Baseball Movies Spark Long Gone Memories and Show What Can be Right in the World

I like baseball.

I like movies.

I like movies about baseball.

Anyone who has read my writing through the years, or has spoken with me in person, will also know that in addition to liking movies about baseball, I enjoy quoting baseball movies. Classmates during my M.S. in Sports Management Program were often subjected to quotes from Bull Durham and Field of Dreams as I tried to make a compelling argument about whatever the issue of the day was in school that particular week.

In the same way, in my column writing over the past three decades I have often found occasion to drop a quote or reference from one of my favorite baseball movies to make a certain point of emphasis. I definitely do not lollygag when it comes to finding ways to drop in a Bull Durham reference.

Over the past three decades I have often found occasion to drop a quote or reference from one of my favorite baseball movies to make a certain point of emphasis. I definitely do not lollygag when it comes to finding ways to drop in a Bull Durham reference.

In addition to quoting baseball movies, for years I have compiled a list of what I feel are the Top 10 Baseball movies and count them down leading up to opening day.

With the 2020 Major League Baseball (MLB) season, and the year in general not being like anything that we have seen before thanks to a global COVID-19 pandemic, coin shortages, murder hornets, and sports in bubbles, among other things, it seems only fitting that I would discover a new baseball movie 33 years after it first came out. That movie is Long Gone.

Long Gone, is a 1987 made-for-TV film, based on a 1979 book about a minor league ball club in the Florida panhandle. The film is set in 1957 and aired on HBO. The cast includes William Petersen, Dermot Mulroney, Virginia Madsen, and Teller of Penn and Teller fame.

The movie tells the story of the Tampico Stogies, a team competing in the Alabama-Florida League, battling the odds, and segregation, in an effort to be better than they deserve. The movie also shows players as human beings dealing with real-world problems instead of as larger than life saints incapable of human follies and desires.

If the story of a rag tag bunch of Minor League ballplayers in the south sounds familiar, it should. A little over a year after Long Gone debuted on HBO, 13 months to be exact, a little film called Bull Durham hit the cinematic landscape; and the rest as they say was history.

The late eighties and early nineties are referred to by some as the golden age of the baseball movie based on the number of baseball movies to debut during that time. In fact, four of the Top 10 movies on my yearly countdown were filmed from 1988 to 1989. Those movies were, Bull Durham (1988), Eight Men Out (1988), Major League (1989) and Field of Dreams (1989). By coming out in 1987 it can be argued that Long Gone kicked off the end of the decade baseball movie trend in the late eighties.

Since the movie was filmed as a made for TV movie during a time before streaming services and DVD releases, finding it on DVD or Netflix can be difficult. Thankfully, I found the movie on You Tube and watched it the other day.

While watching the movie, part of me thought I had seen it before as certain scenes were familiar. Other parts of me thought that I had not seen the movie and was mistaking it for something else.

Regardless of whether I had or had not seen the movie before, the fact remains that it is a delightful time capsule of a forgotten era of Minor League Baseball and shows a side of baseball that helped the game become America’s Pastime.

Or to quote Walt Whitman about baseball, “It’s our game . . . it has the snap, go, fling of the American atmosphere; it belongs as much to our institutions, fits into them as significantly as our Constitution’s laws.”

The love affair with baseball has certainly soured over the years as other sports have grabbed hold of a sports population with short attention spans who want games that move quickly and entertain them with shiny baubles and artisanal beer at the Ballpark.

While I certainly enjoy my share of shiny objects, I have noted for years that part of baseball’s allure is the fact that it does not have a play clock and anything can happen on any given night. The unpredictability of the game and the desire to remember a past era is probably why I prefer Minor League Baseball (MiLB) over MLB.

The 2020 MiLB season was cancelled due to COVID-19. If the powers that be get their way in 2021 MiLB as it has been known for over a century is likely to be radically altered. Some affiliated clubs will likely be contracted. The very league structure of MiLB itself could fall under the umbrella of MLB and cease being an independently governed league. I will mourn deeply for minor league ball should it just become another arm of the multi tentacled MLB.

