Orioles

Football fans get a close-up in 'Silver Linings'

Football fans get a close-up in 'Silver Linings'

NEW YORK (AP) In David O. Russell's ``Silver Linings Playbook,'' Bradley Cooper plays an unstable former teacher trying to improve himself after exiting a mental institution. When his character, Pat Solitano, consults his otherwise level-headed psychiatrist Dr. Cliff Patel (Anupam Kher) on whether a Philadelphia Eagles' jersey is appropriate attire for a dinner party, Patel questions which jersey. On hearing that it's star wide-receiver DeSean Jackson, he responds unequivocally:

``DeSean Jackson is the man.''

This is Philadelphia, where undying loyalty to the local NFL team - ``the Birds'' - is everywhere, even in the sensitive relations between therapist and patient.

As large a role as football plays in American life, Hollywood has typically focused its cameras on the field of play, where the dramatics of gridiron battle are self-evident. But ``Silver Linings Playbook,'' which was recently nominated for five Spirit Awards and is widely expected to be a best picture Oscar contender, is more interested in the face-painters in the stands.

The annals of pigskin pictures have ranged from the hijinks of Groucho Marx ("Horse Feathers'') to the inspiration of a newcomer to the sport ("The Blind Side''). Football in movies has been a regular source of hard-knock action ("Any Given Sunday''), manly tragedy ("Brian's Song,'' ``Remember the Titans'') and underdog triumph ("Rudy'').

But along with ``Silver Linings Playbook,'' a handful of films have sought to capture the fanatical passion - both the communal spirit and the toxic obsession - that grips millions of households and acres of parking-lot asphalt every Sunday this time of year.

In Vincent Gallo's ``Buffalo `66'' (1998), Gallo drew from his own childhood in the upstate New York city, playing a man named after the hometown team (Billy), with lifeless parents glued to the TV screen for Buffalo Bills games. A lost bet on a crucial game cost Billy $10,000 and put him in jail. On his exit, he's bent on avenging the guilty place kicker, a fictionalized version of a real-life Bills scapegoat, kicker Scott Norwood.

``Big Fan'' (2009), written and directed by Robert D. Siegel (who also wrote ``The Wrestler''), depicted a die-hard New York Giants fan (Patton Oswalt) whose devotion is tested when he's brutally assaulted by his favorite player.

The 2004 film ``Friday Night Lights,'' and the subsequent TV series, sought to portray a football-mad Texas town, where the sport reverberated in nearly all that was good - and all that was bad - in Dillon, Texas.

These movies all share in the spirit of Frederick Exley's classic 1968 fictional memoir, ``A Fan's Notes.'' The Giants-loving author wrote: ``Cheering is a paltry description. The Giants were my delight, my folly, my anodyne, my intellectual stimulation. ... I gave myself up to the Giants utterly. The recompense I gained was the feeling of being alive.''

It was that kind of intensity that interested Russell, whose last film, ``The Fighter,'' captured the boxing community of Lowell, Mass.

``What makes characters fascinating in a funny and an emotional way to me is when they have life and death stakes about their particular currency,'' the director says. ``So (Robert) De Niro's currency was everything about the Eagles.''

As with many things in sports, the Eagles devotion in ``Silver Linings Playbook'' flows through the father, played by De Niro. He not only makes much of his living from the Eagles as a bookie, but he watches each game at home with obsessive-compulsive ardor. The fortunes of the Solitanos become inextricably linked with that of the Eagles.

The film is based on the novel of the same name by Matthew Quick, a Philadelphia native who, reached by phone at his home in Massachusetts, makes no bones about his allegiance: ``I bleed green,'' he says.

``My earliest memories of my father are of going down to the Vet,'' says Quick, referring to Veterans Stadium, the former home of the Eagles. ``In the neighborhood I grew up in, the men didn't tell you that they loved you or give you hugs, they took you to Eagles games,'' says Quick. ``If the Eagles scored a touchdown, you got a hug.''

``It's such a metaphor for striving,'' says Quick. ``No matter what happens, there's always that next game. There's always that next season.''

The plot of ``Big Fan'' might suggest a more cynical view of football, but Siegel, too, is a lifelong sports fan. Growing up on Long Island, he became a devoted listener to the New York-area sports radio station WFAN. In the film, Oswalt's character is a regular caller, dialing in like a performer with a nightly show.

