By Michael LeCompte
As we anxiously await Major League Baseball’s opening day, still a few weeks away, we can get ourselves in the mood by watching our favorite baseball movies. Baseball’s cinematic canon is expansive, composed of comedies, biopics, and dramas.
TV networks seem to run the most well-known baseball films, the Bull Durham’s, Field of Dreams, and Major League’s this time of year, however, Pastime, one of the lesser-known baseball movies of the past thirty years is definitely worth a watch.
Set in the California D-League of 1957, Pastime examines the relationship between Roy Dean Bream, a 41-year-old relief pitcher and a 17-year-old rookie starting pitcher named Tyrone Debray.
Roy Dean, played by William Russ (perhaps best known as the dad on Boy Meets World), is a good-natured, lovable character hanging on against all odds to the game he loves.
Although he’s reached his last stop in organized baseball and knows it, Roy Dean refuses to admit it, even to himself. He’s fueled by his positive nature, a love of the game and the fact that twelve years prior he’d enjoyed a painfully brief stint in the majors.
Roy Dean’s positive attitude is resented by his teammates who are desperately trying to move up the professional baseball ladder, rather than just playing the game for the joy of it.
When Tyrone Debray, an African-American pitcher joins the team the two outcasts forge an unlikely bond. They are each resented, Roy Dean because he’s washed-up and Tyrone because of his race.
Roy Dean sees beyond Tyrone’s race and appreciates his talent. He becomes a sort of mentor for the young pitcher, teaching him to stand up for himself on and off the field, while developing his skills.
Tyrone presents Roy Dean with yet another reason to stay in the game, the opportunity to see his friend move on in the game the way he never quite could. He lives somewhat vicariously through Tyrone and he will certainly live on through what he teaches him as a pitcher.
Jeffrey Tambor and Noble Willingham give excellent performances as a team owner sick of losing both games and money and as the veteran manager of the team and clubhouse ally of Roy Dean.
Together Tyrone and Roy Dean weather the trials of a baseball season, resentful teammates, and racism. A love story is woven into the film for good measure, but the real love of both Tyrone and Roy Dean is baseball.
Baseball with its cruel irony, unfortunate breaks and bounces of the ball, and occasional triumphs is a metaphor for life in Pastime. Roy Dean is relatable as the kind-hearted everyman and we can’t help but root for Tyrone.
D.M. Eyre, Jr. wrote Pastime as a tribute to small-town baseball and his love for the game is evident in the look and feel of the film. Dusty fields, half-full stadiums, and rickety team buses clearly convey both the dreams and the quiet desperation of life in the minor leagues.
Despite being fairly well-reviewed Pastime had a very limited theatrical run, grossing only $270,000.
However, it was screened at the Sundance Film Festival under its original title One Cup of Coffee in 1991 and received the audience award.
Pastime is currently available on Netflix.