Independent league baseball is likely to flourish if major changes are made to affiliated MiLB. Thankfully the Sugar Land Skeeters are close enough for me to go see. So I will still have baseball to watch in person once the games resume next year, or whenever a COVID-19 vaccine allows normal operations of life to resume on a large scale.

Independent league baseball is likely to flourish if major changes are made to affiliated MiLB Ballclubs in 2021. Thankfully the Sugar Land Skeeters and Swatson are close enough for me to go see.
Photo R. Anderson

In the meantime while we await the day where Ballparks will once again come to life with the sounds, tastes, and smells of the game, cinematic baseball movies like Long Gone and Bull Durham show all that baseball can be if people just get out of the way and let the players play. Too much micromanaging of the game to suit the artisanal crowd could impact the game in negative ways that cannot be undone. We are seeing a little of that in some of the changes that have been rolled out the last couple of seasons in MLB.

On a personal note, Long Gone was filmed at historic McKechnie Field, located in Bradenton, Florida which serves as the Spring Training home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, as well as the home of a Class A Florida State League team.

I mention this fact because for years my grandmother who lived in Bradenton Beach, FL wanted to take me to see a game at the Ballpark. Sadly, she died before we ever made that goal a reality. However, I am forever thankful to have watched games with her at Tinker Field in Orlando, FL and for the part she played along with my mom and other grandmother in instilling within me a love of the game of baseball.

I still hope to make it to Bradenton one of these days for a game at what is now known as Lecom Park. Although my grandmother, Mom Mom, will not be there in person, I know she will be there in spirit if I do make it to the Ballpark.

Baseball is a sport where memories can be made and promises can be kept. It is a simple game at heart. You throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball. Sometimes it rains, and sometimes you watch a movie that reminds you of your grandmother.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a 2021 trip to Bradenton to plan.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Way Back Wednesday: While Pensacola Tries to Dry Out From Hurricane Sally, I Look Back at That Time I Nearly Froze Watching the Blue Wahoos

Editor’s Note: When I turned on the television on September 16, 2020, and saw the flooding in downtown Pensacola, FL, my heart sank. Streets had turned into white capped canals filled with flooded cars. The reason behind the flooded streets was Hurricane Sally.

Sally’s storm surge turned one of my favorite towns into a soggy mess. While I wish the people of Pensacola a speedy recovery, and cannot wait to return to my favorite beach, favorite ballpark, favorite lighthouse and favorite aviation museum, I know that the City of Five Flags will bounce back stronger than ever.

In the meantime, please enjoy this column from April 8, 2013 about a visit to my absolute favorite Minor League Baseball Ballpark, Blue Wahoos Stadium in Pensacola, as part of our occasional Way Back Wednesday feature.

This past weekend I took my first baseball road trip of the 2013 season to book end the opening week of the baseball season.

After starting the week at the home opener for the Houston Astros, the week was rounded out with a trip to Blue Wahoos Stadium in Pensacola, FL for a Southern League game between the home standing Blue Wahoos and the visiting Tennessee Smokies.

Prior to moving to Texas, the bulk of my non-Spring Training in person baseball watching was through Southern League games at Tinker Field in Orlando FL.

Despite moving about 800 miles away from the borders of the Southern League, to this day I still try to catch Southern League games whenever I can.

I am sure this is partially due to history and familiarity with the league and the various teams. However, a lot of it is also based on the fact that there is some good baseball being played on the farm teams of the Southern League.

Such was the case on this colder than normal April night at the stadium on the bay.

Pensacola’s Blue Wahoos Stadium is a true gem among Ballparks and boosts a bay side view that can often include spotting the Blue Angels returning home from an Air Show.
Photo R. Anderson

More on the game in a bit. I feel it is important to stop and mention the weather at game time and throughout the festivities.

