Two of the greatest days every year for Milwaukee have combined into one day in 2022. This year 414 day and Opening Day are one in the same! Let's raise one to Milwaukee, Home of the High Life.
Today marks Opening Day of the 2020 baseball season – or at least it was supposed to.
Like everything, the coronavirus shut down Opening Day and postponed the start of the season to an unknown future date hopefully sooner rather than later if we, as a country, do this right. The good news, I suppose? We don't have to deal with Chicago Cubs fans invading Milwaukee for a weekend. The bad news (other than, literally, all of the news): We're stuck with a baseball-free Opening Day.
OR ARE WE?!
Thanks to streaming services, there's still baseball action to be found – both fictional and fact, focused on the field and off. Unfortunately, if I'm being honest, most of the truly great baseball movie classics – "Bull Durham," "Field of Dreams," "The Sandlot" – are stuck in the dugout, meaning I'm stuck scrapping together a lineup of, sure, a few standout stars and under-appreciated winners ... but also admittedly some minor-league talent. But you know what, desperate times call for desperate measures – and when you literally can't open the stadiums on Opening Day, that counts as pretty desperate times.
So here are some baseball movies worth pressing play ball on this closed-off Opening Day.
1. "The Natural" (Netflix)
While very few of the iconic baseball movies are currently on the main streaming platforms, at least there's one: "The Natural," the 1984 Oscar-nominated baseball drama starring Robert Redford as a seemingly blessed baseball phenom with an unfortunate past and maybe also a bat forged by the gods. This movie's stranger than I remember – but it's also just as excellent as you remember, with a terrific cast (Glenn Close! Robert Duvall! Joe Don Baker as "The Whammer!"), gorgeously lush photography from six-time nominee Caleb Deschanel and, of course, that iconic score that'll give you goosebumps and make you want to triumphantly run the bases somewhere.
2. "The Battered Bastards of Baseball" (Netflix)
You can't find "Bull Durham" on the Big Red Streaming Monolith, but you can find this Netflix doc which tells the story of essentially the real-life Durham Bulls: the Portland Mavericks, an independent minor league baseball team created in the '70s by Clem from "Bonanza" (Bing Russell, Kurt's dad), comprised of a bunch of poorly groomed goofballs and cheered on by a thrilled fanbase. Talking with sports historians and the effortlessly cool Kurt Russell, "The Battered Bastards of Baseball" is a cheerful and charming true story that throws back to the days when sports didn't have to be polished and the games were exactly that: games, meant to be fun.
3. "The Rookie" (Disney+)
Important question: How does this movie not star Kevin Costner, the king of the baseball movie? It even features the Durham Bulls minor league team! Nevertheless, Dennis Quaid does a damn fine Costner impression in this 2002 satisfyingly weepy true-story sports drama about Jim Morris, who, long after the seemingly peak of his athletic prime, gets a second chance to finally make it to The Show. Albeit with the fairly miserable Tampa Bay Devil Rays, but hey a professional baseball team is a professional baseball team! It's nothing surprising, but it hits all of its feel-good inspirational sports movie notes right – and it even technically features the Brewers since they originally drafted Morris before he blew out his shoulder.
4. "Long Shot" (Netflix)
"Long Shot" combines America's greatest pastime with America's newest pastime: baseball and watching true crime documentaries on streaming services. This short doc tells the incredible true story of Juan Catalan, who is arrested for a murder he didn't commit. He has an alibi – he was at the Los Angeles Dodgers game – but no way to prove it. That is, until ... you know what, that's a twist best saved for you to find out on your own. Sure, it's more indirectly a baseball story than a classic sports movie, but "Long Shot" is filled with unpredictable twists and turns – and all in just 40 minutes. Rob Manfred would be so proud.
5. "No No: A Dockumentary" (Amazon Prime Video)
The most famous story involving Pittsburgh Pirates star pitcher Dock Ellis is one of the iconic crazy tales in all of sports: On June 12, 1970, he pitched a no-hitter while high on LSD. However, Ellis' most impactful and important stories come perhaps off the field as, after his playing days, he sobered up and helped others overcome their problems with addiction. All sides of his incredible career – the hilarious and the heroic, the outlandish and the outstanding – are told in this 2014 Sundance and South By Southwest-approved sports documentary.
