The World Series returns next week when baseball plays the final games of the season to crown it’s champion. Baseball continues to be part of the fabric of being an American, whether you’re a rabid fan or a casual observer (being a Cubs fan, I tend to be forced into the second category) There is no shortage of books about the game, from biographies to histories to analysis. Here’s a sampling of some of the newest titles.

The Baseball Codes: Beanballs, Sign Stealing and Bench-Clearing Brawls: the Unwritten Rules of America’s Pastime by Jason Turbow. This is an entertaining look into the varied,  unwritten rules that govern baseball as played by the pros. Most people are familiar with a pitcher purposely hitting a batter as retaliation, but did you know the ins and outs of how to slide, whether or not to talk during a no-hitter, how to give way to a relief pitcher? These examples and many more are explored, often hilariously, with multiple references both historic and recent. For every baseball fan.

The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron by Howard Bryant. Before the age of steriods made us all skeptical of the records and feats of baseball players, there was Henry Aaron. Playing during the era of civil strife and lingering racism, he brought dignity and grace to the game, breaking multiple records (including the famous home run mark), cementing his place in history. This is a serious biography not just of the man but of that historical time in America, written with depth and scholarship.

Perfect: Don Larsen’s Miraculous World Series Game and the Men Who Made it Happen by Lew Paper. 2010 is being called the “Year of the Pitcher” and we’ve already been treated to phenomenal pitching in the playoffs, including Ron Halladay’s no-no – the first playoff no-hitter since Don Larsen’s perfect game in 1956. Relive that historic game (still the only post-season perfect game) and the men who participated. Each chapter covers one of the 19 players, superstars and journeymen alike, all on their way to becoming part of baseball legend.

Sugar follows the story of Miguel Santos, a.k.a. Sugar, a Dominican pitcher from San Pedro De Macorís, struggling to make it to the big leagues and pull himself and his family out of poverty. Playing professionally at a baseball academy in the Dominican Republic, Miguel finally gets his break at age 19 when he advances to the United States’ minor league system.

Miguel quickly finds that he’s not the only superstar at spring training; there are hundreds of highly talented prospects all trying to land spots on one of the team’s minor league affiliates. Despite this new level of competition, Miguel proves himself exceptional on the mound even here, and lands a spot with the Single-A affiliate in Bridgetown, Iowa – the Swing (actually Davenport, Iowa).

In Bridgetown, Miguel is assigned to a host family, the Higgins, an aging Christian couple who live in an isolated farmhouse. The Higgins are devout Swing fans, and every year they house a new young player from the team. They try to treat Miguel like part of the family, inviting him to dinners, bringing him to church, and even encouraging a tenuous friendship between Miguel and their teenage granddaughter Annie.

Miguel’s domination on the mound masks his underlying sense of isolation, until he injures himself during a routine play at first. While on the disabled list, Jorge – his one familiar connection to home in this strange new place – is cut from the team, having never fully regained his ability following off-season knee surgery.

The new vulnerability of Miguel’s injury, coupled with the loneliness of losing his closest friend, force Miguel to begin examining the world around him and his place within it. As his dream begins to fall apart, Miguel decides to leave baseball to follow another kind of American dream. His odyssey finally brings him to New York City, where he struggles to find community and make a new home for himself, like so many before him. –© Rotten Tomatoes

Parts of the movie were filmed in Davenport at John O’Donnell Stadium ( now Modern Woodman Park) in the summer of 2007 with the team at that time Swing of the Quad Cities. Many Quad Citians were in the movie as extras. All the extras were given T-shirts that said ‘Sugar Davenport Iowa Summer 2007’, plus they were paid. The movie first premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in early 2008 were it was called one of the most critically acclaimed films at the festival. The premiere for the movie was held April 24, 2009 in Davenport at the Cinema 53.

