The Natural: My Favorite Aging Athlete Movie (and My Roy Hobbs Glove)
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One More Season in the Sun
Rocky Balboa. Invincible. Bull Durham. The Rookie. For Love of the Game. Tin Cup. Mr. 3000. Major League. Trouble with the Curve. The Color of Money. Resurrecting the Champ. What do these movies have in common? If you said “sports flick”, you’re correct. If you said “Kevin Costner”, you still get a prize, because he must be in half of them. But more specifically, these movies all share the theme of an aging sports hero.
Father Time is undefeated. Past a certain point, athletic ability declines with age. And perhaps that is why older players make good sports heroes. Or maybe it’s because the Kevin Costners, Clint Eastwoods, Dennis Quaids, and Paul Newmans of the world came of age during a time when pure sports like boxing and baseball provided the poetic backdrop for the lessons they learned about life.
If you thought hard about it, you probably could name half a dozen more films that fit a similar pattern. The older player makes a comeback or takes an improbable starring role during a championship run. Expand the criteria to include other unlikely heroes and you’ll end up with a more diverse cast of films, from Million Dollar Baby to Cool Runnings to Remembering the Titans to Bend It Like Beckham. Sports provides the ideal slate for as many game-sized metaphors and self-development lessons as a film director can pack into two hours. And the best of these movies will leave you cheering or crying in the end because most of us can relate to that language known as sports.
Underdogs and unlikely heroes/heroines is a major theme for most sports movies. Collages: From WTOP (above) and Timeout.com (below).
I intentionally left one movie off the list above: The Natural, starring Robert Redford. One could argue about which movie is the best sports flick of all time; I might throw a few others onto that list, such as Hoosiers, Chariots of Fire, and Field of Dreams. But The Natural deserves a place near the top, since it is one of the finest sports movies ever made. In my opinion, it is the best baseball movie of all time.
The Natural by TriStar Pictures.
Let Me Tell You a Story
In the 1980s, there was a young kid growing up in a typical American town. His parents didn’t own a television and when they got one it only had a few channels anyway, so he fell asleep many nights listening to ballgames on the radio. Baseball games. With its long, slow progression and hours of potential dead air between pitches, baseball is made for radio. Some of that boy’s biggest heroes were old-school radio announcers who could fill all those gaps by telling stories of the game. They painted pictures with words that made you feel like you were right there, smelling the cut grass and watching the umpire dust off home plate.
That boy was me. I had dreams of growing up to be a baseball player. But like most kids, the closest I ever came to that was playing in a few youth league games around that time. I was fortunate to play in my town’s little league championship game one year. I got hit in the head by a pitch, walked to first base, and came around to score a go-ahead run.
It looked a lot like this. Photo: Autodo.
After one of those games, my father took me to a movie theater to watch The Natural. I’m not quite sure why it was in the theater, because the movie came out in 1984, and it must have been years after that. Remembering back to that time, the VCR thing was just getting going and most people did not rent videos yet. Neighborhood movie theaters played all kinds of movies back then (even older ones), not just hot new releases. So that may help explain why this movie was in a theater several years after it was released.
And The Game Played On
What’s most striking about The Natural is the utter purity of the game throughout the entire movie. The title refers to the main character, Roy Hobbs, who has rare, natural talent. After he was shot and his promising career as a pitcher was cut short, he made a comeback many years later as a very skilled hitter. But the term “The Natural” says just as much about the role of sports: it’s the only natural thing in the whole movie.
Roy Hobbs takes a bullet, he gets pressured by gamblers (including an employer), and throughout the story, there are people trying to knock him out or manipulate him for their own reasons, whether these are romantic or financial. It’s set against the backdrop of the Great Depression, a time of great suffering and economic misery. Yet amidst all of the human drama, despite being beaten down and having every conceivable obstacle thrown at him, Hobbs risks everything to play again.
The story was fictional, so this wasn't an actual cover, but it's a construction of a 1939 LIFE cover.
