I went to see a movie last weekend, even though I am really not a movie goer. Story lines that come from books are usually better in my mind when I am reading them than when they are translated to the big screen.
I am not a fan of horror and gore movies. I am not a fan of moronic comedy movies. I am not a fan of real-life movies. Most of the time I wouldn’t pay $9.50 to live the real-life story, let alone watch it with bunches of people in a theater. When I go to the cinema, it tends to be comic-book movies. Action. Adventure. The spectacular. The good guy wins. The bad guy loses. The good guy kisses the girl.
But last weekend, I went to see “42.”
I hesitated to see this movie because I am not a Dodger fan. I grew up in the days of Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Bobby Richardson and Elston Howard. I was, and still am, a Yankee fan. One of the first World Series that I remember watching on television was in 1963 — and you guessed it, the Dodgers swept the Yankees in four straight games, marking the first time the boys in pinstripes had lost a World Series without even a whimper.
Since that time, I have added another reason to not be a Dodger fan. I went to college in Cincinnati during the days of the Big Red Machine. I watched games in Riverfront Stadium involving Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Tony Perez. The Dodgers were more than bums now — they were the team that started a Reds’ losing streak when they took a road trip to the coast.
The movie was a good baseball movie; but it was a great movie to stir memories. I was reminded of the day my grandfather took me out to an old ball park in Terre Haute, Ind. in 1961. Terre Haute had a minor league team in the Three-I League — teams from Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa — during the 20s through the 50s. Most of the time the Terre Haute team was called the Hottentots — yes, that’s right — later shortened to just the Tots. Many years the team was unaffiliated with a Major League team, though for a couple of years they were the farm team of the old Saint Louis Browns, and later the Phillies and the Tigers. They played in a stadium near Deming Park that by the 1960s sat vacant most of the time.
The stadium was not empty that summer night in 1961. My grandfather took a 5-year old to see a baseball game in a ball park that he knew like the back of his hand. He told me stories of his love for baseball and the incredible players that he had watched play in this old run-down confine. The Negro League had disbanded but several teams continued to barnstorm across the country. One of those teams was the fabled Indianapolis Clowns. That night they called Terre Haute home, and a nostalgic grandfather wanted his grandson to see “the greatest pitcher of all time,” Satchel Paige. No one knew for sure how old Paige was — he claimed to not even know himself. By any measuring stick he was near 60. He pitched one inning and the three men who faced him didn’t even come close to touching the ball.
The movie showed the Brooklyn Dodgers and their AAA farm team the Montreal Royals as they trained in Daytona Beach in 1946. About 25 years later, I would be a senior in high school watching the Major League expansion Montreal Expos taking on the Los Angeles Dodgers in the old stadium on the same property. I recognized places and players, people and parks. I grinned as Red Barber provided the vocal thread that tied the story together from his perch in the catbird seat. I cheered as a dancing Jackie Robinson stole everything but the pitcher’s socks. I winced as I realized that Jackie’s reality must have been far worse than a PG movie would allow.
In the midst of the movie, I realized an important lesson in my quest for a life that is boiled down to the bare necessities. A simple life is one that is not marred by prejudices against people — race, creed or religion.
At the end, I stood up and applauded.
I applauded Jackie’s character, integrity and fortitude. I applauded that Eddie Stanky defended Jackie in Philadelphia. I applauded that Pee Wee Reese stood next to Jackie, and that I taught his granddaughter in class. I applauded that things, though still not perfect, have changed. I applauded that a white man came up to Jackie on the street and encouraged him on.
I prayed that I would always be that man.
— Tom May is the Minister of Discipleship at Eastside Christian Church in Jeffersonville. He is an adjunct instructor in the Communications Department at Indiana University Southeast.