for the game. This is my all-time favorite X-Files episode, and my all-time favorite baseball themed TV episode of any stripe.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, season 7 episode 4: “Take Me Out to the Holosuite” – Captain Sisko accepts the challenge of a baseball game against an old Starfleet Academy rival and his crew, and must throw together a team out of the motley assortment that makes up his own crew. This episode was also totally and completely earned, as Sisko’s love of baseball is introduced as a fundamental aspect of his character all the way back in the show’s pilot episode. Plus, it has Ferengi, and Ferengi make everything better!
  • The Simpsons, season 3 episode 17: “Homer At the Bat” – Mr. Burns bets a rival plant owner $1 million on a softball game, then pads his own team with major league players. Homer ends up being the hero (?).
  • The Simpsons, season 22 episode 3: “MoneyBART” – Lisa employs advanced SABERmetrics to help manage Bart’s little league team, sending them on an epic winning streak.
  • Mythbusters, season 5 episode 15: “Baseball Myths” – The Mythbusters test baseball myths. It’s fun.
  • Bones, season 5 episode 19: “The Rocker in the Rinse Cycle” – Another that is not exactly baseball focused. I love this episode because the character Arastoo Vaziri spends most of the episode using baseball metaphors and lingo because he’s excited about the upcoming season, which drives all of the other characters crazy. He is basically me during spring training, put to film.

I’ll say it again – perspective is everything. You can spend the next _____ weeks feeling stuck at home with not much to do (although if you’re reading this, you’re a nerd, which means you have no lack of things to read and watch in today’s culture…), or you can dive into some excellent pop culture entertainment that revels in the greatest game ever invented.

Either way, stay safe, stay healthy, and remember that there will be an “after this” when it comes to ‘Rona2020.

Peace.