Anyone who knows me well, most likely knows the following two things about me. First, I check the weather constantly before a trip to make sure that I am properly prepared for the conditions.

Second, it takes in awful lot for me to be cold. I am the type who has a fan going year-round and I have not turned the heater on in my house in over 8 years.

So, after checking the forecast before heading to the game, I was fairly satisfied with my no jacket required assessment. Unfortunately, while the temperature was within a good short sleeve window, in my haste to make it to the game after a nine-hour drive to the ballpark I forgot to account for the wind chill and feels like factor.

To say it was cold with the wind coming in off the bay would be an understatement. How cold did it feel?

It felt cold enough that I was seriously considering buying a $100 jacket in the gift shop, or at the very least a $60 sweatshirt to try to stay warm. How a jacket and sweatshirt can cost that much is certainly another story for another day.

It was clear skies at game time but as the flags indicate there was a stiff wind blowing.
Photo R. Anderson

At least I was not alone in my frigid feelings. Apparently, the guy sitting to my right had also made the same error in judgment as we were the only two people in the ballpark wearing short sleeves.

As the innings wore on, we became very close as we tried to block the wind and stay warm. Not a word was spoken but a knowing nod was all that was required to show that the contest was one to see who could last the longest.

He ended up leaving in the bottom of the sixth inning which meant I just had to make it to the seventh inning stretch to get the victory in the two cold guys challenge. Yes, boys and girls this is what men do, we turn everything into a contest.

So, I made it an extra half inning and then packed up my bobble head, souvenir cup and other assorted stadium items and walked the 10 blocks back to the car.

Although the game was a very lopsided affair and included a Man versus Wild like survival challenge in the stands, there were several items of note that occurred.

Billy Hamilton stole a record number of bases during the 2012 season and became immortalized as a bobble head during the 2013 season.
Photo R. Anderson

It was Billy Hamilton bobble head giveaway night. For those who are unfamiliar with Billy Hamilton he set the single season stolen base record with 146 stolen bases in 2012.

I met Billy last season when he was about four steals away from the record and although he has moved on to the Triple-A affiliate of the Reds it was nice to be there for the bobble head night and close the circle as it were.

I have little doubt that after one more season of seasoning in the Minors Billy Hamilton will make the Reds roster and show his speed in front of the larger audience.

I have always enjoyed the art of the stolen base. Major League Baseball’s all-time stolen base leader Rickey Henderson was always a favorite player of mine. When everyone in the stands knows that you are going to try to steal the base and you still manage to do it, that is some serious talent and is something to be respected.

Billy Hamilton has a very good chance to be a Rickey Henderson like player and set the base paths on fire. And when he does, I will be one of the people who gets to say I knew him when.

While Billy Hamilton was not in attendance for his bobble head night there was another player who was certainly worth paying attention to.

Ludovicus Jacobus Maria Van Mil, or the more sportswriter friendly Loek Van Mil, is the tallest pitcher in Professional Baseball topping out at 7’1”.

At 7’1″, Ludovicus Jacobus Maria Van Mil of the Blue Wahoos is the tallest pitcher in baseball.
Photo R. Anderson

During his warm-up pitches it became very clear that he was a very tall man. Van Mil is currently being targeted as a relief pitcher but time will tell whether he can find the right balance between control and velocity to make it to the Big Leagues.

As with my previous visit to the ballpark there was a lot of opportunity to people watch. Being seated directly behind the all you can eat party deck provided ample amounts of entertainment.

One fun game was the how many trips through the hot dog and hamburger line will particular people make game. Of course, the rush of steam when the hot dog tray was opened provided a little bit of warmth for me as well so I was certainly counting on people making as many trips as possible.

But despite a losing effort by the home team, cold temperatures, and certain annoying fans, my first road trip of the 2013 baseball season was certainly enjoyable. I came, I cheered, I left and I have the bobble head to prove it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think it is time to plan another road trip.

