1. Field of Dreams: From ‘Damn Yankees’ to the Curse of the Bambino, Americans love to make believe that unseen forces lie just below the astro turf of their favorite pastime. Kevin Costner’s 1989 popcorn-fantasy flick takes this belief to dizzying extremes, with unexplained time travel, disembodied voices, possessed scoreboards and trash-talking ghosts all popping up as Costner builds a baseball diamond in his backyard and seeks out a morose and world-weary writer clearly inspired by J.D. Salinger. Yet as absurd as the story elements may sound by themselves, the allure of baseball – its history, its dynamics, its ageless appeal – holds the story together as if by magic.
2. Bull Durham: Kevin Costner stars again as jaded minor leaguer Crash tasked with reining in wild card pitcher Nuke, played by Tim Robbins. As both men become involved with Susan Sarandon’s groupie Annie and Nuke slowly begins to take Crash’s advice to heart, bittersweet life lessons creep in through the laughs and make this film one for the ages.
3. The Rookie: Zero-to-hero success stories and baseball go hand in hand, yet few can compare to the real-life tale of Jim Morris. After a minor league career floundered, Morris became a high school teacher and baseball coach in rural Texas. At age 35, he attended a tryout for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays after promising to do so if his team won the district championship and clocked a 98 mph fastball, which eventually led to him pitching in the majors. Disney’s biopic of Morris, starring Dennis Quaid in an effectively understated performance, perfectly captures both the ecstasy of re-discovery and the agony of taking a risk on a young man’s dream while married with children.
4. Angels in the Outfield: In a sort of reverse-‘Damn Yankees,’ the Almighty sends his feathered minions to help a beleaguered team win their pennant after a young boy, played by an already-intense Joseph Gordon-Levitt, makes a wish that he believes will bring his self-serving father back to him. As outlandish and comical as the onscreen antics get however, Gordon-Levitt provides a palpable emotional center and perfectly captures the push and pull between doubt and faith that marks not only the spiritual seeker, but also the sports fan whose team would need an Act of God to come in first.
5. Moneyball: As steroids scandals and contract wars constantly remind us, what happens behind closed doors often has just as big of an impact on our national pastime as the nine men on the field. Thanks to Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill’s performances and the inspiring true story behind this critically-lauded flick though, the backroom wheeling-and-dealing proves just as exciting as a walk-off grand slam.