Back in 1846, the first official game of baseball was played between a group of cricket players and a team called the Knickerbockers.
A man named Abner Doubleday was credited with inventing the sport, unaware that it would one day become as iconic an American tradition as hot dogs and apple pie. Who can resist the crack of the bat and the roar of a frenzied crowd? Baseball has inspired no shortage of consumer paraphernalia such as trading cards, caps and sporting equipment as well as comedy sketches such as Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First,” annual coverage of the World Series, and a wide range of feature films including The Natural (1984), A League of Their Own (1992), Field of Dreams (1989), Moneyball (2011) and Angels in the Outfield (1994). This month’s lesson plans are all about stepping up to the plate with out-of-the-ballpark plots.
These discussion questions provide a good foundation prior to choosing which exercises to try first.
1. Who’s your favorite baseball team (and why)?
2. Who’s your favorite baseball player (and why)?
3. Do you play baseball/softball at school? If so, what is your favorite position to play?
4. Would you rather be (1) a great pitcher, (2) a great catcher, or (3) a fast runner?
5. What famous baseball player would you most like to meet (http://www.baseball-almanac.com/legendary/lisn100.shtml) and what question would you really like to ask?
6. Would you rather watch a baseball game in person or on television (and why)?
7. If you could design a new uniform for your favorite baseball team, what would the color scheme be?
Baseball is not only a team sport but also sometimes a family one. Sibling greats who have played in the major leagues include the DiMaggio and Alou brothers. The Pride of St. Louis (1952) features the life of Cardinal great “Dizzy” Dean, whose brother Paul teamed with him on their championship pitching staff as part of the “Gashouse Gang” in 1934. In A League of Their Own (1992), a fictionalized account of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, sisters play for competing teams and clearly have a serious rivalry.
Your Assignment: Write a three page scene where a family meets for Thanksgiving dinner. The daughter was All-American in college softball and is now an attorney. Her older brother is a top prospect in the minor leagues who went to the pros straight from high school and is waiting for his big break. The family is making a fuss over the brother, paying little attention to the accomplishments of the daughter.
ONE LEG AT A TIME
Sports presents an opportunity for all to succeed based on their determination, dedication, and willingness to help a team achieve its goals. But it wasn’t always the case in baseball. The Jackie Robinson Story (1950), in which the legendary Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodger great starred as himself, shows just how challenging it was for men of color to have the opportunity to play professional baseball. But he succeeded, and in doing so paved the way for many of the game’s greats to play the sport they loved.
Your Assignment: Write a one page treatment for a film that highlights the diversity of a modern college baseball team and how their working together causes them to rethink how they conduct themselves in their personal lives.
IT’S ONLY A GAME
Baseball films have frequently dealt with more serious themes. Even a lighthearted movie like Angels in the Outfield (1951/1994) acknowledged that life on the diamond is not eternal. Other films dealing with the tragic loss of a baseball player include Pride of the Yankees (1942) dealing with the real life struggle of Yankee great Lou Gehrig, and Bang the Drum Slowly (1973) a fictional account of how a team’s perspectives change when they learn that one of their teammates has terminal Hodgkin’s Disease.
Your Assignment: Write a two page film treatment where the lead character gets his break and goes to the Big Leagues, only to find out that his wife and high school sweetheart has inoperable cancer. While the money he earns will enable the couple to stay on top of her medical bills, he will be apart from her at a time when she needs him the most. What does he do? For extra credit, write a two page scene in which his decision is revealed.
YOU CAN’T SPELL “FANATIC” WITHOUT “FAN”
Young men and women are often obsessed with larger-than-life heroes, whether in sports or entertainment. Sometimes, however, that obsession develops into darker thoughts. In The Fan (1996), a fan resorts to murder and kidnapping in his crazed desire to help his beloved San Francisco. Fever Pitch (2005) takes a lighter view of life in the bleachers in a romantic comedy where love finally results in a balance between baseball and day-to-day living.
Your Assignment: Your best friend is obsessed with a professional baseball player who plays for the local franchise. As his grades begin to fall and he becomes more isolated, you are concerned about whether he has gone – or is about to go – too far. Write a three page scene where you are trying to talk your friend out of going to his favorite player’s “bobble head” night.
AS AMERICAN AS BASEBALL
The first baseball game in Japan was organized by Albert Bates in 1873. By 1905, Japanese teams were touring the United States playing exhibition games against college teams. Mr. Baseball (1992), a comedy underscoring the cultural differences that arise when an American player past his prime goes to Japan to play ball, demonstrates just how big a sport baseball is in Japan.
Your Assignment: Write a two-page proposal for a documentary on Japanese baseball and how it has developed over the years, including Americans playing in Japan and Japanese stars now commanding big salaries in the Major Leagues. In your proposal, identify the elements you will use to tell the story; i.e., re-enactments, music, photographs, interviews.
As part of my ongoing commitment to supply great lesson plans for today’s classrooms, I always enjoy getting feedback on how the material is used and what kind of new content you’d like to see in future columns. I’m also happy to answer any questions related to specific problems your students may be struggling with. Just drop me a note at or through my website at http://www.authorhamlett.com.
Former actress/director Christina Hamlett is an award winning author, professional script consultant, and ghostwriter. Her credits to date include 30 books, 154 plays for young actors, and 5 optioned feature films.