MLB Opening Day is more than baseball, it’s a holiday.

The unofficial last two words of the national anthem become “Play Ball” until late October. It’s a marker on the calendar to assure us all that spring and summer will come around. In 2021, it is a sign that this mad winter of pandemic and shortened seasons, bubbles, and protocols will end. MLB baseball is back with a full 162-game slate for the season. Movie theaters, music venues, and basketball gyms will soon follow in opening up and expanding back into a full-time schedule. In honor of the great movies inspired by the old national pastime, here are the movies that fit with every inning of the ball game.

First inning of opening day: Bull Durham

“Walt Whitman once said, ‘I see great things in baseball. It’s our game. The American game. It will repair our losses and be a blessing to us.’ You could look it up.” –Annie Savoy

“I’ve tried them all, I really have. And the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in and day out, is the church of baseball.” –Also Annie, who provides the best opening backdrop of philosophy narration to open a film in the past 50 years.

You’ve got Nuke LaLoosh, played by a young Tim Robbins. Crash Davis, played by an in-his-prime Kevin Costner. The introduction of both. It’s like opening up the program and seeing all the new faces to a team you forgot to follow in a sport you forgot was fun. All the lessons learned and wisdom passed along. Susan Sarandon’s Annie Savoy and her dashes of love and life perspectives. This movie has all the quirks of an MLB season, from a player to be named later to a trip to the show. Once the players are in their spots, Bull Durham has the right level of hype and adrenaline to match the first Inning of MLB Opening Day. Just remember Meat: The Rose goes in the front big guy.

Second Inning: The Sandlot

The Boys of Summer and Baseball. Say one and you see the other. Scott Smalls bonded with his best friends and learned life through his passion for the game. It cost his stepdad a Babe Ruth signed ball, but now that ball is more priceless than ever for anyone who was within a 500-foot moon shot from it. The second inning is a lot like settling into a game at the local Sandlot. There have probably been a few hits, maybe even a run or two scored. You’ve seen some action and got to settle in with not only your friends but the rest of the seating section. It’s the second inning of the ballgame, you’ve got nothing planned for the rest of the day. You’ve found a small lot of happiness in the world and the rest of your worries fall through your fingers like sand.

“Everybody gets one chance to do something great. Most people never take the chance…” –The Babe, in a dream Benny the Jet.

Third Inning: The Bad News Bears

Walter Matthau drinks his way through one of the best performances of his career. What’s not to like? Also, like those scrubs he inherited, the third inning is when the back half of the roster usually gets up to take their hacks at the plate. Most fans have had at least one large-sized beverage, don’t really know or have forgotten the names of a few players, and may have lost track of time. That’s fine for baseball. Just as Buttermaker pulls the hook on Amanda for hotshot rebel Kelly, the third inning may see a pitching change if the game may be getting away from one team. After a few Buttermaker beers, some third inning relief of some kind is bound to happen, pitching and scoring be damned like the Yankees.

“Listen, Lupus, you didn’t come into this life just to sit around on a dugout bench, did ya? Now get your ass out there and do the best you can.”

Fourth Inning: The Natural

Roy Hobbs, portrayed by Robert Redford, was a wandering soul with great natural baseball talent. The Natural was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Supporting Actress (Glenn Close). Kim Basinger got a Golden Globes Best Supporting Actress nomination. By the fourth inning, fans can spot the obvious talent. The rangy shortstop or coverall centerfielder will have to stretch out their legs to deny at least one good hit. A corner fielder will have roped a double if not went yard.

Yes, by the fourth inning of even a close game, the natural talent starts to take hold of the action and demand attention if not appreciation. It’s a slow burn of a movie with a Wonderboy Lightening of an ending. Some fans dosing off will be awaked by a whip of a crack and explosion of cheering sometime in the middle innings. Most managers have to start questioning their original plans by the fourth, even if their team is winning.

“Iris Gaines: You know, I believe we have two lives.
Roy Hobbs: How… what do you mean?
ris Gaines: The life we learn with and the life we live with after that.”

Fifth Inning: Field of Dreams

Kevin Costner again.

If you build it they will come. No matter the time of the game, there will be late arrivals but by the fifth inning, most everyone is in their seats. The pitcher has been through the batting order a couple of times and is tiring. Though there are another 4.5 innings to play, the game could tilt on the next pitch. It’s the middle of the game and all the appreciation of being outside (unless Tampa) is being soaked in like sunshine. At summer’s peak, that late-night heat keeps the buzz in the stadium. The fifth inning of an afternoon ballgame at any park just feels like Field of Dreams.