Copyright 2020 R Anderson

Foot Note: Billy Hamilton made his MLB debut with the Cincinnati Reds in 2014 where he remained for several seasons. In 2018, Hamilton played for the Kansas City Royals. In 2019, Hamilton was a member of the Atlanta Braves. So far in the shortened 2020 season, Hamilton has been a member of the San Francisco Giants, New York Mets, and Chicago Cubs.

Sadly, Loek Van Mil, died on July 28, 2019 after sustaining head injuries during a December 2018 hiking accident in Australia. He was 34-years-old.

In the time since my last visit in 2018, the Blue Wahoos changed their MLB affiliation from the Cincinnati Red to the Minnesota Twins.

Dr Pepper Shortage Shows 2020 Loves to Give Until it Hurts Before Giving a Little More

If the year 2020 were a gift, it would be the type of gift that was so hideous that you wouldn’t even regift it to your worst enemy.

From COVID-19 running wild across the globe like a herd of Chincoteague ponies, to toilet paper shortages, disinfectant wipe shortages, distance learning for all, social distancing, sports played in bubbles, as well as sports played outside of bubbles; 2020 has had a little of everything.

We also cannot forget the invasion of murder hornets, attacks on the United States Postal Service, masks becoming a political statement, and oh yeah, the potential of two hurricanes churning in the Gulf of Mexico at the same time for the first time since the Great Depression.

For years, the late Hugh Downs and Barbara Walters told viewers every Friday night that, “This is 20/20.” Maybe they were trying to warn us that 2020 would be something that would be studied with the hindsight of 20/20 vision once it is over.

The band Green Day famously sang, “Wake me up when September ends.” We have not even gotten to September yet, and many people are likely singing wake me up when 2020 ends.

As a side note, I was supposed to see Green Day, Weezer and Fall Out Boy earlier this month. But thanks to COVID-19, that concert, like so many other things this year was cancelled.

On top of all of the other things that have made 2020 the type of year one would like to be done with; we can now add a Dr Pepper shortage to the list of things that could only happen in 2020. Take away my toilet paper, fine. But take away my Dr Pepper and I will likely have serious withdrawal symptoms.
Photo R. Anderson

On top of all of the other things that have made 2020 the type of year one would like to be done with, we can now add a Dr Pepper shortage to the list of things that could only happen in 2020.

Take away my toilet paper, fine. But take away my Dr Pepper and I will likely have serious withdrawal symptoms.

To be clear, I choose Dr Pepper over toilet paper because, one can always find alternatives to use when the toilet paper runs out, but there is only one Dr Pepper. I have tried all of the store brand colas that claim to be just as good as Dr Pepper, but none has come close to replicating that perfect blend of 23 flavors.

A few years ago, I even tried making my own Dr Pepper in an experiment that can be called a disaster at best.

So how much do I love Dr Pepper? Let me count the ways.

I have tried Dr Pepper in milkshake form.

So how much do I love Dr Pepper? Let me count the ways.
Photo R. Anderson

I have tried Dr Pepper flavored Jelly Beans.

I have tried Dr Pepper flavored baked beans.

I have tried Dr Pepper flavored barbecue sauce.

I have been known to wear Dr Pepper clothing.

I have classic glass Dr Pepper bottles as my kitchen backsplash.

When I want an extra authentic feel, I drink my Dr Pepper out of an antique Dr Pepper glass.

Lastly, three years ago I dressed up as Larry Culpepper, the fictional Dr Pepper stadium worker, made famous through a series of ads shown during college football games.

So, it is fair to say that when it comes to Dr Pepper, I celebrate the entire catalog.

That is not to say that the only thing I drink is Dr Pepper. Iced tea and Dr Pepper are my go-to get the day started beverages, as well as my keep the day going refreshments.

I also drink about a gallon of water a day as well, so I do not want it to sound like I have Dr Pepper and iced tea running through my veins with an IV drip. I tried that, but my doctor said that my insurance didn’t cover it.

