ICYMI: Baseball Edition - Stealing Home (1988)
Is it possible to fall in love with a movie? Yes, there are movies that we love, the kind of films that speak to us in a certain undeniable way. I’m sure that we all have fallen in love with our fair share of performers/on-screen personas, be it Molly Ringwald in Sixteen Candles or Bruce Willis in Die Hard from my own experience, but to fall in love with an entire movie? I would say yes. And much like actual love, falling in love with a film may defy reason. It’s been my experience that these films that we that fall in love with tend to be off the beaten path, far-fetched, grossly ignored by others or all of the above.
When I was 15, I fell in love with Stealing Home. Here’s a film that is sappy, cliched, overwrought, melodramatic and I ate up every one of its 98 minutes. The film was co-written and co-directed by Steven Kampmann and Will Aldis, both writing alumni of WKRP In Cincinnati and Mork and Mindy, and it does have the feel of a first effort. The film stars Mark Harmon as an ex-minor leaguer named Billy who is drawn home by news of the suicide of an old friend, Katie (played in flashback by Jodie Foster). We learn that Katie was Billy’s babysitter and over time she became a close friend, mentor and eventual lover. Although they haven’t seen each other in almost twenty years, Katie has left directions for Billy to spread her ashes in the place that only he would know about. Of course, he cannot remember where and the film follows his journey as he re-lives his childhood and baseball past while trying to find the perfect place to honor his friend.
Although Harmon is the star, we watch almost the majority of Billy’s journey as a 16-year-old, played by William McNamara. Billy is joined by his best friend, Alan (played at 16 by Jonathan Silverman and as an adult by a very welcoming Harold Ramis). We see hijinks ensue when young Alan doesn’t have the nerve to speak to his adolescent crush and sends Billy, who cannot control his burgeoning hormones. We later see young Alan get some measure of romantic justice when he is deflowered by an older woman. This film was definitely made by men indulging in their utmost juvenile fantasies.
The film has a surprisingly poignant soundtrack. It includes its fair share of oldies courtesy of Jerry Lee Lewis and Bo Didley but has an array of original songs and instrumental pieces from 80’s super-producer David Foster. The soundtrack like the movie can be accused of being overly sentimental and corny but it does work in tandem. If you like the film, you love the soundtrack.
But the heart of the film is Jodie Foster, playing the ultimate dream girl who is always there when Billy needs him and personally guides his journey into manhood. The film came out a few months before The Accused and Foster was on her way with the first of two Academy Awards but her work in Stealing Home shows us a softer more romantic and heartfelt side even if it borders on sexually predatory. Harmon, for his part, looks the role of a washed up “never was” who gets a second chance at happiness with his true first love: baseball. The finale finds him back in the minors, playing for the sheer joy of it.
Stealing Home, like most films that we may cherish, came along at a time when I was most susceptible or maybe just needed it. I was an awkward teenager and for some reason it made me feel hope. Strangely, I never developed an ensuing crush on Jodie Foster but her character Katie left an impression on me. All I wanted was someone like Katie to believe in me, especially when I didn’t believe in myself. Thankfully, I found that and so much more when I met my wife. And that is a love story, like Stealing Home, that found me at the right time.