The Perfect Game
- Directed by William Dear
- Written by William Winokur
- Starring Clifton Collins Jr. and Cheech Marin
- Classification: PG
First, something puny and personal. Eons ago, I played for Canada in baseball's Little League World Series. Even then, we knew about the miracle of Monterrey, the inspiring Mexican squad that, years earlier, had become the first foreign team to beat the Americans at their own game. If them, we thought, why not us?
The Perfect Game is the story of that unlikely Monterrey group, albeit fictionally embellished to add a touch of love-interest and further shrink the Davids while inflating the Goliaths. Essentially, then, it's Hoosiers with horsehide and 12-year-old kids who - miracles never cease - speak their native Spanish in flawless English. On the dirt-poor streets down Mexico way, they gather around their local priest (Cheech Marin), a kindly emissary of God prone to wondering aloud: "These children have nothing. How can I give them hope?"
Of course, hope soon takes the form of a makeshift diamond, a scuffed-up ball and an initially reluctant manager. That would be Cesar (Clifton Collins Jr.), once a towel boy for the St. Louis Cardinals, now a factory hand and the town drunk. Yes, Cesar schools the lads in the fundamentals, even as he realigns himself on the straight and narrow, thereby earning a flirtatious wink or three from the lovely Maria. Director William Dear is not one to miss a sentimental beat.
From there, the road to the World Series passes through tournaments in Texas and Kentucky, where, since it's 1957, the kids must contend not just with their bigger opponents but with the mountains of prejudice still extant in the South - washrooms are restricted, buses are segregated, slurs are heard. Happily, the team is helped by many sympathetic black people, including none other than that legend from the Negro Leagues, Cool Papa Bell himself. Wouldn't it would be lovely to think that this encounter isn't part of the script's embellishment?
As the title loudly hints, ultimate victory assumes the flawless shape of the star pitcher's perfect game, a rarity anywhere yet especially at the Little League level. In getting to that climax, the recreated game action is a bit tepid and the child actors too precociously cute, but the true tale in the midst of the fabrication remains a guaranteed heart-warmer. Occasionally, Dear inserts some archival footage of the actual team, and these glimpses reminded me of a documented fact curiously underemphasized here. The pitcher in question, Angel Macias, was ambidextrous - he could throw serious heat with either arm, could strike you out from both sides of the mound. How my 12-year-old self marvelled at that.
Speaking of him, a final World Series confession. In the tight late innings of the crucial elimination game, I committed a two-out error that led directly to our defeat. I've made many more egregious errors since, but none that came with such a soundtrack - the vast inhaled "OOOH" of 20,000 people gasping simultaneously. That's a memorable sound, even now when I can't remember why I opened the fridge door. Silly but, decades later, I have perfect recall of my imperfect game.