1993 and 1994 were special years for me. In 1993, there were two great baseball films aimed at kids: The Sandlot and Rookie of the Year. And the next year there were two more such films I remember fondly: Angels in the Outfield and Little Big League. I know that all of these films have their flaws, but I love them all because it felt like they were made just for me, especially Little Big League. You see, I was a kid back then when those films came out. I’m sure there have been other baseball movies aimed squarely at kids, such as The Bad News Bears and its remake. But I can’t recall any other consecutive years that saw multiple films in that genre make their debut. And few other baseball films have left such a big impression on me.
Which brings me to Little Big League. It tells the story of a 12-year-old boy named Billy Heywood who inherits the Minnesota Twins after his grandpa dies. He later becomes general manager and earns the respect of the team’s players and fans. I watched this movie over and over as a kid. There was just something very appealing about it to me, and when I look back on it I can’t help but feel an oddly specific love for it.
Let’s step up to the plate and figure out what it is about this film that appeals to me when I don’t know if it would appeal to anyone else in quite the same way.
There are so many examples of juvenile humor in Little Big League. Most of the baseball players are presented as big kids. They have incredibly juvenile ways of joking around with each other, throwing water balloons on each other from a hotel window, dancing in the dugout, struggling to figure out silly riddles for months on end, and much more. One of my favorite gags takes place right before the big game. You’d expect the characters to be really serious because so much is riding on their matchup against the Mariners, but the film subverts expectations in a brilliant and relatable way.
I don’t know if the film’s style of humor would work well on me if I watched it for the first time today. But it always makes me smile because it reminds me of all the things I used to find funny.
My Seattle Mariners
I grew up in a suburb of Seattle, and my family loved the Sonics and the Mariners. I did, too, but I only followed them for a few precious years, and I stopped caring about any organized sports teams two decades ago. When I watch the climax of Little Big League, I’m watching my Mariners battle it out on screen. Ken Griffey, Jr., Randy Johnson, and even Lou Piniella make memorable appearances. That special moment in time when I actually cared about athletic competition in a personal way is forever captured on film as the Mariners battle it out with the Twins and ultimately triumph over them. I realize that the Mariners also showed up in the climax of the 1988 comedy The Naked Gun, but in that film they had their old uniforms and they didn’t have any recognizable players.
First Experience with Grownup Pain
I feel for Billy when he has to fire one of his favorite players. Up to this point in the film, it’s mainly been fun and games seeing Billy adjust to his job as manager of the Twins. But things take a dramatic turn in this scene. Suddenly, all of his book knowledge and childish remarks get thrown back in his face when he’s confronted by a man who is going through the anguish and humiliation of losing his career at the hands of a kid. It was Billy’s first experience with grownup pain. It’s not easy to suffer and still retain a childlike outlook on the world. Billy spends the rest of the film trying to reconcile his responsibilities for the team with his love of the game.
I was bullied a lot as a kid. I had no idea what to do about it. For a time, I worried that it would turn me into a bitter person. But it was around the end of my elementary school years (just as 1994 rolled around) that I finally came up with a solution that seemed to work. I tried being nice to everyone. I stopped getting angry and instead tried to be patient and kind when some kids tried to hurt me. That was my solution to the problem of overcoming immense pain without losing my innocent way of looking at the world. I knew that there were people who wanted to hurt me, but I didn’t have to feel bad or try to retaliate against them. Billy’s pain and creative solution to his problem remind me of my own experiences at that age.
Billy’s big talent is that he knows everything about baseball. He can name just about any obscure fact and statistic at the drop of a hat. I admire that special talent. You can see it play out in this scene.
I loved seeing that as a kid, but it was just like how I was working to know everything about movies. I would read the back of all of the videos we had in our library of films at home, memorizing the names of actors, composers, writers, producers, and directors. I would also memorize runtimes, years, and other things I thought were important to know. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I’ve since realized that I have a photographic memory, so when I really concentrate on something I can usually remember a lot of details about it by recalling an image of it in my mind. A few years later, I would study IMDb the way others enjoyed normal hobbies.
After Billy’s grandpa dies, he is invited to watch a video will that the grandpa had taped for him. But when a lawyer puts the tape into a VCR and pushes play, it first plays a Knicks game. It turns out that he had taped his will over an old Knicks game. Well, it just so happens that when I was in high school, I had to tape something for a school project, and I accidentally taped over that very scene from Little Big League. So my audience got to be confused while watching Billy being confused until his grandpa’s will cuts over a Knicks game until my own video cut over that scene. It was like Inception! Scenes within scenes.
The Announcer’s Oddly Specific Statistics
My love of Little Big League is a lot like the Twins announcer in the film who is constantly interjecting bizarre statistics into color commentary. He says something like, “Lou Collins has a .305 batting average against lefties in the city of Philadelphia… on Wednesday afternoons. So that’s something.” The statistics he offers are always oddly specific to the point that they seem trivial instead of like useful trivia. But my love of this film isn’t trivial. Sure, it’s built on a lot of particular memories that no one else would necessarily care about or be able to relate to. But it will always mean something very special to me.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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