Play Ball

“The world is made for people who aren’t cursed with self-awareness.” Annie Savoy, Bull Durham

It’s baseball season. Great writers and hacks have all extolled the virtues of the start of the baseball season, rebirth, spring, blah blah blah. Let’s cut to the chase: am I Crash Davis?

WARNING: This post contains movie spoilers.

I have been a big fan of the movie Bull Durham since it was released (gulp) 25 years ago. It’s one of the few DVDs I own, and I try to watch it at least once a year, preferably before baseball season begins. I could go on about what appeals to me…baseball, romance, humor, sex, philosophy, and great writing. Even most secondary characters have fully realized arcs. It’s a sports movie, and a chick flick, and a comedy, and a drama. Regardless of what you think of sports or Kevin Costner, If you haven’t seen it, you are a fool. Simply put: it’s fun, goddamn it.

When I was still a teenager I emulated Kevin Costner’s Crash Davis. He had it all…street smarts, book smarts (one character says about Crash “I saw him read a book without pictures once”), a sense of humor, and passion for the game. I recognized myself in him, or at least the self I wanted to be. When that movie came out I was already a washed up ball player, only a few years past my last year in little league, where I hit .455 as a catcher in the minors (I didn’t make the majors that season, or any season I spent in little league).

But emulating Crash Davis comes at a price because Crash, at the end of the day, did exactly that. He failed to achieve his goal of becoming a regular major leaguer, having only spent 21 days “in the show” as they call it. He had the brains for it, but a combination of bad luck and a weaker skill set (at least, too weak to make it to the show) was the difference that did him in. The difference of only one hit a week:

He’s a good man. A flawed and complex man (like all our protagonists should be), but a good man. In the end, he gets the girl (a remarkably wonderful Susan Sarandon as Annie) and he gets the possibility of making it to the show, but not as a player. A happy ending…but he doesn’t achieve his dream. Be careful who you emulate.

At the start of my acting career I equated various levels of professional theater to the varying levels of major and minor league baseball. Single A ball, the lowest level of the minors (baseball fans, shut up about rookie ball and the various A leagues and accept the analogy) was community theater, sketch and improv comedy with friends, non-union off-off-Broadway, and nowadays, web series where there is no pay. Double A (AA) ball was paying gigs, but still low on the totem pole: Equity Showcase theater in New York, theme parks, non-union tours and regional theater, no budget movies, and paid improv shows and touring companies.  AAA ball was Equity regional theater and tours, and indie or cult movies that never reach the mainstream. That left the major leagues, the upper echelon of professional acting: Broadway, off-Broadway, studio movies, TV shows, union commercials. When I wasn’t writing, I spent nearly a decade in professional theater. I spent most of my time in AA ball, with rare and brief stays in AAA ball. I never made it to the majors.

It’s not a tragedy. I have few regrets, and had some great experiences. I performed in front of crowds north of 10,000 at a theme park. I once performed back to back nights in different shows on different coasts, in New York City and Portland, Oregon (neither gig paid, and I paid my own travel).  I have been on stage in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington D.C. And for a few glorious pockets of time, I was making my living solely from acting.

I wasn’t a bad actor. Reviewers and critics were kind to me. I played supporting characters and lead roles. I had (and still have) pretty good comic timing. Also, unlike Crash Davis and other athletes, acting careers can continue long past one’s physical prime. There are roles for people of all ages, and I could have kept it up, but my process as an actor was become corrupt by self-doubt. Not just the usual career doubt (“am I meant for this?”) but moment to moment doubting of the choices I was making as an actor. I was becoming more and more self conscious of my decisions on stage, and in the moment. I could quickly and easily analyze other actors, directing choices, and script choices, but I could not confidently turn that mirror towards myself. And that’s where the Annie Savoy quote at the top of this post comes in. Those who succeed are able to proceed almost blindly with a sharpened focus that I no longer had.

Plus, and on a more positive note, I wanted to be writing all the time. So I made a choice to walk away, or retire, from my acting career. For the next few years I would perform in sketch and improv shows, but purely for fun without thinking about a career, all the while writing my various plays, screenplays, and TV scripts.

At the end of Bull Durham Crash sits on Annie’s porch, telling her that he’s retiring and may apply for a managerial position for a minor league team in Visalia the next season. He wonders aloud if he can make it to the show as a manager, and Annie emphatically agrees with him. And we know, as the credits roll while they joyfully dance around the kitchen, that he will get there.

And as a writer, I will make it to the show. In fact, I already have. I am not crippled with the self doubt I had as an actor, and am much more confident in my writing, taking rejection and success equally in stride. As a writer, I figure I am solidly playing well at the AAA level. I have even spent a few moments in the majors already. I like it in the majors. The grass is greener, the lights are brighter, and I am not intimidated. I plan on sticking around.