‘The Natural’ hits two key notes that every athlete, no matter how big or how small, no matter how amateur or professional, wants to believe in.

We all want to think, even as we age into our 30s or 40s, as we nudge further into our 50s even, that we’ve got one good run left in us. That if we ever got the call we could imagine standing out in left field at Fenway Park (or Augusta’s McGuire Field), lining up out wide to catch one more of our high school quarterback’s passes, or taking one more spin around the Alfond Arena ice to log a few more seconds as a University of Maine fourth-liner.

Why not?

It’s the very power of sports themselves.

It’s the way in which we endeavor to play children’s games — be they baseball or basketball or backyard volleyball — as grown adults. Whether we’re watching the NFL playoffs or a NASCAR race on television, we all spend a few seconds, maybe without even realizing it, thinking about how we might still be able to do the same things if just given the chance

Roy Hobbs’ new manager, upon meeting the 30-something rookie ballplayer, quips that this is no time to begin a baseball career. “Most guys your age, they retire!” Pop Fisher yells before spitting into the dirt below his feet.

The other chord ‘The Natural’ strikes is in its magic.

Think of sitting in a hockey dressing room, putting on your right sock and right skate before your left, or the Nomar Garciaparra-like OCD batting glove ritual each time you step into the box with a bat slung over your shoulder.

Like Hobbs and his “Wonderboy” bat, athletes among us have long wanted to believe our superstition plays some role in our greatness, in our very ability to succeed.

“The Natural,” though, isn’t really a story about childhood dreams, silly games or even a magic bat. The 1984 film starring Robert Redford and Glenn Close is one of the best movies ever made about baseball, as relevant now as it was when it was made almost 40 years ago and even more relevant than it was to the time period it was set in almost 40 years before that.

Even though Bernard Malamud’s novel of the same name is much, much darker in its subject matter and consequences, the film version is beautifully done. Hobbs, of course, is a young phenom plucked from the cornfields of the midwest, on the fast track to stardom in the big leagues of baseball.

Hobbs, though, has fatal flaws. Whether it was Hobbs trying to best The Slammer both in a three-pitch contest in a field or for the attention of the woman both men coveted, the aw-shucks farm boy carried himself with something that went beyond self-confidence and veered dangerously toward self-absorption.

He is the professional athlete who wants to to be revered, worshipped, simply for his athletic skill. If I learned anything from forcing myself to sit through the Michael Jordan love-fest that ESPN called “The Last Dance” this spring, it was that selfishness and the ugly side of pride all too often brings down those who are too self-important to see it.

That self-importance all but derailed Hobb’s ascension to stardom before it ever began. In fact, Harriet Bird’s “Lady In Black” nearly killed the young man, leaving his baseball career all but destroyed.

What Hobbs always had was the love, adoration and unyielding support of Iris Lemon, his childhood sweetheart. He thought he wanted more, and chasing all the things that were detrimental to his playing abilities, including Memo Paris, once again nearly undoes all that he tried to do just to get back to the game that loved so much.

Although, one is never quite sure how much Hobbs really loves baseball — or the act of playing baseball — at all. What he loves, what he craves, is the stardom that comes with being so wonderfully gifted at such a difficult game.

If anything, he’s a natural.

All of the lessons there in the film for us to learn, unfortunately, Hobbs never learns himself.

He was always too busy making up for lost time and trying to live up to his need to be “the best there ever was.”

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.