Before the Pittsburgh Pirates said the standard for failure in major league sports, they averaged a trip to the World Series about once a decade, and two of those trips they were lead by their star and soul on and off the field, Roberto Clemente. Clemente was the best defensive right fielder in the game, with a rocket strong and laser accurate arm, a powerful line drive hitter, and a frantic but effective baserunner. In 1972, he was approaching the 3,000-hit mark that separates great hitters from the very best hitters. And as the year wound down to its final week with Clemente just a few hits short, Mickey and Roger Straka were "Chasing 3000" too.
This little-known gem was barely release in theaters, but is worth a look on video if you have any connection to Roberto Clemente (as a baseball player, humanitarian, or Latin American pioneer) or Pittsburgh sports in general. As a young boy of 13 in 1972, my Dad and I made the 2-plus hour trip to Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Stadium a couple of times a year, and I listened to games on the radio to follow the team exploits, so this movie was like watching a home-movie for me, and will be for others with similar connections.
Born and raised in Pittsburgh (where everybody's grandfather speaks with an accent, as Ray Liotta says in the narration as adult Mickey), Mickey and Roger move to California in the midst of that landmark 1972 season with their mother on a doctor's advice to help Roger's breathing problems brought on by his muscular dystrophy. Mickey is a budding baseball star in his own right, with wheel-chair-bound and leg-braced younger brother Roger his best friend and biggest fan. The move doesn't go well, Mickey missing Pittsburgh and Clemente's chase, and Roger's health not improving.
Fast forward to that last week--and comes the perhaps inevitable unauthorized cross-country road trip. You've seen this trip before--"Wild America" comes to mind, with its brotherly companionship and "based-on-a-true-story" similarities. What makes this story interesting is of course the reason and the objective (not many movie road trips make their way east towards Pittsburgh!) but most importantly the relationship between the older and more physically mature Mickey and the younger, smaller, weaker quieter Roger. While the trip is Mickey's idea and he is the nominal "leader", as the trip progresses we realize that Roger is quietly growing emotionally stronger (as he physically weakens) and this dynamic raises the road-trip aspect of the movie above the average.
But Clemente is the center of the picture:
His accomplishments in his career (the brothers have his baseball cards and recite his numbers),
His style of playing (his tics imitated by every kid on the playground), and
His impact off the field (characters remember kindnesses they have observed Clemente do) ,
At the time, as a young baseball fan, I loved Roberto as "our" star, but I'm sure I did not realize how widely he was respected off the field, and from a historical perspective how important he was as a social and historical leader as one of the first Latin American stars in American sports (baseball's annual humanitarian award is named for him).
He died New Years Eve 1972 in a plane crash delivering earthquake relief supplies to Nicaragua--after getting his 3,000th hit in his last at-bat in the last game of the season. This well-known historical data adds to the emotional impact of Mickey and Roger's cross-country quest (we know the Titanic will hit the iceberg and sink; will Leonardo DiCaprio be able to save Kate Winslett before it does?).
One minor historical flaw in the movie: legendary Pirates announcer Bob Prince and his distinctive voice are used only in one short historical film clip early in the movie; radio and TV sound of Pirate games during the rest of the movie use another voice. This will only matter to those who remember "The Gunner" and his growl, but it does nag at those who do. In fact, if you have those geographical and emotional attachments to Pittsburgh and Pirates baseball in that era that I mentioned early on, you need to watch this movie and have tissue at hand. If you don't have those emotional connections, subtract a couple of points from my rating. You may wonder what all the fuss is about Clemente, but the movie still stands on its own, and might inspire you to find out more.
Pros: decent story, well acted, great old baseball videos Cons: none for me The Bottom Line: ''Any time you have an opportunity to make a difference in this world and you don't, then you are wasting your time on Earth.'' ~Clemente In the early 70's there was only one thing on the mind of baseball fans and that was the possible goal of Roberto Clemete to hit #3000, a rare occurrence at … more
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Inspired by a true story. Two brothers drive across country to see their hero roberto clemente get his 3000th hit. Studio: Maya Entertainment Grp Release Date: 09/28/2010 Starring: Trevor Morgan Lauren Holly Run time: 115 minutes Rating: Nr