“And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh… people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.” –Terrance Mann as played by James Earl Jones

Sixth Inning: Major League

Ah, the sixth inning feels like you’re more than halfway home. A reliever and a closer later, the win should be in the bag. Just 12 more outs. However, some are now sitting on a belly full from a 12-pack worth of domestic swill. While the first five innings are a mixture of proper functions, the last four innings are full of situational chaos. Relievers, switch hitters, defensive replacements, etc…same for Major League. Charlie Sheen and Wesley Snipes are the big names but the situational comedy script carries this movie. Just remember that when you cannot get a live chicken, you might have to say “fuck it JooBoo, I do it myself!”

“You’ve got a chance to be a hero on national television if you don’t blow it. By the way, I saw your wife at the Capri Lounge last night. Hell of a dancer. You must be very, very proud. And that guy she was with? I’m sure he’s a close personal friend and all, but tell me, what was he doing with her panties on his head?”

Seventh Inning: Bang the Drum Slowly

Known for the seventh-inning stretch and for a reason. Those stadium chairs aren’t the most comfortable and the retirement crowd needs a bit of an event to get up and get moving. I watched games with my grandfather and great-grandfather. They both just wanted to “make it through most of the game.” Sometimes depending on the score, they’d leave the stadium. If they were watching at home, it was a sign to grab a bite, go check the mail, something to get moving. It’s a slow burn to get to the seventh inning some days, but it gives one time to ponder life and friendships built around the game. Robert DeNiro and Michael Moriarty hit on those vibes throughout Bang the Drum Slowly.

“The sky was just beginning to light up a little, the quiet time when all the air is clean and you can hear birds, even in the middle of New York City, the time of day you never see except by accident, and you always tell yourself, “I must get up and appreciate this time of day once in a while,” and then you never do. Don’t ask me why.” ―Mark Harris, Bang the Drum Slowly

Eighth Inning: Eight Men Out

Only six outs left per team, may not get eight batters out of the dugout and to the batter’s box. Some may not get out of their seats due to overpriced booze and loaded-up nacho cheese dogs. ESPN usually shows the clip of a lonely passed-out fan in a sea of empty seats, isolated and often ridiculed. However, this movie is about the dirty underside of baseball life especially in the early days when gamblers could pay more for a player to lose than an owner could pay for them to win. The quandary of Shoeless Joe Jackson and how the game came to be the most hypocritically moral sport of the past century leaves a feeling of helplessness by the end. Say it ain’t so Joe. Say it ain’t so.

The premise of the movie can been seen within all pro sports and players’ unions today, as viewed through this exchange:

“You say you can find seven men on the best club that ever took the field willin’ to throw the World Series? I find that hard to believe.”

“You never played for Charlie Comiskey.”

Which leads us to….

Ninth Inning: For Love of the Game

Kevin Costner again, again. It’s the ninth inning of the game, the ninth inning of life. Costner is an aging pitcher, Billy Chapel, pondering retirement or having to play for a different owner in a different city than he has for his whole career. It’s change. It’s time for something to end, just not quite yet. There are a few more outs to go. And there is John C. Riley as Costner’s catcher providing all the subtle comedy a baseball movie that revolves around love and nostalgia every needed. It really is the perfect game of a baseball movie that’s not about baseball despite the box office critics and receipts.

Oh, and Vin Scully, who dropped this gem of a quote, “And you know Steve you get the feeling that Billy Chapel isn’t pitching against left-handers, he isn’t pitching against pinch hitters, he isn’t pitching against the Yankees. He’s pitching against time. He’s pitching against the future, against age, and even when you think about his career, against ending. And tonight I think he might be able to use that aching old arm one more time to push the sun back up in the sky and give us one more day of summer.”

We all feel like that sometimes. That’s, well, LIFE.

Extra Innings: LIFE

Martin Lawrence and Eddie Murphy taught Can’t Get Right everything he knows! They should have gotten a pardon, especially since they were serving time for a murder they did not commit. They almost had one until the Warden went and died on the porcelain throne. But they always had a plan. One day, that plan lead them back to New York City to watch a ball game as old men with young spirits. Baseball makes us all old men way too quick in some ways, but it keeps us young at heart in many others. And with the end of this list…

1…2….3…Take me out to the ballgame…Take me out to the show…