In the end, what’s important, and what’s purely natural, is the game of baseball. When people sacrifice everything for it, nothing can stop the game. Some people say that sports is a meaningless diversion from the important matters of daily life. And yet in the middle of life’s madness, sports for a moment rises above it all. It gives people a reason to hope, believe, and come together, connecting with something so pure that it seems real. No movie has ever made that case better than The Natural.
My Roy Hobbs Glove
It was around that time, as a youngster, that I crossed paths with my "Roy Hobbs" mitt (baseball glove). It was at a local secondhand thrift store. Had I not seen the movie, I would not have looked twice at this glove. I would have bought the same fancy new kinds that my friends had. Instead, I convinced my parents to pay $2 or whatever it cost to get me my own Roy Hobbs-style glove. If I couldn’t have the magic bat, I wanted this vintage glove that reminded me of the magic of that movie. Sure, it wasn't the old open-finger model, but it had some history.
The glove used in the movie, and a replica, courtesy of thegoldencloset.com. The next few pictures show my glove.
My glove. Not a real Roy Hobbs model or even that close to it, but still an old classic, probably from the 1950s. Author photos.
On several occasions, I’ve tried to research this glove of mine. It's not one of the old open-finger models, but probably was made shortly after that. It was made by the George A. Reach company, which had an office in Philadelphia and a factory in Maryland from the late-1930s to the mid-1950s. Apparently, George A. Reach was the nephew of A.J. Reach, who is credited with having created the sporting goods industry. Separately, there is some suggestion online that George Reach may have invented the cork-cored baseballs that are widely used in baseball today. In any case, it is quite possible that my glove was produced sometime between the year when the movie The Natural was set (1939) and the time that author Bernard Malamud wrote the original story (1952) upon which the 1984 film was based. Most likely, mine was made in the 1950s.
Today, you can buy a replica Roy Hobbs glove on eBay for $250 and there is a brand that uses his name. My $2 mitt has no special claim to fame, and no connection with the movie, but it looks and feels like a classic. As a young man playing baseball with my friends, as an older dude at softball games, and as a father who plays baseball with his own kids, I have used this glove. I have other gloves, but this is my favorite. It’s my Hobs mitt.
Being Thankful and Paying It Forward
I may have grown up without a television and using a baseball glove made decades earlier, but I have enjoyed incredible opportunities and experiences. Today, I am giving thanks for the opportunities I have had on Steemit by again paying forward something I have earned. My last such fundraiser post enabled me to donate enough to help launch the Steemit Accelerator Hub in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, which is opening soon to help onboard and train many future Steemians.
100% of the proceeds from this post (SBD liquid rewards + a donation from me, equal to any Steem Power earned) will be donated to support the Steemit in Nigeria event that is being organized by @ehiboss , @destinysaid , and others. Again, I believe this is a vital effort to reach and mentor many more people who can benefit from Steem/it and improve our community.
Nigerians are wonderful people. It’s been a pleasure getting to know some of them and seeing their creative content on Steemit. Like that fictional baseball player who suffered through tremendous adversity and risked everything to play the game he loved, many people in Nigeria live in poverty and deal with adverse conditions in daily life. It is a developing country where there are few opportunities for many of the people to work in good jobs or start businesses of their own.
Steemit offers a ray of hope. Amid the chaos of life, it is an opportunity that is real and natural. And Steemit is only the beginning when you think about the possibilities for Steem; it could become a widely-used currency in much of the developing world. Let’s help our Nigerian friends get 20 million people onto Steemit, eSteem, dTube, Busy, ChainBB, and other Steem-powered sites and apps. It starts now.
All earnings from this post will be donated to @leadent360 for the Steemit in Nigeria event. Please consider making a donation of your own and/or supporting the posts of its chief organizers, including @ehiboss and @destinysaid. And please vote on their fundraiser posts as well. Thank you! https://steemit.com/growth-projects/@ehiboss/contributing-to-the-success-of-the-steemit-in-nigeria-s-i-n-event
Rocky from MGM. Top thumbnail image, displaying a collection of old baseball gloves, shows the George Reach gloves at glovescollector.com.