With the playoffs just around the corner, I was thinking about all the baseball movies that have come out over the years and how, with few exceptions, I usually love them all. I decided that the best way to determine my five favorite was to think about which one I would watch to get in the mood for a game. So, grab a bag of peanuts and a $6 Bud Light and check out what I consider to be the five greatest baseball movies.

5. The Sandlot

Nine best friends, no jobs, playing baseball all day, every day – no questions asked. This is a dream summer. Throw in the neighborhood legend of a dog that eats children (and the occasional Babe Ruth-autographed baseball) and a hot teenage lifeguard and you’ve got yourself a film. Yeah, it’s a kid’s movie. Yeah, it’s rated PG. But you know what? You still liked it.

It’s all about the fantasy in The Sandlot. Every possible dream that you had as a kid is here: beating the snot out of the travel team (who inexplicably wore wrestling earmuffs instead of batting helmets. Did people actually wear those?), growing up to be a professional ballplayer, meeting someone who knew The Great Bambino and, my personal favorite, hooking up with the hot lifeguard after jumping into the deep end knowing you can’t swim. Didn’t everyone have that dream?

I don’t know if any face in the history of film comes even close to the ornery wink/smile that Squints gives Ham before kissing Wendy Peffercorn. And the over the top reference to them getting married and having nine kids? Classic.

4. Bull Durham

For whatever reason, I didn’t see this movie until last summer when – while watching last season’s commercials for Baseball Tonight – I realized that I had never seen it.

I can’t help but chuckle as I think about this film – Tim Robbins in panties is an image forever burned into my mind. The dialogue is fantastic and endlessly quotable. The lollygagger scene, any of the conversations when Crash goes out to the mound, Annie’s speech about baseball as a religion and the way Crash teaches Meat to speak in cliches. Is it just me, or does this sound a little too much like the way ballplayers actually talk?

While Meat may be the comic relief, I love Crash. He’s the underdog, the washed-up veteran whose 21 days of glory came and went, but he still kept on playing because there was nothing else that he could do.

3. Major League

Back-to-back movies with grizzled catchers as leads. I like that.

First of all, I need to establish that this is Major League. None of this Omar Epps stuff or the “Back to the inors” garbage. This is the original. Plain and simple. By far the funniest movie on the list (and the only one about a real ajor League team, interestingly enough), Major League goes with the “lovable losers” motif (kind of like the ’62 ets) who raise up against their evil owner and go from worst to first in one season (not at all like the ’62 Mets).

Where it was the dialogue that made Bull Durham special, it is the characters (more accurately caricatures) that carry Major League. Cerrano and Dorn crack me up every single time. I have personally looked at an ill-performing Beirut ping-pong ball and yelled “I say f- you Jobu!” That, and every time a potential home run gets caught on the warning track, I know it didn’t go out because it was “too high.”

2. Field of Dreams

“People will come, Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up at your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say. It’s only $20 per person. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for its money they have and peace they lack. And they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. And the memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come, Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh, people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.”

1. The Natural

Before I even considered any other movies, I wrote down the number one and wrote The Natural next to it. This is hands down the greatest baseball movie ever crafted.

First off, the soundtrack is unreal. It’s Randy Newman in the style of Aaron Copland, and it is a mix of timeless Americana and triumphant glory. I own the soundtrack and listen to it before finals to get myself pumped (sad, but true).

What truly amazes me is that I’ll never forget watching this movie for the first time. I was sitting cross-legged on the floor of my living room, in complete awe. I didn’t understand the politics, the nastiness of the media or why Roy got shot, but I will never, ever, forget watching Roy Hobbs knock that homer into the lights. Never.

Looking at this list, I realize what it is that makes all of these movies great – each one shows baseball as something greater that just a sport (yeah, even Major League. That’s why it’s funny.) It’s a passion, a sacred summertime ritual that in its full glory is almost blinding.

“I believe in the Church of Baseball,” says Annie in Bull Durham.

I guess I do too.

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