Sports

Karl Lindholm: ‘Candlesticks always make a nice gift’

IN THIS MOUND visit from the film “Bull Durham,” Crash Davis (Kevin Costner), center, is discussing a dilemma with pitcher Nuke Laloosh (Tim Robbins) and other teammates: They don’t know what wedding gift to get Jimmy (the shortstop) and Millie. Pitching coach Larry Hockett (Robert Wuhl) solves the problem — “Candlesticks aways make a nice gift” — and the game continues.

I love watching movies with my kids, now adults. These days, that usually means watching from home in a darkened living room on the big TV, without phones and other distractions.  

I particularly enjoy watching sports films with my younger son, Peter.

I have a keen memory of the summer he turned 15 and we had our own week-long sports film festival, movies he had theretofore been required to pass up because they had “adult content” (including adult language!) and I was determined to exercise parental judgment. 

My confidence that it was time to see these movies was reinforced by the fact that he had taken a very thorough sex ed class (thus I had been able to avoid the dreaded Dad Talk). He would not see anything that he had not already been exposed to, nor hear any coarse language he hadn’t already heard at school (but not from me, heavens no!).

I thought he was ready to move on from the classic PGs (“The Natural,” “Field of Dreams,” “Hoosiers”) to the Rs, the bawdy comedies.

Male bonding, right, father and son watching stories of athletes talking and thinking about sex (and occasionally even practicing it!) speaking in the colorful language that befits and occupies the actual enterprise of sports. 

It’s called VERISIMILTUDE!

The timing was impeccable. His mom was visiting her family in California; his sister was off at overnight camp. His older siblings had flown the coop. Just us boys. Pizza and ice cream (no beer!). Movie night!

Here’s the line-up of the celebrated Cornwall Sports Film Festival of 2010:

Monday: “Caddyshack” (1980). A great favorite of mine as I worked on the golf course at the grand Poland Spring Hotel for eight summers, the last three as “caddymaster Karl.” Bill Murray in this movie plays “groundskeeper Carl.” Rodney Dangerfield is a nouveau riche developer who represents everything the haughty country clubbers despise. 

Tuesday: “Major League” (1989). Set in Cleveland where I lived for six years in my 20s: the owner of the Tribe wants to move the team to Miami, so she attempts to put terrible players on the field. Charlie Sheen does a great turn as the “Wild Thing,” a relief pitcher.

Wednesday: “Slap Shot” (1977). Set in a gritty Pennsylvania town, Paul Newman (Paul Newman!) plays minor league hockey player-coach Reg Dunlop. The scriptwriter, Nancy Dowd, had her hockey playing brother record actual locker and barroom conversations to get the dialogue just right — f-bombs everywhere. 

Thursday: “White Men Can’t Jump” (1992). Best opening sequence in a movie ever (OK, second-best to Jaws). Woody Harrelson plays Billy Hoyle, a hoop hustler who hustles Wesley Snipes (Sidney Deane) on the famous basketball court at Venice Beach, LA. They fall in together and exploit the racial stereotype about white hoopers. 

Friday: “Bull Durham” (1988), the piece de resistance. Veteran minor league baseball player Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) is called upon to “mature” young pitcher Nuke LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) who has a million-dollar arm and a ten-cent head. Susan Sarandon plays Annie Savoy, a community college English teacher who “matures” a different young player every season in her own way.

Our film series was a glorious success. Those movies remain among our very favorites.

Though it wasn’t part of our film festival line-up, be assured that Peter and I also watched Penny Marshall’s wonderful 1992 treatment of the All-American Girls Baseball Association of the 1940s, “A League of their Own.”

All of these movies possess a crucial prerequisite for viewers like Peter and me: the action sequences, the play on the field or court or ice, have to be convincing. For us, inauthenticity is fatal; crucial considerations like character development, plot, script quality go out the window if the actors playing athletes can’t actually play. 

I’m still watching sports movies with Peter, now 27. He is a dedicated cinephile, having been an English-film/video major at prestigious Middlebury College.

At the holidays, he came home for a week all the way from far off Burlington, Vt., where he now lives and works and plays pick-up hoops. I was keen to watch with him two sports movies — a new one, “Hustle,” with Adam Sandler, and an old one, “Tin Cup” (1996), Costner again, a golf movie. 

I am not generally a big Adam Sandler fan (even though he’s a New Englander, having grown up in Manchester, N.H.). In “Hustle,” Sandler plays Stanley Sugarman, an NBA scout who aspires to greater things in pro basketball. He discovers a terrific player in Spain, played well by Juancho Hernangómez, an actual NBA player (Toronto Raptors). Stanley’s wife is played by Queen Latifah. It’s well done. 

Peter has recently taken up golf so we watched “Tin Cup,” written and directed by Ron Shelton, who also did “White Men Can’t Jump” and “Bull Durham,” our all-time favorites. Roy is another of Shelton’s anti-heroic grinders, a washed-up golf pro reduced to running a driving range and giving lessons in hardscrabble West Texas. Rene Russo’s in this one (always a good thing), and Cheech Marin is winning as Roy’s buddy and caddy. 

As a holiday present, I gave Peter the book “The Church of Baseball: The Making of Bull Durham — Home Runs, Bad Calls, Crazy Fights, Big Swings, and a Hit” by Ron Shelton himself, a deep dive into the making of that quintessential sports movie. I read it first, of course, before gift-wrapping (doesn’t everyone?). I recommend the book enthusiastically, especially to those who loved the film. 

In college, Shelton fell in love with literature and language and played baseball and basketball. He was in professional baseball for five years in the Orioles system, getting as high as AAA (Rochester).  He knows whereof he speaks. His heroes are players on the fringes, whose love for the game is often not requited. 

I trust Pete and I will watch more sports films (and others) in the interstices of his present life at JFK Elementary School in Winooski and his summer tasks herding little ones at Camp Keewaydin. 

I’m compiling a new list!

—————

Karl Lindholm, Ph.D., is the Emeritus Dean of Advising and retired Assistant Professor of American Studies at Middlebury College. Email him at [email protected].

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