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The Greatest Stories Ever Told
2003-04-30 08:21
by Jon Weisman

Tuesday night, I went out to a movie for the first time this year (in fact, for the first time since before my daughter was born in September). Thursday night, I'll be going to my brother's office to do rewrites on our own script, which takes Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing and sets it in a Spring Training world based ever-so-loosely on Vero Beach.

There was a time when I was going to movies in the winter, during Oscar campaign season, the way I would go to ballgames in the summer. Like, just about every day. Marriage and parenthood have affected my free time, but not my feelings. Both in the watching and the writing, movies are a big part of my life. (Television too, but that's another story.)

I'm not unique. Movies are a big part of a lot of people's lives. In fact, I'd venture to say that just about everyone likes movies. They may not like bad movies, they may not like the lines at the movies, they may not like a movie made since 1974. But within the movie genre, it would be difficult to find anyone who isn't moved by something.

Whereas, some people just don't like baseball at all. Period.

The irony - and it's a useful one - is that baseball not only has much in common with the movies, in some ways it does movies better than movies do themselves. Baseball does character development like nothing else I know.

Don't get me wrong - I believe in the Shoeless Joe vision of baseball. And I believe that someday, an aging ballplayer, a natural if you will, could rewrite history (and the text version of his story) by hitting a home run that explodes the stadium lights into a shower of sparks.

I revel in the poetry of a double play, an inside-the-park grand slam, and a routine grounder to second base.

I go to the ballpark looking forward to my hot dog, and I go forward to it looking forward to being at a park.

But I'm pretty sure the main thing that keeps me coming back to baseball is that I care about the characters. I've cared about the characters for more than 25 years. They are part of my life, and I care about just about everyone that makes an impression. And so many of them do - both major and minor characters.

Just the ones named Pedro alone could keep me occupied. Pedro Martinez. Pedro Astacio. Pedro Guerrero. Pedro Borbon. Pedro Borbon, Jr. If these guys are doing anything, whether pitching a shutout or using the disturbing but effective low-IQ defense, I care.

It's all about backstories. The Pedros have backstories. Kevin Brown has a backstory. Hiram Bocachica has a backstory. Jackie Robinson and Babe Ruth - all-time backstories. All the teams, from the Dodgers to the Devil Rays to the 1899 Cleveland Spiders, have backstories. The sport as a whole has its own collective backstory. And then, when these actors take the field - either at the ballpark in front of you, or on television, or in a book or newspaper clipping, you have all this set-up to appreciate the significance of everything they do.

Baseball is a stage, a movie set, a comic-book world in which all these characters enter and exit and live and die. As you begin to care about one character and watch his journey, it snowballs and you begin to care about others upon others. It is not waxing mystical or fantastical to say that it is a world filled with drama and comedy and exhilaration and heartbreak. It just is - in a deeper, more evolved sense than any movie honestly can ever offer.

What a movie offers ... for better or worse, is that it ends. Baseball doesn't.

Now, you can get into arguments about why baseball, as opposed to football or curling. That's not what this is about. You can take the above philosophy and apply it to any sport or to all sports.

I happen to pick baseball - not to the exclusion of all others, but certainly above all others - for the ballpark and the hot dog and the rhythm of the game and so many other things. But the game itself is the set dressing - perhaps the best set dressing in the world, but a backdrop nonetheless.

The addiction is to the characters. Nothing else assembles a more compelling cast than baseball does.

There is something for everyone to love about baseball. If you want to share that love with someone, and that person doesn't seem to care about double plays or hot dogs, then start telling stories about the people who play the game. Give them the opening minutes of the movie - the part before the plot thickens. Think of what just hearing the name Odalis Perez or Adrian Beltre or Jim Thome evokes. Each has a story. And the next big chapter in those stories will reveal itself at the ballpark tonight. With chapters upon chapters to follow.

No special effects. None needed. Give anyone the characters, and see if down the road, that routine grounder to second doesn't become poetry.

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