Friday Flicks: Little Big League

The offseason can be tough on baseball fans. Why not get your baseball fix through the Silver Screen? All offseason long, check out “Friday Flicks” at lunchtime for a baseball movie review. Want to suggest a movie for review? Comment below with the title.

Last week, I reviewed a classic baseball comedy that stars Charlie Sheen. This week’s flick is a film that features a juvenile manager who happens to own the Minnesota Twins.

I put off watching Little Big League (1994) all week. I’d picked it up from the library a week ago, but I was certain I would be disappointed in a movie I hadn’t seen since I was 12. Heck, every time I tried to remember part of the movie, I kept picturing scenes from Rookie of the Year, which had come out just before. I knew Rookie of the Year wasn’t filmed in the Metrodome, but it had made a stronger impression in my young memory. And, in trying to separate the two, I had somehow convinced myself that Little Big League was a clichéd storyline reminiscent of The Mighty Ducks.

Boy, was I wrong.

Now, don’t miss understand me. The movie is not free from clichés. However, it was much more entertaining for me as an adult than I expected going into this re-watch. The basic plot of the movie is that Billy Heywood, a pre-teen baseball savant, inherits the Minnesota Twins when his beloved grandfather passes away. Billy quickly realizes that more changes are needed, and he takes over as manager. As soon as the school year ends, of course.

Baseball was made for kids. Grownups only screw it up. -Bob Lemon (HOF)

There is the clichéd scene where the team rejects the authority of the pre-teen. Oh, and that other clichéd scene where the team’s star decides to make a (respectful) play for the kid’s mom. But beyond that, the film really is engaging. Billy’s “pitch” that the lackluster team play for fun more than for wins works for the audience, and we see Billy wrestle with the difficulties of being a regular twelve-year-old kid and a person in charge of an MLB franchise that’s chasing the pennant.

As a baseball fan, it’s enjoyable. As a fan who appreciates the purity of the game, it reignites a more childlike love of the game. As a Twins fan, it provides some fantastic cameos from MLB players of that era and from Minnesota Twins people and places.

Little Big League namedrops like nobody’s business. In the early part of the movie, Whitey Herzog, Bobby Valentie, and Rickey Henderson are mentioned. And certainly, Ken Griffey, Jr, Randy Johnson, and Lou Piniella are not only central to the end of the movie, but they make cameos in the most important game of the film.

However, Minnesota natives will love the efforts made to make the Minnesota locale seem authentic. Not only is Valleyfair mentioned, but the Corkscrew and the brand new (at that time) Wave are featured. (We’ll forgive the errors in the bridge scene because the film makers included the amusement park.) My favorite part of the movie is John Gordon, who basically plays himself with a different name, Wally Holland. In real life, Gordon broadcast began broadcasting for the Twins during their 1987 Championship season. As Holland in Little Big League, he is able to break out of his shell a little bit. While his classic phrases, most notably “touch ‘em all!” are included, Gordon also plays along with good deadpan humor about stats and is a great authentic Twins presence in the movie.

My favorite part of the movie, however, was the reminder Billy gives to his team when they get too caught up in the “stuff” of the sport:

You’re major leaguers. You’re on baseball cards. What could be better?

Is it a hit? I might be getting soft here, but I give it a homerun. It might be that my low expectations influenced me, but I enjoyed the heck out of a baseball movie that showed the Minnesota Twins playing a game 163 and filling up the stadium with an excited crowd. I liked the innocence of the pre-teen’s owner/manager’s view that came through without being too clichéd. Give it a try. I think you’ll enjoy it!

Come back next week for a review of a based-on-a-true-story flick about dreams that stay alive.

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