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The Great American Pastime

The Great American Pastime(1956)


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One day in Willow Falls, New York, busy lawyer and avid baseball fan Bruce Hallerton accepts an offer to manage the Panthers Little League team in hopes of spending more time with his son Dennis over the summer. At the first day of practice after meeting with clean-cut coach Buck Rivers and hearing the eager parents' demands for a winning season, Bruce tells the young boys that "a loss is not a catastrophe." Later, widow Doris Patterson explains to Bruce that the game has served as a second parent to her son, and flirts with the married man to entice him into making Herbie the team pitcher. After a full day of calisthenics, practicing slides and running with the boys, an exhausted Bruce returns home, where he tells his wife Betty that Dennis has been assigned to the Tigers, the opposing team coached by the unsportsman-like Ed Ryder. Consequently, Betty becomes upset because Bruce convinced her to allow him to manage the team on the grounds that he would spend more time with Dennis. One afternoon, when Doris gives Bruce a ride home, Betty questions him about Doris' motives, but Bruce explains that Herbie needs fatherly attention. In the ensuing days, Bruce and Betty discover that most of the community members are heavily invested in their children's competition. One night, banker George Carruthers invites the couple to dinner only to pressure Bruce into allowing his son Foster to pitch for the team. Later, when Betty suggests that he is playing favorites with Herbie, Bruce tells her that Herbie will remain a pitcher while Foster will be second baseman. At their first game against the Tigers, Bruce gently encourages his team to do their best while Ryder aggressively coaches the Tigers, who easily win the game against the intimidated Panthers. Afterward, most of the parents, as well as the citizens of Willow Falls, openly criticize Bruce for the loss. Even Dennis boasts about his own batting power to the family dog while Betty, who admits she knows nothing of the game, agrees that Bruce's team played poorly. After listening to Bruce rave about Doris' courage as a single parent, a jealous Betty learns the game with the help of a manual and then offers to be the team's scorekeeper to keep an eye on her husband. One day, when Dennis bitterly complains about losing a game, Bruce tries to give his son lessons in good sportsmanship, but the insolent boy instead bets his father that the Panthers will lose every game. Over the next weeks, the team improves, but in a game against the Tigers, the boys are again intimidated by the Tigers' sideline harassment. When Bruce suggests Ryder is encouraging his team to play unfairly, both Dennis and Betty accuse him of being a sore loser. After Doris invites the Hallertons to her house for dinner, Bruce's lavish praise for her hospitality and home cooking infuriates Betty. After he discovers that Doris was once an actress, Bruce excitedly recites the lines of a romantic production with her, to Betty's further chagrin. The next morning Betty serves breakfast to a hung-over Bruce while caustically reciting from the previous night's escapade. Days later, in a close game between the Panthers and Tigers, a brawl ensues between the teams when Panther catcher Freddy hits Dennis and makes the winning run in the last inning. Although most of the parents suggest that their boys must stand up for themselves, Bruce refuses to sanction fights, thus prompting over half the parents to pull their boys off the team. When even Betty takes the parents' side, Bruce insists that an overly aggressive spirit has no place on the field. That night, after Bruce accepts Doris' request to help Herbie cope with the loss, Betty complains that he needs to be a better father to his own son, not others. On the drive to Doris' house, Bruce convinces himself that Doris, as Betty suggests, is trying to make a pass at him and practices dissuading her from pursuing an affair. After telling Herbie not to let the Tigers' bad sportsmanship shake his confidence, Bruce abruptly announces to Doris that he has no intention of divorcing Betty to become involved with her. Insulted, Doris complains that he is accusing her of being a "husband chaser" and demands Bruce leave. Late that night, Bruce, feeling rejected by the entire community as well as his wife and son, drowns his sorrows at a bar with drunken Little League parent O'Keefe. When the two stumble back to the Hallerton home, they find Betty has bolted the door. After O'Keefe breaks the lock, the two continue drinking in the study, where O'Keefe states that Ryder is rough only with the Panthers, not other teams. During the next game with the Tigers, Bruce decides to bring in a caged panther as a mascot and coaches his boys to play hard but fair. Driven by fierce spirit, the Panthers play well, including Herbie, who easily ignores the Tigers' harassing remarks. The Panthers are only one run behind the Tigers in the last inning when Bruce decides to have O'Keefe's pudgy son Man Mountain run for another batter. The small but fast boy quickly steals second and third base, but on the way to home plate, Man Mountain is caught between bases as the catcher and third baseman toss the ball back and forth to tag him out. Finally, Man Mountain slides home safely, winning a victory for the Panthers. The excited parents rush to congratulate the boys, leaving Bruce alone on the field. Assuming that he is still not appreciated, Bruce vows to never again volunteer. Later at the Hallerton home, all the players and the parents, including Doris, surprise Bruce with a party to thank him for his insistence on playing fairly. Much to Betty's chagrin, Bruce is so enthralled by the recognition that he immediately accepts another volunteer position, as a scout leader, and spends the party reminiscing about his hiking days, digressing into more tales of tribulations and folly.