By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
Spring is right around the corner, which means only one thing if you’re me, or people who hope to be as cool as me: Baseball. Where I’m at now it’s difficult to catch spring training games, so I have to content myself with baseball flicks, which I’m in short supply of right now.
I’m not quite this desperate yet
Thankfully I ran across Knuckleball!, a documentary about, well, the knuckleball. If you’re unfamiliar with what that is, I’ll enlighten ya. It’ s a type of pitch, a pitch full of contrasts. While many major league pitchers make their bread and butter throwing over 90 miles per hour, this pitch is generally thrown around 20 miles per hour slower… basically about as hard as I throw, on a great day. It doesn’t spin, meaning it’s overly influenced by the air currents between it and homeplate, producing an often startling effect. On the plus side, it’s almost entirely unpredictable to hitters, on the negative… it’s often also entirely unpredictable to the pitcher and catcher.
When it works, it looks like this:
…and when it doesn’t:
Still reading? Well good god-damn, either you’re a baseball fan or wondering why you should care about this at all. The real story here is the men who throw the knuckler. Since it’s viewed by many as a trick pitch at best, and at worst an active liability, you have to be hella effective with it to ever get a chance at the big leagues… and hella persistent even once you get there.
Knuckleball! follows the two (only two!) active pitchers at the time throwing the pitch, Tim Wakefield and R.A. Dickey. Even if you aren’t a baseball fan, you should identify with their underdog stories, as they spend years to fight the perceptions of their managers and front offices, bounce around from team to team trying to establish themselves, and struggle with the nature of the pitch itself.
Thankfully, they have an unexpected support system- the handful of ex-big leaguers who threw the pitch, who view it almost like a brotherhood in arms (man, I’m a punny guy…). The film nails the portrayal of the mental and physical toughness necessary to make it in a sport where everything can change in a moment… making it a nice corollary for life itself.
The filmmaking itself is surprisingly polished, taking advantage of a nice soundtrack and some nice camera tricks, especially its use of slow motion. The co-directors, Anne Sundberg and Ricki Stern, actually have a nice resume of documentary work between them, including Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, The Devil Came on Horseback, and Burma Soldier, and I’ll definitely be keeping tabs on them from here on out.
Knuckleball! exists in a weird space. If you’re not a baseball fan, you might find it a bit inaccessible or technical at times, but if you’re a big baseball buff, it’s not long before it becomes apparent that the film wasn’t made by crack sabermetrics experts either. So, either you run the risk of learning too much, or too little, but there’s no Baby Bear bed here.
Ahhh… just right.
This film will certainly scratch that baseball itch you must be feeling about now, and even if that’s not your cup of tea, you’ll find the excellent human interest stories of Tim Wakefield and R.A. Dickey well worth your time.
Take a Drink: every time someone looks like an idiot while swinging at a knuckler
Take a Drink: every time slo-mo kicks in
Do a Shot: whenever someone is dumb enough to doubt R.A. Dickey