6. "61*" (HBO GO/HBO NOW)
Billy Crystal's 2001 baseball drama about Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle's chase to break Babe Ruth's famed single-season home run record in 1961 never hit the big screens, debuting instead on HBO, but honestly it's better than most of the movies theatrically released on this list. Thomas Jane and Barry Pepper are excellent in the lead roles, and the two men's stories – Mantle battling his personal and physical demons, Maris battling the imposing New York media – make for a fascinating contrast. Even if you hate the Yankees (*raises hand*), it's a strong sports movie.
7. "Rookie of the Year" (Disney+)
Love those cornball sports movies for kids from back in the '90s? Unfortunately "Angels in the Outfield" isn't available on any major streaming platforms – WHAT KIND OF BRIGHT STREAMING FUTURE IS THIS!? – but there is "Rookie of the Year," the 1993 sports comedy about a kid whose broken arm miraculously heals into a rocket of a pitching arm, good enough to be signed by a real major league baseball team. (OK, the Chicago Cubs, but close enough.) It's corny, ridiculous, features our hated nemesis and is definitely for kids – but nostalgia, both for the '90s and for when baseball could be played without the fear of a contagion, could make this a winning Opening Day stream for you. And here's a fun fact: It's directed by Daniel Stern, aka Marv from "Home Alone!" And now you know!
8. "Major League II" (Netflix/Hulu)
Important note: "Major League II" is a bad film. A very bad film, the kind of sequel that wrings out all of the charm of the original film and replaces it with worse jokes, hammy-at-best performances and a predictable retread plot. It is the 2002 Milwaukee Brewers of baseball movies – but much like that season, there is someone to redeem it: Bob Uecker. There's nothing here as iconic as his "Major League" turn, but Harry Doyle is always hilarious – and it's unfortunately the closest we'll get to hearing Uecker call a game for a while.
9. "For Love of the Game" (HBO GO/HBO NOW)
Kevin Costner has made some of the most legendary baseball movies in the history of both cinema and sports ... and he also made "For Love of the Game." Sam Raimi's strangely saccharine romance, starring Costner as an over-the-hill pitcher constantly thinking about his off-field love story while throwing a perfect game, is far from perfect. But if you fast-forward through all the gauzy flashbacks and schmaltzy romance, you get some solid baseball action – and, again, desperate times, desperate measures. Plus, how bad can a movie featuring John C. Reilly and J.K. Simmons, plus Vin Scully providing the play-by-play, be?
The good news: You can find several more baseball movies – including some of the best – available to stream on Amazon. The bad news: They're not just available on Amazon Prime Video, but instead scattered across different channels on the service, requiring various additional subscriptions (or, in the case of "Bull Durham," available for free with IMDB TV but with ads – lame). Still, we're desperate for the ol' ball game today, so here's where you can find these classics.
Amazon with a Showtime subscription
- "A League of Their Own"
- "Major League"
Amazon with a Starz subscription
- "The Babe"
- "The Bad News Bears" (original)
- "Bull Durham" (also available for free on IMDB TV via Amazon, but with ads)
- "Fever Pitch"
- "Field of Dreams"
If you want to fall down the rabbit hole of lesser-known streaming options, the "Bad News Bears" remake is on Tubi and Crackle; "Major League" is available on Fubo TV; the original 1951 "Angels in the Outfield" and the Frank Sinatra/Gene Kelly movie "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" can be found on The Criterion Channel; "Eight Men Out" is featured with ads on Vudu Free, The Roku Channel, Tubi and Pluto TV; and "Moneyball," "Pride of the Yankees" and "Bull Durham" are all available on Hoopla. (I swear I didn't make any of those streaming services up.) The Kevin Costner/Tim Robbins comedy classic is also streamable with ads on The Roku Channel, Vudu Free and Tubi, as well as on DirecTV's streaming platform – along with "61*," "Field of Dreams," "Angels in the Outfield" and "Hardball."
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.