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A Hollywood Ending

During a recent banking visit, a conversation ensued with a bank employee who I have known for several years. She is professional and congenial and treats her customers as though she was their own personal banker. She always asks about family and how things are going. On this particular day, she inquired about any trips I was taking over the summer. That’s when I realized generational gaps certainly do exist.

I told her about an upcoming trip we were taking to Dyersville, Iowa, to visit the “Field of Dreams” and fulfill another one of my bucket list items.

“What is that,” she inquired? She hadn’t heard of the movie by the same name.

I began to tell her the story of the 1989 Kevin Costner flick, explaining the gist of the film and its relationship about ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson and the Chicago Black Sox scandal during the 1919 World Series. My explanation included the mention of the baseball field Costner’s character, Ray Kinsella, built amidst a cornfield that attracted Jackson and some teammates that came and played a game.

My banker friend was amazed and asked, “Did that really happen?”

“Only in Hollywood,” I responded to my much younger banker.

Driving home, that conversation had me thinking about the long-time romance the movie industry has had with baseball-related topics, both real and fictional. In the past 100 years, some of the most beloved movies made have been about baseball. Baseball’s story is the story of our times, with heroes and villains, glory and scandal, triumph and failure, comedy and tragedy. It remains the most cinematic of our sports because it is about human beings, their frailties, and their glories. One review I read stated, “If baseball had never existed, the movies would have had to invent it.”

Some research revealed that “Field of Dreams” had been ranked as the fourth-best baseball movie of all time. Toping that list were:
1. The 1988 movie “Bull Durham”
2. A “League of Their Own” in 1922
3. “The Pride of the Yankees,” a 1942 film about Lou Gehrig

I am not a big fan of the Hollywood industry, but if a baseball flick is showing, chances are I will go see it. But during a recent Yankee/Red Sox game, the ending of the game had a ‘Hollywood script ending’ written all over it.

In a season in which the two long-time rivals are seeing their baseball fortunes going in different directions, the Yankees had come back to take a 3-2 into the bottom of the eighth inning. Enter the Hollywood writers.

After super-star outfielder Mookie Betts, about to enter his free-agent year, turned down a 10-year, 300-million offer from the Red Sox in 2020, he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers. In return, the Red Sox received outfielder Alex Verdugo and two prospects, catcher Connor Wong and infielder Jeter Downs. Since then, Verdugo has become a starter, while Wong and Downs have spent most of their time in the minor leagues.

The 24-year-old Downs played his high school ball as a shortstop in Miami, Florida, and was named after Yankee great Derek Jeter. He had been a life-long Yankees fan.

On the evening of July 9, Downs was pulled from the lineup in Wooster, Massachusetts, Boston’s AAA team, and at 5:30 p.m., told to report to the Red Sox. Downs jumped in his car for the 47-mile drive to Fenway Park. Along the way, he got stuck in traffic, arriving in Boston just minutes before game time.

In the bottom of the eighth inning, Downs was inserted into the game as a pinch-runner for designated hitter J.D. Martinez who had doubled. At the plate was his trade partner Verdugo. Downs scored the game’s tying run on a Verdugo base hit.

Two innings later, with runners on the corners and the Red Sox trailing 5-3, in the tenth inning, Downs, batting in Martinez’s former spot in the lineup, stroked his first Major League hit and RBI to pull the Red Sox within one run at 5-4. Two batters later, Verdugo again stepped to the plate and, this time, drove in Downs with the decisive run in the Red Sox 6-5 walk-off victory.

Hollywood can’t make up this stuff – or can they? Jeter Downs beat Derek Jeter’s Yankees. The delighted rookie was ecstatic.

“It’s pretty ironic. It’s kind of funny that my first big-league hit, RBI, and run came against the Yankees. I’ve never run so fast in my life. I was just running. Even if the third base coach would have stopped me, I don’t think I would have been able to stop. It was intense. Can’t write a better story.”

But as Paul Harvey used to say – “here’s the rest of the story.”

Prior to a previous game this season, Downs played with the Red Sox (he went 0-4); his childhood hero Derek Jeter himself tweeted him a message. That message read, “Congratulations and good luck…unless you’re playing the Yankees.”

Not even Hollywood would dare to write this script.