Few recall Kevin Costner actually made a third baseball movie. Overshadowed by his classic minor league romp Bull Durham and poignant adult nostalgia fable Field of Dreams, For Love of the Game is a straightforward, moving story which celebrates the texture and allure of baseball, the players who chase its perfection and those who care for them.
They meet by accident. Billy Chapel, an aging but adored and accomplished ball player insulated in a guys’ world of ‘the game’, struggles to confront the twilight of his career. Pitching is all he knows and what makes him special but on some level he realizes his life misses a vital piece. Jane Aubrey, a magazine writer not familiar with baseball and unaware Billy is a legend, reacts instead to his slightly awkward, genuine manner. Wounded by prior relationships, she struggles equally to reach out and hold back. Both characters are engaging, flawed and very real.
Over several years they weave a careful relationship, together whenever Billy’s team visits New York and at times between seasons. Entrenched in separate lives, they remain slightly apart and neither makes the necessary final commitment to the other.
A severe offseason injury to his pitching hand threatens Billy’s career but, angered by doctors and club officials who tell him he is through, he focuses single-mindedly on forcing his rehab and return. Physically and emotionally excluded, Jane decides Billy does not need her and she can not compete with his consuming embrace of baseball. They argue and separate, each hurt and hurtful in reply.
The day of his season ending start for the Tigers at Yankee Stadium Billy learns the only team he has ever played for will be sold and new management will trade him away. Later that afternoon Jane tells him she is leaving New York for a job in London.
Billy takes the mound, confronted by the loss of the only two things which matter in his life. His 40 year old right arm hurts and he no longer scares hitters the way he once did but his love of the game still beckons. Suddenly vulnerable in the long mastered arena which defines him, he recites his personal mantra of focus and self control, “Clear the mechanism”. Only this night the words don’t work and the jeers and taunts of opposing fans penetrate his cocoon and he can not isolate his emotions.
At the end of one crossroad and beginning of another, during the game Billy flashes back over his long career, his teammates, his parents and his relationship with Jane. Two decisions await. Does he accept the trade or will he leave the game on his own terms? Can he finally tell Jane he needs her as much as he needs baseball and avert their self destruction?
Not until late does he notice the other players in the dugout keep their distance, an old baseball superstition. No Yankee hitters have reached base. Billy is pitching a perfect game. . .
At the airport Jane waits by a television, pensive and resentful but ensnared by the unfolding spectacle and drama of Billy alone and perfect on the mound. The final call for her flight comes . . .
Jane: You pull over out of nowhere, you start my car, you make me laugh. The next thing I know I’m at a baseball game at Yankee Stadium that you win. Little boys buy cards with your picture on them.
A fan interrupts to obtain an autograph.
Jane: My God, you’re Billy Chapel.
Billy: Why do you always use both my names?
Jane: Because I need to know what I’m up against.
Jane: I need a real guy, not the one in the Old Spice commercial.
Billy: It was Right Guard.
Billy: It was Right Guard, the commercial. Not Old Spice.
Jane: I was being metaphorical.
Jane: You don’t lose much, do you?
Billy: I lose. Like about 134 times.
Jane: You count them?
Billy: We count everything in baseball.
Jane: If I was horribly burned in a fire, would you still love me?
Jane: If I hit a tree and was paralyzed?
Jane: If I was totally disfigured, my face scraped away and I had
no arms or legs and was on a heart-lung machine,
would you still love me?
Billy: No. But we could be friends.
Jane: Have you ever had your heart broken?
Billy: Yeah. When we lost the pennant in ’87.
Jane: You and I are very different people.
After Jane surprises Billy in Spring Training and finds him with another woman:
Billy: I don’t want her.
Jane: Then what’s she doing here?
Billy: What do you mean? She’s my masseuse. I like her.
Jane: Somehow it’s never how you picture it.
Billy: What about the whole deal thing?
Jane: What deal?
Billy: You know, what you said. You do what you do, I do what I do.
No questions, no strings.
Jane: You believed that? I was lying.
When he thinks Jane doubts his ability to return to pitching:
Billy: If you’re telling me I’m never gonna hold that ball again,
don’t. Haven’t you ever loved anything so much?
Billy on the mound late in the game:
Billy: Lord, I never asked you to get involved in a baseball game.
Always seemed kind of silly. After all, you’ve got enough
to do. But if there’s any way you could make this pain in
my shoulder go away for about ten minutes . . .
After his catcher signals for a curve:
Billy: No, Gus, the curve’s for shit. He knows it and I know it. He
knows it . . . This is gonna hurt a little.
On why she must leave:
Jane: You don’t need me. You and the ball and the diamond, you’re this
perfect, beautiful thing. You can win and lose all by yourself.
Kevin Costner— Billy Chapel Jena Malone— Jane’s daughter
Kelly Preston— Jane Aubrey Brian Cox— Team owner
John C. Reilly— Billy’s catcher Sam Raimi— Director
Raimi also directed A Simple Plan, the Quick and the Dead, The Gift (Cate Blanchett) and the three Spiderman movies. Screenwriter Dana Stevens wrote Life or Something Like It (Angelina Jolie) and City of Angels (Meg Ryan, Nicholas Cage). Her deft touch brings balance, depth and realism to the characters.
The movie is based on a posthumous novel by Michael Shaara who won a Pulitzer Prize for his epic Civil War character study of men in conflict, The Killer Angels.
— Vin Scully and Steve Lyons announce the game.
— Yankee minor leaguers handled most of the baseball scenes although several MLB veterans had small roles, including Dave Eiland (current Royals pitching coach), Ricky Ledee, Juan Nieves and Joe Lisi. Real umps played themselves.
— Stats announced for two fictional Yankees in the game were the actual stats for real Yankees Shane Spencer and Paul O’Neill.
— The film opens with wonderful home footage of Costner playing catch with his Dad and in Little League games. His parents play themselves in a brief flashback.
— Jane writes a fashion column called Scents and Sensibilities. Of course Jane Austen/Aubrey would be a secret baseball fan.
— At one point Billy tells himself to think, not just throw, a sharp contrast to Crash Davis’ (Costner’s) advice to Nuke LaLoosh in Bull Durham: “Lesson number one: don’t think. You can only hurt the club.”
Take a chance on this one. A great baseball movie.
See www.imdb.com for more info.