Thursday, April 23, 2015

Tribeca ’15: Fastball

They say for fastball pitchers, it more about movement and location then velocity, unless they can hurl it over 100 mph. In that case, it really is about velocity. Some of the game’s best power pitchers and power hitters explain what it is like to be on either side of the high heat in Jonathan Hock’s enormously entertaining Fastball, which screens during the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival.

Obviously it is almost impossible to compare pitchers from different eras, but Hock and his on-screen experts will develop a methodology to do just that. Hock surveys the game-changingest fastball pitchers throughout baseball history, starting with Walter Johnson’s celebrated 122 feet per second fastball, segueing into Bob Feller’s still impressive 98.6 mph benchmark. Yankee fans will be delighted to see Goose Gossage get ample screen time, but will be baffled by the absence of Mariano Rivera (what, the cutter doesn’t count?). Still, future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter turns up as consolation (presumably he is like Martin Scorsese in classic cinema docs, if you can get him, you find a place for him).

Okay, fans from every city might wonder why their respective teams are not better represented, but nobody will question the time spent with Bob Gibson and Nolan Ryan. There are even more Hall of Famers represented on the hitters’ side of the equation, including George Brett (yes, the pine tar incident is revisited), Hank Aaron, and Al Kaline. Some fans might find it rather bittersweet seeing the recently passed Ernie Banks and Tony Gwynn adding even more class to the film.

There are a lot of laugh-out-loud stories in Fastball, but there is also a lot of nostalgia. In fact, the film becomes unapologetically sentimental and empathetic when chronically the story of Steve Dalkowski, the almost Major Leaguer who partly inspired the film Bull Durham. It is a tough game sometimes.

Surprisingly, Hock even incorporates lessons in physics and physiology into the film that really heighten our appreciation of fastball pitching (and hitting). The manner in which the documentary breaks down and adjusts fastball measurement over time might sound a little geeky, but it is totally perfect for such a wonky, numbers-obsessed sport. To Hock’s credit, Fastball is willing to make the call as to which pitcher really was the fastest, without any hedging or second-guessing, so there is even some suspense built in.

Throughout the film, Hock always hits the right notes and Kevin Costner’s narration is the perfect finishing touch. If you are a baseball fan, Fastball will bring make fond memories of the game and if you do not follow the boys of summer, you can still enjoy the anecdotes. Highly recommended, Fastball screens again this Saturday (4/25) and Sunday (4/26), as part of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.