Despite the lack of an IV drip, go-go juice and punga punga juice, as younger me called Dr Pepper and iced tea, respectively, are never far from my grasp.

That was until 2020 when the Dr Pepper supply dried up faster than a lake bed in the desert and I suddenly found my grasp on securing the sweet nectar slipping.

According to a tweet from the powers that be at Dr Pepper, the shortage is due in part to higher than anticipated product demand in the form of cans and bottles. As noted a few weeks ago, one of the other gifts COVID-19 gave us was a shortage of aluminum cans.
Photo R. Anderson

According to a tweet from the powers that be at Dr Pepper, the shortage is due in part to higher than anticipated product demand in the form of cans and bottles.

As noted a few weeks ago, one of the other gifts COVID-19 gave us was a shortage of aluminum cans.

It is unclear what role, if any, the can shortage is having on the supply of Dr Pepper, since it is sold out in bottle form as well.

While I am sure that Dr Pepper will return to shelves in the not too distant future, the current disruption in the availability in stores, is yet another reminder of how fragile our supply chains are.

That is not to say that there are not hard-working men and women involved in the logistics business. But it does suggest that with supply chains spread out across the globe just one ripple can cause huge waves down the line.

I still shake my head at the fact that one of the key ingredients in disinfectant wipes manufactured in Wuhan, China, ground zero for COVID-19; leading to a scenario where certain cleaning products are expected to be in short supply until next year.

I know that companies move production overseas to keep costs down and to maximize profit, however, I think there will be a lot more legs of supply chain chicken coming back home to roost.

Of course, we need to contain the wildfires both real, and biological, that are raging within our shores before any roosting can happen.

Dr Pepper was born in Texas, so of course there is a Texas barbecue joint in the state capital that makes a Dr Pepper infused sauce. Barbecue and Dr Pepper is second only to a Ballpark view and a Dr Pepper. Of course, eating barbecue sauce and barbecue beans infused with Dr Pepper, at Dr Pepper Ballpark while drinking a Dr Pepper would be the Holy Grail of demonstrating that one was a Pepper.

At the end of the day, not being able to buy Dr Pepper really is as they say, “a first world problem.” Containing a global virus named COVID-19 in the world’s richest nation should not be as hard as people are making it out to be.

As a first world nation, America’s COVID-19 response should have led to a first world solution.

Instead, the United States’ COVID-19 response turned into a doctoral course in how not to run a pandemic response that was run by a man whose university was shut down.

Finding a solution to COVID-19 used to be the type of problem Americans would unite to defeat.

Then again, in the current climate where half of Americans are Coke, and the other half are Pepsi, it really shouldn’t be a surprise that six months into the pandemic there is still no national strategy to combat it.

At least the cola wars didn’t kill anybody. Contrast that to the over 170,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19 while some leaders stick their head in the sand, or worse try to distract with conspiracy theories, and blaming the people who live rent free in their head.

So instead of getting a handle on the virus, the virus is handling us like a coast to coast game of Whac-A-Mole.

One of my favorite Ballpark beverages is Dr Pepper. One of my favorite Minor League Ballparks is Dr Pepper Ballpark in Frisco, TX. Put them together, and it means an ice-cold Dr Pepper is always available with a side of baseball.
Photo R. Anderson

Before the world was shut down for COVID-19, I had planned to visit Dr Pepper Ballpark in Frisco, TX home of the Frisco Rough Riders for the first time in years to score a Ballpark triple play of Dr Pepper, Hot Dog, and ball game. Hopefully, I can do that next year.

Of course, my trip to Frisco, TX, like many other things, is on hold until COIVD-19 is defeated. So far, COVID-19 is hitting most of the pitches thrown at it into the empty grandstands.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to slowly sip one of my rationed cans of Dr Pepper while looking at spaghetti models of the two tropical systems heading my way. Is it 2021 yet?

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson