In honor America’s pastime’s triumphal return to the hearts and minds of baseball lovers everywhere, I’d like to offer today my top 5 baseball films.

#5. Bad News Bears (1977). While not a movie about the major leagues, Walter Matthau makes this one of the best sports comedies EVAH. The comedy was way ahead of its time for the relatively ho-hum seventies; you had kids swearing, swearing. Matthau and Tatum O’Neal also click together as an improbable father/daughter pair. Matthau himself plays Buttermaker ingeniously as the anti-hero. He’s so mean and crotchety with the kids, it’s hard not to like him. Finally, the film inspired a genre of sports comedies. Team is bad, team makes big changes, team starts winning, tragic turn, team starts losing, team rallies. However, the end may not be one you expect, but you enjoy none the less. Great film.

#4. Bull Durham (1988). Kevin Costner’s look at minor league ball is one of his best films, and, following “The Untouchables”, made him one of the top box office draws for the next five years. “Bull Durham” is the story of Crash Davis (Costner), an aging catcher with the rather dubious distinction of closing in on the all-time minor league home run record. A nice accomplishment, yet it signifies that Crash has spent a long time in the minors with only one brief opportunity of playing in the majors, or “the show”. Tim Robbins enters as the young fireball pitcher “Nuke” LaLoosh, a hard thrower with a multi-million dollar contrace with not much up top in terms of experience. So Davis is charged with educating him in baseball reality before Nuke gets called up. Susan Sarandon plays Annie Savoy, a “handler” for the team, who take Nuke on as her project to educate him in the ways of love. Hysterical look at baseball players truly having fun, but also a poignant glance at how not to waste a golden opportunity.

3. “The Natural” (1984). Robert Redford stars in this classic about an over-the-hill baseball player in his rookie season. Roy Hobbs was being billed as the next great young pitcher, even striking out “The Whammer” (an allusion to Babe Ruth) at a country carnival. But through a tragic turn of events, Hobbs never gets his chance and is forced to walk away from the game he loves before he even gets the chance to play. Years later, and Hobbs is once again trying to break into the majors, this time as a hitter. He’s given a chance by the lowly New York Knights, but not all of them want to succeed, least of all their part-owner, who’s looking to take over the team if they can lose enough games. But by finally getting to the big leagues, it gives Hobbs a chance to reconnect with his past to find out what’s really important. A great ensemble cast surrounds Redford; Robert Duvall, Darren McGavin, Glenn Close, Kim Basinger, Wilford Brimley, and Barbara Hershey. Randy Newman’s music also helps set the scene for this great baseball drama.

2. Pride of the Yankees (1942). Ok, the story is corny and the dialogue hokey. But I defy any baseball fan not to tear up just a little bit at this great portrayal of Yankee legend Lou Gehrig. Gary Cooper plays Gehrig with charming simplicity, even though his baseball acting skills are quite lacking. Still, “Pride” is in its essence not about baseball. It’s about a man living his dream and feeling truly blessed to be doing so. And in his final, memorable speech, he sums up his life and the gifts he’s had. I think every rookie major leaguer should be sat down and made to watch this film. Maybe it would help them appreciate what an honor and privilege it is to be payed millions of dollars to play a game.

1. Field of Dreams (1989). Kevin Costner’s best film next to “Dances with Wolves”, and probably the quintessential father/son movie. As Ray Kinsella, an ex-hippie turned Iowa farmer, Costner plays a man going through the motions of his life. Then, a mysterious voice tells him to build a baseball field in the middle of his corn crop. Believing this to be real despite everyone else’s pragmatic objections, he builds the ballpark. One night, a mysterious man dressed in an antique baseball uniform emerges from the cornfield to play ball. It’s “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, dead for 50 years, come back to play the game he loves. He brings other “ghosts” from beyond, all itching for a chance to play again. This is another movie not really about baseball, but about the emotional bonds we take for granted until they’re gone forever. Also, it’s a reminder to find something to believe in, to have faith, no matter how impossible or improbable. Another all-star cast in this movie with Costner: James Earl Jones, Burt Lancaster, Amy Madigan, Timothy Busfield, and Ray Liotta as “Shoeless” Joe.