``The callers seemed like these incredibly vivid, almost movie characters,'' say Siegel. ``You've got these ordinary working Joes taking on the machismo and testosterone of their heroes and doing it anonymously through the radio where it's very safe. It's kind of a form of fantasy play acting.''

As he treated a sport usually not taken seriously (professional wrestling) in ``The Wrestler,'' Siegel feels the often-disrespected sports fan is fertile, relatively unexplored territory.

``What (fans) are passionate about might seem silly to the outside observer,'' says Siegel. ``Certainly you could make the case that that's very sad and pathetic, but I don't. I admire their passion and I identify with it.''

``Sports fans are outsiders who feel like insiders,'' he adds, ``which is an interesting thing to explore.''

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Follow Jake Coyle on Twitter at:http://twitter.com/jake-coyle

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What exactly did the Orioles get in return for Manny Machado?

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What exactly did the Orioles get in return for Manny Machado?

So, the Orioles made some headlines earlier this week. I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but minor league pitcher Asher Wojciechowski exercised his opt-out clause and is no longer with the organization. Please keep Orioles fans in your thoughts during this trying time.

As everyone reading this is undoubtedly already aware, the Orioles *also* made a trade yesterday, sending 26-year old superstar Manny Machado to the Los Angeles Dodgers. In return for their once-in-a-lifetime talent, the Orioles received a whopping five prospects from the Dodgers’ minor league system.

Yusniel Diaz, OF, 21

It’s fitting that this trade is being compared to the Erik Bedard trade, which was also a five-for-one, because Diaz could be a poor man’s Adam Jones. He’s not the prospect Jones was, but he could end up being a really nice player.

Talent evaluators are split on his ultimate ceiling. Some describe him as a bona fide stud, and others leave him off their top 100 lists. I’ve seen him ranked as high as 31st overall (by Baseball Prospectus), which, if accurate, is a terrific main piece in a package for a star rental. 

Most consider Diaz’s main flaw as a prospect to be his in-game power, though anyone watching the 2018 MLB Futures Game would be confused by that, as he became the second player ever to hit multiple home runs in the game. It’s possible that more power develops as he matures, and he certainly wouldn’t be the first player to hit for more power once reaching the Majors, but for now, it’s not a strength. I wouldn’t expect him to top 20 home runs in most seasons.

His bat-to-ball ability is his clearest strength, as he projects to consistently hit for a high average. His batting eye, while formerly a weakness, has become a strength in 2018, as he’s actually walked more times than he’s struck out (a rarity in this day and age). That will play well with O’s fans who are tired of seeing their players challenge strikeout records.

Dean Kremer, RHP, 22

Kremer isn’t a major name, which is a disappointment for O’s fans and one of the reasons their haul felt so uninspiring. Compared to more highly-touted prospects like Dustin May, Kremer looks like the team settled.

That said, he’s currently sporting the best K/9 ratio in the minors, and could end up being a diamond in the rough. He’s come a long way since being a 14th-round pick two years ago, and you have to wonder if the Orioles’ much-maligned pitching development can pick up where the much more successful Dodgers instructors left off.

Kremer is also notable for being the first Israeli-born player ever drafted in Major League Baseball.

Rylan Bannon, IF, 22

Bannon was an 8th-rounder last year and is having somewhat of a breakout this season. He’s leading the league in home runs, though playing in a notorious band box of a home park is skewing those numbers.

Bannon is undersized, but has a reputation of a good, if not elite, fielder. He’s a third baseman, but will likely spend some time at second as well. If the power breakout is real, he could end up a solid starter for the Orioles down the road. Again, that’s about all you can hope for in trades of this nature.

Zach Pop, RHP, 21

Pop has been described as potentially a future “right-handed Zach Britton,” which every O’s fan would take in a heartbeat. Of course, he’s not ranked like a future All-Star, as even in the weaker Orioles farm system he’s likely no better than around 25th. 

Still, the filler players in big trades like this are just lottery tickets, and considering his lack of pedigree, Pop seems like a relatively “safe” pitcher with projectability. He strikes out a lot of batters and gets a lot of ground balls, and at the very least can likely become a decent middle reliever.

Breyvic Valera, IF, 26

In a best-case scenario, Valera becomes the Orioles’ Ryan Flaherty replacement. If you squint, you can see somewhat decent upside in each of the other returning players, even despite their modest prospect rankings, but Valera is a clear utility player. 