An excellent little baseball movie that never got its due was Pastime.  Good luck finding it on any “best” lists.  Released in 1991, it is the story of an aging minor league pitcher named Roy Dean Bream seemingly holding on just for the love of the game or nowhere else to go.  Set in 1957, Bream is the only player halfway civil to a humble black rookie pitcher while the rest of the team addresses him as a pariah.

Either this little gem never got released or didn’t have any marketing budget.  Apparently some people other than myself enjoyed it…it won the audience award at Sundance and features cameos by Bob Feller, Duke Snider, Ernie Banks, Don Newcombe, Bill Mazeroski and Harmon Killebrew.

During the summer of 2006, my best friend and I drove to Cedar Rapids very early one morning to be extras in a baseball movie called The Final Season. The movie tells the true story of when Norway High School was about to be consolidated into the Benton Community School District, thus bringing an end to the school’s 19-state-title-winning baseball team. In order to squash public resistance, the beloved baseball coach is replaced by a young whippersnapper (played by Sean Astin) who the District hopes will lead the team to a losing final season. Now, I know you, the reader, probably have two questions in your head right now: 1. Did Sean Astin lead the Norway team to a victory?! You will have to check out the movie to find out. and 2. How does a person go about being an extra in an Iowa Baseball movie? Aha, I knew you would ask:

A Short Guide to Being an Extra in an Iowa Baseball Movie:

1. Listen to local radio stations. As soon as they announce an Extra Opportunity, immediately change all your plans for tomorrow. You are going to be in a movie!

2. Don’t worry  if you get lost on the way to the stadium. They will still have LOTS of donuts when you arrive.

3. Wear only solid colors. You may think that your Iowa Hawkeye T-shirt is totally appropriate for a crowd scene in 1990, but the producer only remembers people wearing plain colors and Nike Swooshes.

4. Make sure your best friend has a spare tank top in her purse in case you forget to follow rule #3.

5. Bring a library book  because the movie will not start filming until several hours after you got your donut (click here to see what I was reading that day).

6. Watch Sean Astin’s every move, and try to figure out exactly how many feet away he is standing.

7. Finally, you get to ACT!  Get your hands on a pom-pom prop as soon as possible.

8. Develop a strategy with the extras next to you. For example, during home-run scenes: hug one person, high-five two people behind you, and then punch the sky. Keep track of your actions for each scene so you can spot yourself in the movie later.

9. Forget to put on sunscreen. Thus, later in the evening when everyone is asking  about the sunburn on your forehead, you can answer “Oh yeah, I was in a baseball movie.”

10. After 10 hours of cheering and reading, decide it is time to grab your free Taco Bell coupon and leave. You are now a member of a very special group that includes, but is not limited to, all the people in the traffic jam at the end of The Field of Dreams.

Only the Ball Was White, inspired by Robert Peterson’s book published in 1970. This film was produced and directed by Ken Solarz in 1980. The film is a historical look at the Negro League, which existed because baseball was a segregated sport until 1947, when Branch Rickey brought Jackie Robinson to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers. The film basically covers the official formation of the Negro League in the early 1920s as well as an introduction to some of the more well-known players to rise up from the ranks of the Negro League including Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson and Roy Campanella.

For someone who knows nothing about the Negro Leagues, this film serves as a nice way to get an introduction to the subject. For more information about the Negro League, you should watch the made-for-cable Soul of the Game and the classic Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings, you might be on your way to scratching the surface of Negro League Baseball.

If you want to read about the Negro League, the book Shades of Glory by Lawrence Hogan would be an excellent choice. This book was published by the National Geographic in association with the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Baseball’s back which means summer can’t be far behind! While some say that baseball is no longer America’s favorite sport, it’s still an integral part of the American character. This week we’re going to celebrate a favorite combination  – baseball at the movies. Lynn gets us started with a smart and funny film set in the minor leagues.

My favorite baseball movie is Bull Durham. Like the Quad City River Bandits, the Durham Bulls is a minor league team, with a charming baseball park.

Much of the appeal of baseball games in Durham and Davenport, it seems to me, involves the picturesque setting, the promotions, gimmicks, and  tasty ballpark food.

