It’s the end of November, the house is all put back together from the Thanksgiving holiday, the trade/acquisition speculation on the Angels sites has reached the silly stage – in many cases, intentionally so – and I could not bring myself to feign interest in USC vs. Notre Dame. So, what’s a baseball fan to do? It was definitely time for Bull Durham…especially because I hadn’t seen it in months!
Bull Durham is my favorite baseball movie by far and one of my favorite movies period. Shocking given the title of my blog, right? There are a number of excellent movies that depict baseball players, coaching staff and other baseball insiders and their crazy passion for the game. Bull Durham is certainly among them. It’s well written, perfectly paced, filled with memorable characters and it does an excellent job of balancing all of the hope and promise of talent with the hard reality that a real career in baseball is unlikely for all but a very few and ephemeral for the majority of those few. What pushes Bull Durham over the top for me is how well it also shows the crazy passion of baseball fans. Besides, it’s infinitely quotable. What’s not to like?
A few months ago I found an older interview with Ron Shelton, the writer and director and a former second baseman in the Orioles farm system. Apparently, he has toyed with the idea of making a sequel several times but didn’t know where to take it. If Crash goes back to the minors or gets the managing job in Visalia, he either leaves Annie behind or takes her with him away from the life she’s created in Durham which is such a part of her character. Either way, the character dynamics are ruined on top of having lost Nuke and the cast of engaging background characters. Shelton said he just couldn’t do that to his creation, a measure of restraint I applaud and wish more artists had the option to employ (because, like baseball, creating art is also a job and I realize there are many practical factors aside from the artist’s wishes that go into such a decision).
Watching the Angels this year, however, in particular the dynamic of veteran pitchers interacting with a rookie catcher, I wonder if there isn’t a different way to approach a Bull Durham sequel. Watching Hank Conger make his major league debut was a bright spot for me this season, even though he was shaky at times. I remember the pregame show before his first start, catching for Jered Weaver no less. Victor and Gubie showed video from an exchange with Weaver earlier in the warm-ups. So, I understand Hank’s had a lot of questions for you. Gubie said with a knowing smile. Do you think he’s going to be okay? Weaver laughed and said, I think we have Hank breathing normally now. He’s going to be just fine. Weaver pitched a great game that night so Conger didn’t have many reasons to visit the mound or work to calm him down. However, I also remember a later start for Conger where Weaver did run into some difficulties. He started to get flustered and pace around the mound before he finally gestured toward Conger seeming to indicate, hey kid, this is the part where you walk out here and talk me through this.
Until I saw that interaction, I had only thought about veteran catchers training rookie pitchers, never the other way around. But think about it, a wiser and somewhat bitter Nuke at the end of his major league career, trying to rehab his aging arm in the minors for one more shot at a major league season, works with a rookie catcher. But because he’s Nuke, older and wiser is still far from wise. Make the rookie catcher inexperienced but talented and significantly more intelligent than Nuke, like Crash might conceivably have been at the beginning of his career, and suddenly you have what I think would be a very interesting dynamic where the catcher clearly does have a thing or two to learn from the pitcher’s experience but can’t imagine learning anything from someone who plays the buffoon so often. You would also have an easier time setting this story line back with the Durham Bulls where it wouldn’t be unlikely that the Larry character – easily my favorite supporting character – could have worked his way up to the manager’s position. Leave Crash and Annie out of it all together or have the characters make a cameo appearance attending the games, Annie still teaching at the community college and Crash probably a hitting coach for kids in the community and you would have…well…the closest I will probably ever come to writing fan fiction at any rate, LOL.
I don’t know what resolution the Angels have planned in 2011 for the increasingly crowded catching situation. But if Hank Conger can keep improving on his batting average and on base percentage – he looked a lot better by the end of the regular season but then didn’t do so well in winter league, so who knows – I would prefer seeing him as the back-up catcher with Mike Napoli in the lead catching role over a lot of our other options.