In this June 12, 2008 photo, Matt DeMavge checks on the bull atop the left outfield wall at Durham Bulls Athletic Park in Durham, North Carolina. The movie “Bull Durham” follows the Class A Durham Bulls through a season — sort of — as savvy veteran catcher Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) reluctantly tutors wild young pitcher Nuke LaLoosh (Tim Robbins). AP photo


AUGUSTA —Like Annie Savoy, I, too, believe in the church of baseball.

There are things in baseball no other sport is able to replicate, from its non-linear structure to its continuous summer rhythm. Opening Day and the World Series aside, the game never seems to truly begin or end. It’s just always there, in the box scores, on the radio, in television broadcasts — from the major-league levels down through the minors, the independents, the college wooden bat and the bush leagues. Day after day, we have baseball. We have the ups, the downs, the walk-off home runs and the 0-for-27 slumps.

Baseball, as Annie and Crash Davis — two of the three central characters in Ron Shelton’s 1988 “Bull Durham” — repeatedly remind us, is sports’ best metaphor for life.

“Bull Durham” isn’t just my favorite sports movie of all time, it’s my favorite movie of all time, bar none.

Better than the laughs, better than the story of two people brought together by their love of the game (albeit for very different reasons), better even than the breakout performances of both Tim Robbins as Ebby Calvin “Nuke” Laloosh and Susan Sarandon as Savoy, is the film’s authenticity.

No movie, certainly no baseball movie, before or after has better replicated the feel of minor league baseball in the 1980s.

Savoy’s walk through the city streets of Durham en route to the stadium during the opening credits reminds me of what it felt like going to Maine Guides games in Old Orchard Beach as a child or walking through Portland to Sea Dogs games today as an adult. Kevin Costner’s Davis as he interacts with the flame-throwing young pitcher — both on and off the field — is pure gold. The belief of ballplayers in superstition, the manager’s omnipresent frustration with trying to reach his young charges, the mundane day-to-day life of those inside the game when they’re outside of it — “Bull Durham” simply checks every single box, time and again.

Why wouldn’t it?

Shelton, the writer and director, drew from his own brief experience playing in the minor leagues in the late 1960s and early 1970s. His script earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

Like most of the films on my top 10 list this spring, the beauty of “Bull Durham” is that it’s not really a baseball movie at all. Yes, it’s set in the game of baseball — and there are very raw, very depressing conversations about what makes the game so difficult to succeed at, and there is wonderful insight into what keeps the thousands of players who never even come close to sniffing the big leagues still going season after season.

“What do I get out of it?” Davis asks his manager upon being assigned to Single-A Durham to babysit a hotshot young pitcher.

“You keep getting to go the ballpark everyday, and you keep getting paid to do it,” he’s told.

Baseball is a job.

Baseball is a lifestyle.

Baseball is also a dream.

Whether you, like Crash Davis, believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing AstroTurf and the designated hitter, or, like Annie, believe that Susan Sontag was a visionary, or, like Ebby Calvin, believe that all that matters in life is a Porsche 911 with a quadraphonic Blaupunkt — “Bull Durham” is a lesson that all of us have to co-exist, to find our own way through the values and the ideologies of others.

Today, more than ever, in a nation divided by politics, illness and racial strife, it’s a lesson worth revisiting.

“Bull Durham” will make you laugh. It will also make you think about whether breathing through your eyelids like the ancient Mayans or the Aztecs — honestly, Annie forgets which — really works. Crash not-so-subtly points out that it doesn’t really matter whether the science proves that something works or not, only that if you believe in something strongly enough it can produce the desired results.

Both in the game and in life.

So, like Annie, I believe in the church of baseball.

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