I don’t know much about baseball, but a perfect summer evening to me, is walking from a downtown restaurant or piano bar to Modern Woodman Park. Taking in a game in the twilight, with the lights of  Centennial Bridge’s span in the background can’t be beat.

The Bull Durham stars,  Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon and a very young Tim Robbins, were perfectly cast, as well as the rest of the ball players, coaches and managers.

Costner plays a thinking person’s athlete in a baseball film that drops names like Edith Piaf, Susan Sontag and Walt Whitman as readily as Joe DiMaggio and Ernie Banks.  Sarandon’s Annie Savoy is not only an English teacher, but a expert in baseball history and strategy in a movie that can be enjoyed on many levels.

servicesGas is hovering around 2.50 a gallon, not to mention the beast that will get you there needs to be insured, lest some dingdong a quarter car-length away is getting their last driving texts in before the law passes.

The standard entertainment fodder, the motion picture, will set you back ten bucks a head (if you only see one feature while past the ticket kid) and they’ve even raised the matinee prices!

Dark times indeed, recessioneers.

I propose a day built around free entertainment you may have overlooked.  Enjoy your public and city services.

Even if you’re not a ball fan, there is some romantic nostalgia about listening to a sporting event on the radio.  Radio?  Whats that?  It’s something you’re practically issued at birth.  The Windy City and St. Louis has representation on the dial, as well as our own River Bandits.  Radio, incidentally, was the frequency to be on during the Swing marketing regime.  You could still have some civic pride without the embarrassing visual that it was your team in the powder blue and the mascot was a sunglasses-wearing monkey who is an implied jazz enthusiast…or something.

If you flip over to the public radio side, you’re going to find premium music and entertainment programming.  Some of these operas, classical music, news, and comedy/quiz shows cost 5 figures a year to syndicate in this town.  They only ask that you toss them a few shekels during fund drive week.  If you don’t remember when that is, they’ll kindly break into programming like an audio Jerry Lewis every five minutes to remind you.  There’s a lot of great stuff out there floating in the ether if you’ve got a decent command of the weekly program guide.

Most cities, like Davenport, have multiple parks. I have never driven by Vanderveer and not seen people having a good time at any given hour of the day.  If you consider physical fitness a good time, there’s more than enough of that in store if you have a decent pair of running shoes.   Borrow a Frisbee from someone and toss it around in one of the city’s numerous Frisbee golf courses.  In general, most of those outdoorsy types are some pretty mellow cats, so don’t worry about cliques.  And as far as flora and fauna, if you’re over 16, gasp, it may cost you a DOLLAR to gawk at the displays!

I’d be remiss to not mention the greatest entertainment savings of all, your local library.  Preaching to the choir, I know.

“But Froogs, how would I get there,” says the cynic.   Davenport Citibus is free on Green Saturdays.

Spring trainingThat’s the true harbinger of spring, not crocuses or swallows returning to Capistrano, but the sound of a bat on the ball. – Bill Veeck, 1976

Every baseball fan knows that spring starts this week – pitchers and catchers are reporting to Spring Training. Just knowing that somewhere there is warm sunshine and blue skies and green grass and that the boys of summer are working out the kinks makes the promise of spring seem closer. If you’re lucky enough to be able to escape the Midwestern winter and visit one of the leagues (the Cactus League is in Arizona and the Grapefruit League is in Florida) check out out Spring Training Online for in-depth information about the teams, the parks they play in during spring training, how to get tickets and directions on how to get there as well as spring training game schedules. Spring Training Tips offers lots of valuable information from people who have gone to spring training including information on how to rent a house for your visit, where to go to squeeze in a round of golf and what kind of weather to expect. Major League Baseball has a wealth of information including the most sacred to baseball fans: statistics. Check out all the news about your favorite team and what players to watch this season.

And for the rest us, hang in there – the Cubs home opener is March 31 and the newly renamed Quad Cities River Bandits open April 3!