Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

42 is a rousing walk off home run

42 is a rousing walk off home run
by rick olivares

While working in a private school in Flatbush, Brooklyn, more than a decade ago, some parents would ask me on the side if I could babysit their kids on weekends. If I wasn’t doing anything, I took the job that would usually last several hours. One time, I went to my “babysitting duties” in a Yankee jersey.

The grandfather of this kid I was babysitting was in the house and he struck a conversation with me that I will always remember.

“There was a time when this city was torn between the Giants, the Dodgers, and the Yankees,” grandpa started by way of introduction.

“The Yankees may be on top of the hill right now but that wasn’t always so. Brooklyn was where our Bums ruled. This was Dodger Town. And when that boy Jackie Robinson came over, he made us more damn proud.”

My memories of Jackie Robinson are from those old Time Life magazines that I inherited from my grandfather and those grainy pictures on a well-thumbed Reader’s Digest Sports Almanac that I read and re-read so many times that I memorized almost every single entry. My mom found it ironic that I could compute a player’s batting average but I would falter in my math classes at home (she actually swore that at times, the zeros on my quiz papers resembled baseballs).

I am a dyed in the wool Yankee fan and I love the sport of baseball as only a kid can. Yet I have this fascination with Jackie Robinson (just as much as Joan of Arc, Brit rocker Paul Weller, and Julius Erving). It is a fascination that endures.

I picked up Aaron Rampersad’s excellent ‘Jackie Robinson: A Biography’ (the author was selected by Robinson’s widow, Rachel, to write it and was given unprecedented access to the late baseball player’s papers) and it has a special place in my massive collection of books and magazines.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw the film ‘42’ online. I thought that it would be shown locally but it turns out (it was confirmed last night) that it won’t. When US Ambassador Harry Thomas invited me to the special premier at the Mall of Asia last Wednesday, July 24, I leapt at the chance even if I was under the weather.

Not only was it a baseball film but it was also a period piece. I’m a sucker for those and love how at least on film, people today got a look at what the old Ebbets Field looked like not to mention those vintage cars, radios, clothes etc. I can only imagine how those Brooklyn old-timers felt seeing this film. Did it bring back a lot of memories? 

After reading Ampersad’s book, I felt as if Robinson had really come alive through '42' lead Chadwick Boseman (who also resides in Brooklyn) who at once channels the wonder, fear, playfulness, and guardedness of a black man of that era.

Writer/director Brian Helgeland (LA Confidential and Mystic River) cites just enough of the racist abuse and challenges of the time as well as what Robinson went through without wearing the viewer down with repetitiveness. The Ben Chapman/Philadelphia Phillies incident is particularly disturbing. And just as Dodgers owner branch Rickey predicted, that incident created a lot of sympathy for Robinson and that scene also wins over the audience (if you haven’t been won over from the start).

Harrison Ford’s portrayal of Dodgers’ gruff visionary owner Branch Rickey at first seems odd. Maybe it is because when I see Ford, I see Han Solo and Indiana Jones. At times, I wonder if his portrayal of Rickey is forced but when I look at those old photos of the late baseball man then maybe Ford is spot on too with his portrayal.

When Robinson presses Rickey for a second time on why he is doing this for him, he admits (truthfully and in reality) that he is making up for not standing up for a former black teammate Charles Thompson who was broken by the racism in the first decade of the 20th century while he was managing Ohio Wesleyan University.

As Robinson would later say at Rickey’s funeral, he was only one of two men who did more to break racism in America and the other being Abraham Lincoln.

Nicole Beharie plays Rachel Robinson and she holds her own against the other protagonists. There’s a quiet strength about her character who is real life was the emotional bedrock of Jackie.

I love how the film flows through all the myriad of characters featured – Rickey, journalist Wendell Smith, Rachel Robinson, and the Brooklyn Dodgers players – without becoming convoluted. The aforementioned three are his confidants and help him overcome the difficulties of that first season.

There are light moments that ensure the film doesn’t become too tightly wound. When Ralph Branca asks Robinson why he doesn’t take showers with his teammates it is at once awkward and comical. But just when you think everything is hunky dory with the Dodgers, when Robinson joins his teammates, teammate Dixie Walker hastily leaves while looking peeved.

I am glad that the Pee Wee Reese moment where he drapes his arm around Robinson in a show of solidarity during a game at Cincinnati is given the proper respect. That moment is forever immortalized in a statue at the home field of the Brooklyn Cyclones at MCU Park at Coney Island.

The baseball action is just right and it stops short before the World Series with the New York Yankees that season. The reenactment of the duel between Pittsburgh Fritz Ostermueller and Robinson is the climax of the film (more on this later). And Jackie’s homerun to send the Dodgers into the World Series is one of sport’s most incredible and thrilling moments.

I have to admit that I wondered what it was like at home plate for Robinson. In the film, Pee Wee Reese shakes his hand as he crosses the plate. Didn’t his teammates mob him at the plate?

However, I’d like to score Helgeland for a couple of mistakes that they glossed over for whatever reason.

It was the late great writer Wendell Smith (excellently played by Andre Holland) who chronicles Robinson’s season with Brooklyn. It was Smith who recommended Robinson to Rickey. In the film, Rickey picks out Robinson from a pile of dossiers.

Then when Robinson leaves Daytona for New York, he tosses a baseball to a young Ed Charles. That incident happened minus the tossing the baseball.

Third, there’s the duel between Ostermueller and Robinson. When the pitcher hit Robinson, it was on the arm and not on the head. Furthermore, he was a lefty but in the film he was a righty. Furthermore, the Dodgers were ahead of that match against the Pirates. Robinson’s home run against Ostermueller came in the fourth inning. In a subtle manner, Helgeland shows Reese congratulating him at home plate indicating the game isn’t over. But nevertheless, it was a momentous and thunderous home run.

I know it’s a Hollywood film but I wish they nailed these things right down to the last detail.

And at the very end of the film right before the credits, they showed modern baseball players wearing the number ‘42’. I wondered first why the Yankees’ Derek Jeter was shown but then realized that it was because of his biracial lineage. But I wonder why Jeter’s teammates Robinson Cano (who was named after Jackie Robinson) and Mariano Rivera (the last active baseball player to wear the #42) are not shown.

I think they should have also mentioned that Dodgers moved to Los Angeles following the 1957 season. Furthermore, Ebbets Field is now an apartment complex now known as the Jackie Robinson Apartments. And having written that, they should have also shown the Reese-Robinson statue at MCU Park.

My points aside, I loved and enjoy ‘42’. If you aren’t a baseball junkie like me who knows these little tidbits it will not detract from the film. And it makes a perfect addition to other similar films like ‘Remember the Titans’.

It was an even better thrill to be watching it with an audience that loves and breathes baseball. In attendance were youth, college, and seniors baseball teams. Some sports officials and a few local politicians with an affinity for the game.

Thanks again for the invite, Mr. Ambassador.

Batter up!

No comments:

Post a Comment