He gets on base and hits for contact well enough to stick around and has proven capable of defending multiple positions, so there actually might be a spot for him at the end of the Orioles bench.

Overall

This trade has been described as anywhere from adequate and somewhat deflating to a great haul O’s fans should be excited about. Four of the five players have decent ceilings, though the chance of all four (or even just two of them) reaching those ceilings is highly unlikely. It’s just the nature of baseball.

Ultimately, this trade will be judged on the success or failure of Yusniel Diaz, who is the clear centerpiece of the package. Whether or not he succeeds will be partially up to him, and partially up to the front office and player development team.

If this trade is the beginning of the core for the next competitive Orioles team, then it’ll have to be considered a success. If these players each bust out of the league, then it was still the correct decision to trade Machado instead of settling for draft pick compensation, but it will still sting all the more for O’s fans seeing Manny soar to new heights elsewhere.

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Nationals players were critical of Dave Martinez's decision-making in the first half

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Nationals players were critical of Dave Martinez's decision-making in the first half

Baseball fans love the long ball. They love the flashy plays. They love the no-hit bids and the rare perfect game. All of these things dominate headlines and capture our attention. 

The often overlooked bullpen of a club, however, almost always serves as the glue holding everything together. Relief pitching is derived of unsung heroes who are asked to perform on short notice and in sticky, high-pressure situations. 

Head skipper of the Washington Nationals, Dave Martinez, is being criticized for his handling of the bullpen during the first half of the season. 

By now it's well-documented that the Nats played their first 96 games at .500 leaving the club in third place in a division the team has walked all over back-to-back years. 

Sure, one can chalk it up to injuries, lack of roster changes or an inexperienced first-year manager working through kinks. But, there's a reason this team expects to compete for a pennant year in and year out: depth. The buzz around Martinez's decision-making continues to point toward his inability to dish out relief pitching assignments to the player's liking.  

Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Madson, Sean Doolittle, Sammy Solis and Matt Grace once made up the team's relief staff in May. Between disabled-list periods for Kintzler and Madson, and Sammy Solis being sent down to Class AAA Syracuse, the staff took a beating in the month of June. 

Nats relievers aren't necessarily upset about overuse, but more so because of a lack of communication between player and manager. 

At times during the first half of the season, relief pitchers felt overworked and that their wishes were not being acknowledged nor granted by Martinez. 

Sean Doolittle was quick to point out that the addition of Kelvin Herrera, who joined the team on June 18, sparked a change in Martinez's approach. 

“Over the last maybe month or so, maybe since we got Herrera, he’s gone around to the relievers and been a lot more proactive with that communication,” Doolittle said.

On a more tricky note, trust has also been targeted as an area needing improvement. 

When a starter gets in a jam or doesn't seem like he is 100%, Martinez often calls on reinforcements to begin the warming up process. Guys have noticed a pattern in which relief pitchers who initially warm up are often not the ones who start the following inning. 

From a relief pitcher's perspective, this is a sign of Martinez's distrust. Dramatic or not, there was a glaring disconnect throughout the first half of play. 

“With a veteran group, I think we all expect to come into a team and say we’ve all been there; we just want things to go boom, boom, boom and be a piece of cake. But we also all know it’s not like that,” Shawn Kelley said.

Handling his veteran rotation in the second half of the season should become easier for Martinez as Stephen Strasburg is expected to start Friday. The right-hander was placed on the disabled list June 10 with right shoulder inflammation. 

Strasburg pitched 5 2/3 innings in a rehab start for Class A Potomac on Sunday, allowing three runs while striking out seven and walking one. It was his second rehab start since going on the DL. He allowed one run in 3 1/3 innings for Potomac on July 11. Strasburg is 6-6 with a 3.46 ERA this season, striking out 

95 in 80 2/3 innings.

One thing that hasn't been criticized is Martinez's positive attitude. Players often rave about him as a person and how he brings a source of energy in the clubhouse. 

This was on full display during Monday night's Home Run Derby at Nationals Park. 

Moments after Bryce Harper won the Derby, Martinez was among the first to congratulate his All-Star slugger as he hoisted him in the air. 

As the second half of the season gets underway Friday, expect to see a manager who brings forth an openminded approach to his club while in pursuit of a deep October run.