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I Believe in the Sweet Spot

By Michael Murray | Film | September 3, 2010 |

By Michael Murray | Film | September 3, 2010 |

About a month ago I happened upon the movie Tin Cup while channel surfing. I think I might have sighed, like I’d just bumped into an old friend I no longer wanted to see. Made in 1996 Tin Cup is a Ron Shelton film starring Kevin Costner as a diamond-in-the-rough (you know, like all of us) who was attempting to fend off his demons and finally seize the golfing glory that had eluded him for far too long.

I really didn’t think I wanted to see the movie again because the truth is that if you’ve seen one Ron Shelton film, well, you’ve pretty much seen them all. He applies the same formula to every conceivable sport—golf, football, basketball, boxing, baseball, foosball, whatever—and then presents us with an appealing, if predictable projection of the adolescent male’s fantasy of sporting ambition, only cast 15 years into an adult’s mediocre future. Overstuffed with male camaraderie, each picture features a couple of guys that can’t give up the dream, fighting over some hot babe—that always thinks and talks just like a guy—on a different field of glory.

No matter, in spite of my reluctance I found myself flipping back to the movie in no time at all, and although I’d seen the movie, or at least parts of it, innumerable times before, I watched the whole thing without interruption, finding myself embarrassingly moved at the end, again.

Ron Shelton, I hate you for the power you have over me.

All of this started back in 1988 when I saw the movie Bull Durham— which Shelton wrote and directed. Starring Kevin Costner, who had some real charisma, and Susan Sarandon, who was at the time a hot actress and not just the mother of one:


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Bull Durham was about a career minor league catcher. This catcher, played by Kevin Costner, was Crash Davis, which has to stand as one of the all-time great movie names. The movie was unexpected and entirely winning, and just about everybody who saw it loved it.

The characters, clad in the sort of Miami Vice splendor you might imagine of minor league ball players, were simple, good-natured and masculine. And amongst them, Crash Davis, too cool and authentic to wear a Hawaiian shirt, was the guy we all wanted to be. He got along with the few black people in the movie, and although an unabashed guy, had some book learning, too.

“Well, I believe in the soul, the cock, the pussy, the small of a woman’s back, the hanging curve ball, high fiber, good scotch, that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, overrated crap. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter. I believe in the sweet spot, soft-core pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve and I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days.”

These words, delivered like a sermon from the mount by Crash to Annie (Susan Sarandon) after she made it clear that he was going to have to “try-out” to become her boyfriend, was practically a battle cry for beleaguered guys everywhere. Crash spoke for all of us who had been overlooked by the pretty and smart girl who had too many options, showing her, and ourselves in the process, that yes, we had substance, dammit, and deserved respect!

And of course, the baseball and sex loving Susan Sarandon, all curvy in a white, pencil skirt and off the shoulder sweater, was the sort of sex fantasy that any arrested adolescent could get behind. But what really made this movie special was that it gave sports the adult treatment it deserved instead of the typically infantile panegyrics we’d come to expect. Shelton set about exploding all the cornball clichés and deromanticizing the lives of athletes.

Davis, instead of hitting a home run for the imploring and big-eyed bat boy, tells him to shut-up, and Nuke LaLoosh, the guileless pitching prodigy played by Tim Robbins, is an inarticulate dong. Intelligent and passionate rather than preternaturally gifted, Davis must watch as those with less commitment and know-how breeze by him into the Major Leagues, while he remains, destined to achieve the dubious distinction of hitting more home runs than any other Minor Leaguer. The best of the not good enough, so to speak.

In the end, Bull Durham, the sports comedy, was actually about disappointment and how as adults, we must accommodate that in our lives. It was sexy and funny, but it was also sad, but still managed to make most of us sitting out there in the theater feel better about ourselves, realizing that yes, there is heroism and nobility in the ordinary.

Back in 1988 when the movie came out, disappointment was very much a part of my life as I was a huge fan of the now deceased Montreal Expos baseball team. Playing in a rotting concrete space ship, the Expos rarely drew any fans, and as the city was a small and indifferent market, ownership was never willing to invest in their players. And so year after year we would watch our young and beautiful players depart for greener pastures, or we’d hear how somebody didn’t want to play in Montreal because his wife couldn’t find the Doritos she liked. This was our reality, and seeing sports movies about gorgeous triumphs against the odds was nothing short of insulting. That wasn’t baseball, and it wasn’t life, and that hard truth was something that Bull Durham got right.

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