Written by David Eyre Jr.
Directed by Robin B. Armstrong
It’s the year 1957 in California. Roy Dean Bream (portrayed by William Russ) is an aging pitcher still stuck in the minor leagues. He befriends a new player, Tyron Debray (portrayed by Glenn Plummer), who is African-American and just 17 years old. Dean can see he has talent and becomes a mentor to the young man, despite their differences.
Roy Dean believes Tyrone has talent and will get to the Major Leagues. His friendship with the young man causes friction within the club, largely because of his skin color. In addition, Roy Dean is about to be cut from the team, a fact other people learn before he does.
If the movie sounds somewhat predictable, it is. However, that doesn’t mean it can’t be good. The fact that the story is set in the minor leagues helps a great deal. Instead of the grandeur and passion typical of stories such as this in the major leagues, Pastime gives us the struggles and quirkiness of life in the minor leagues. It also encapsulates the hopes and dreams of thousands of ballplayers who are good, but never quite good enough to break-out on a major league level.
Pastime is also about change. Not only is major league baseball about to come to California, but the attitude about black athletes is changing as well. Roy Dean is someone who accepts that change with no problem. He sees Tyrone first as a great ballplayer and doesn’t seem to ever consider the color of his skin. In fact, Roy Dean seems to see what’s inside people throughout the film, as is demonstrated when he asks local gal Inez Brice (portrayed by Dierdre O’Connell) to accompany him to a team party. The girlfriends and wives at the party look down their noses at her, but she’s really head and shoulders above the rest of them.
Glenn Plummer is wonderful in the role of Roy Dean. He’s not raging against the injustices he perceives have been dealt to him in life. He accepts what is happening and is trying to make the most of it. To do this, he is trying to have an impact on Tyrone; to impart his knowledge and his experience on someone he sees with the potential to be something he never could be. Plummer gives the role the right amount of balance and his expressions often show how he is resigned and accepting of what is happening – not happy about it.
Jeffrey Tambor is Peter LaPorte, the beleaguered owner of the team. He provides a degree of comic relief as he suffers through indignities we never think of owners having to deal with today. Could you see George Steinbrenner donning a striped jacket and selling popcorn in the stands? Or helping to push a broken-down bus to the nearest town? At the same time, he has a heart and has kept Roy Dean on for much longer than he should have. When he does have to face the reality of cutting the aging player, neither he nor the manager handles it well.
If the story sounds a lot like Bull Durham, it only resembles it in the aging player passing on what he’s learned through the years to the younger player. Roy Dean’s relationship with Tyrone is much different than the older player/younger player relationship in Bull Durham. A lot of that has to do with the race issue that’s not an overt issue in Pastime, but is still there nonetheless. The romance between Roy Dean and Inez doesn’t resemble what happens between Kevin Costner and Susan Sarandon, and the ending is quite different. I think the lack of headliners in the main cast helps Pastime as well, although look for cameos from the likes of Bob Feller, Harmon Killebrew, Don Newcombe, and Duke Snider.
Pastime is a sleeper of a film that will speak to baseball fans. It’s not the best film about baseball ever made, and it’s not the worst. It also isn’t a complete waste of time. Fans of the sport will enjoy it while others will probably dismiss it as riddled with cliches and boring. I enjoyed it quite a bit.