Everybody has heard of Field of Dreams, Bull Durham, Pride of the Yankees and the rest of the blockbuster baseball hits, but what about the good flicks that slip through the cracks. The 1991 drama Pastime is one such film. Despite winning the audience prize at the Sundance Film Festival, the film slipped silently through the theaters and hardly made any more noise on the home video circuit. Too bad, because it is an enjoyable, touching and inspirational baseball drama that should not be missed.
The film’s opening images personify the idea of baseball as America’s national pastime. A man jogs through several pastoral American settings—sprinklers, farms, train tracks—tossing a baseball up and down on his way to the ballpark. The man is Roy Dean Bream (William Russ), a 41-year-old relief pitcher for the local Tri-City Steamers minor league club. Bream once made it to the majors, making one appearance and giving up a grand slam home run to Stan Musial. Now he is determined to play for as long as he can stand up, much to the chagrin of the team’s owner (Jeffrey Tambor).
Roy Dean may not have a chance to get back to the majors, but when a young pitcher named Tyrone Debray (Glenn Plummer) joins the team, Roy Dean immediately sees an opportunity to help get someone else there. He takes Tyrone under his wing, sharing the fruits of his baseball experience and giving the kid some life lessons along the way: “You got a bad habit of looking at the ground all the time. Gotta look a man in the eye.” Their relationship doesn’t sit well with Tyrone’s cocky rival pitcher Randy Keever (Scott Plank), who sees Tyrone as a threat and Roy Dean as a joke.
The relationship between a veteran player and a rookie has been a popular plot device in baseball films over the years. Usually it is a veteran catcher and a rookie pitcher (Major League; Bull Durham), sometimes the opposite (Bang the Drum Slowly), but Pastime is unique because the two players play the same position. It is also unique because it is an interracial relationship. The film takes place in 1957, not long after Jackie Robinson first broke professional baseball’s color barrier. “It’s not the color; it’s the smoke, the hummer; it’s what you do with your God given gift” Roy Dean tells Tyrone at one point. The film is not necessarily about race, but it uses the race issue to separate Tyrone from the rest of the team and gives him something in common with Roy Dean. Roy Dean doesn’t fit in because of his age, Tyrone because of his color.
Baseball is life for Roy Dean Bream. He lives it, loves it, breaths it and even passed over marrying the woman he loved for it. He believes in the simplicity of the game, the tradition of it. He even stops a game in the middle of the first pitch because they forgot to perform the national anthem. Baseball was such an important part of his life, that to lose it would be like losing a vital organ, costing him his life.
The film is skillfully constructed. The photography by cinematographer Tom Richmond is stunning; as good as anything you will find in any of the bigger budgeted films, if not better. In the tradition of The Natural and Field of Dreams, the music is every bit as inspirational as the film’s coming-of-age plot. It brings us up when we should be up, down when we should be down and even tricks us a little bit along the way. Helming the production, director Robin B. Armstrong (who has yet to make another film) does not waste a single shot, keeping the film entertaining from start to finish.
What is particularly impressive is the acting by a cast of mostly unknown and some what-movie-was-he-in talent. In the lead, William Russ is quite convincing and proves quite sympathetic. When he begins to tutor the kid, you really get the feeling that he has been all around the minor league circuit and he knows what he is talking about. As the shy but talented Tyrone, Glenn Plummer (you might remember him as the owner of the Jaguar Keanu Reeves took the door off of in Speed) is convincing both off the field and on. Lending the film some major league credibility, baseball legends Bob Feller, Harmon Killebrew and Duke Snider all make cameos.
It’s a shame that the only films that get promoted are the ones with the big budgets, big stars and big directors, because sometimes the best films don’t get the attention they deserve. For anyone willing to search the bowels of the video store shelves, however, you might just find a winner. Pastime is definitely a winner. I give it an A.