Love baseball? Take a swing at “Fastball”.

The essence of baseball is the primal battle between the pitcher and batter, but the magic of the game arises from that confrontation, only 396 milliseconds in the making. The mysteries and memories of Baseball’s greatest heroes are revealed in “Fastball,” featuring interviews with dozens of former players, from legendary Hall of Famers to current All-Stars.
Based on the original idea by the film’s producer, Thomas Tull, who also produced the Jackie Robinson biopic “42,” “Fastball” is peppered with archival footage of baseball’s greatest moments plus original high-speed 4K footage and motion graphics that unlock the secrets hidden within a ball traveling over 100 mph. While players, historians, and scientists might disagree on who was actually the fastest pitcher in history – and yes, the film does the physics and concludes with a clear verdict – “Fastball” tells the story of the game itself.

At it’s core, baseball is the primordial battle between the pitcher and the batter. But the thrill of the game springs from that classic confrontation only 396 milliseconds in the making. The mysteries and memories of baseball’s greatest legends are vividly revealed in “Fastball,” a documentary featuring interviews with dozens of former players ranging from Hall of Fame icons to present day All-Stars.

THE GENERAL IDEA

Writer/Director Jonathan Hock (ESPN’s roundly lauded “30 For 30” series) peppers “Fastball” with archival footage of some of baseball’s most immortal moments, supplementing as he does so with original high-speed 4K footage and motion graphics that unlock the secrets hidden within a ball blazing at over 100 mph. While players, historians and scientists will forever debate who was actually the fastest pitcher in history – and yes, this doc does the physics and delivers a clear verdict – “Fastball” ultimately focuses on telling the enchanting story of the game itself.

THE GOOD

The archival moments Hock presents by way of film footage, video tape and still photography are both classic and spellbinding. The images of such all-time great fireballers as Bob Feller, Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax and Nolan Ryan are purely reverential. I found myself instinctively wincing, actually turning my head, nearly every time one of their frightening fastballs was shown screaming past a hitter’s head, missing his face by mere centimeters. I was unremittingly riveted listening to these baseball idols talk about both throwing and trying to hit pitches hurled near or in excess of 100 miles an hour. Renowned baseball enthusiast Kevin Costner provides the voiceover talent for “Fastball” and is quite commendable in the role. I was particularly touched by the segment on Steve Dalkowski, “The Fastest That Never Was”. While Dalkowski’s story is certainly a sad one, it nonetheless drives home the harsh reality that not every man is meant to be in control of this unusual ability to throw a baseball as hard as humanly possible. This regrettable tale of potential greatness never realized makes it starkly clear that what many consider to be a gift can also be a devastating curse.

THE BAD

In a previous post commenting on the trailer for “Fastball”, I posited that this looked to be a film that will appeal to an audience wider than only those devoted disciples of baseball like yours truly. And so I was wrong. You pretty much need to be a fan of the game, at least to some meaningful degree, to fully engage with and genuinely appreciate that which is being explored. Maybe not to the extent of being a full-on “seamhead”, but pretty damn close. Also, I found that there are points during the nearly hour and a half running time that seem to drag noticeably, bogging down what is for the most part a consistently captivating narrative flow.  Specifically, too many soundbites that too often times extended for too long and that really didn’t add much to the proceedings. And one is left to wonder why the magnificent Sandy Koufax was not among those interviewed, even though the sensational southpaw was rightfully featured prominently in the film. Even though Koufax is renowned for his proclivity to shun all things spotlight, the absence of his personal recollections and observations from “Fastball” is still a considerable disappointment.

OVERALL

As a lifelong lover of baseball, “Fastball” was a real treat for me. Except for one part. Nolan Ryan’s final game was covered near the end of the film. I was there under The Kingdome in Seattle that night as my eternal hero ripped his elbow up and walked off the field for the last time ever to a standing ovation. I honestly felt as though I’d almost lost a family member I was so completely heartbroken. Ryan’s final pitch was clocked at 98 miles per hour. It was, as “The Express” concedes, not the way he wanted to end his brilliant 27-year career. And yet, in a way, it was entirely fitting.

For he went out not with a whimper but with a bang.

 

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About John Smistad

I am a voracious writer of Movie Reviews. Check 'em out at my Blog, "The Quick Flick Critic", @: http://thequickflickcritic.blogspot.com/  Thanks guys! John