Wednesday, September 28, 2005 Updated: September 30, 12:53 PM ET
Reel Life: 'Fever Pitch'
By Jeff Merron Page 2
The producers of "Fever Pitch" aren't subtle about their timing: they finished filming just as the 2004 season came to its stunning conclusion, with the film's star -- the Red Sox -- winning their first World Series since 1918. The film premiered during the opening week of the 2005 season, just as the Red Sox were receiving their World Series rings. And the DVD version just came out last week, as one of the greatest Septembers of all time was peaking.
Yet again, the fate of the Red Sox is tightly intertwined with that of the Yankees. This weekend's final three-game Yankees-Red Sox series at Fenway will decide the AL East champion (or may lead to a one-game playoff). The series may also decide who makes the playoffs as the wild card team, with the possibility that either the Red Sox or
Yankees could get sideswiped by the Indians.
Time to look closely at "Fever Pitch," directed by avid Red Sox fans Bobby and Peter Farrelly. It doesn't get more real than this weekend at Fenway. Does the movie get it real? You decide.
Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon hit Fenway for the "Fever Pitch" premiere.
In Reel Life: At the start of the film, the narrator talks about "86 years of banging our head against the big green wall." In Real Life: A dramatic phrase, but an inaccurate one. Fenway's original left-field wall was 25 feet high. The 37-feet-high left-field wall became part of the park in 1934. But for 13 years, it was covered with billboards. In 1947, it was painted green.
In Reel Life: Ben (Jimmy Fallon) is an avid Red Sox fan. In Real Life: "Ben" is actually "Nick," as in Nick Hornby, who wrote "Fever Pitch," a memoir about his love affair with Arsenal, a London soccer team. The movie takes the title and the idea of an extremely obsessed fan from the book, but little else, as the book has no real plot. And Arsenal isn't the British equivalent of the Red Sox. Arsenal tends to be either terrible (most of the time) or excellent (rarely). The Red Sox, of course, are a different story.
Screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel had the freedom to adapt the book to feature any sport an American could be obsessed about -- including soccer, which was dismissed almost immediately. For a while, they considered making Ben a Packers fan. They ruled that out, too. "We didn't want to have to see a cheesehead," Mandel told the New York Times. Ben as Cubs fan was also considered, Ganz told the Times, "but we decided that Cubs fans looked too happy. They didn't seem to suffer enough."
In Reel Life: Ben's entire life revolves around the Red Sox. In Real Life: In interviews, Jimmy Fallon has said he's a Yankees fan. But he told the New York Daily News, "I'm not that crazy a sports fan that I know all the rules about when to root for the Mets or the Yankees."
Here's the rule, Jimmy: Yankees fans don't root for the Mets. Ever. And vice versa. There's no "when" involved.
In Reel Life: In a TV segment from spring training, Peter Gammons refers to "Red Sox Nation." In Real Life: Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe is often credited with coining the phrase "Red Sox Nation," which we traced back to 1990 in a database search. In that piece, Shaughnessy wrote that manager Joe Morgan "is doing his best to keep a lid on the hardball hysteria that stalks Red Sox Nation."
However, as Shaughnessy himself discovered this year, he doesn't deserve the credit -- former Globe sportswriter Nathan Cobb delivered the verbal jewel to a waiting nation on Oct. 20, 1986. "The story was about the southwestern Connecticut border war between Sox fans and New York Mets fans during the locally infamous '86 World Series," wrote Cobb in a Globe article earlier this week. Cobb also reveals in his article that he has no recollection of doing so. "My secret was so little known that I didn't know it myself," he writes.
In Reel Life: The Red Sox open at home against the Texas Rangers. In Real Life: The Red Sox opened away at Baltimore in 2004, and their home opener was against Toronto. The first Red Sox-Rangers game in 2004 came on May 1 -- an away game at Arlington. The two teams first met at Fenway on July 9.
In Reel Life: Author Stephen King throws out the first pitch on Opening Day. In Real Life: King threw out the first pitch of the Sept. 4, 2004 game against the Texas Rangers. The Sox were on a winning streak at the time, and King told the Farrelly brothers he was afraid he would jinx the Sox if he threw out the first pitch (which he did just for purposes of the movie). As it turned out, he did jinx the Sox; they lost the game 8-6.
Think the Red Sox minded Barrymore running all over the field?
In Reel Life: Tim Wakefield is Boston's Opening Day pitcher. In Real Life: The Red Sox opened their season with Pedro Martinez, then Curt Schilling, then Derek Lowe. Wakefield didn't start until the fourth game of the season.
In Reel Life: Ben (Jimmy Fallon) has a small replica of the Fenway scoreboard on his bedroom wall. The score reads Red Sox 13, Yankees 1. In Real Life: That was custom-made by production designer Maher Ahmad. The final score is from Game 2 of the 1999 ALCS.
In Reel Life: Theresa (Jessamy Finet), a season-ticket holder in Ben's section, tells Ben on Opening Day that she lost 200 pounds by getting her stomach stapled shut. In Real Life: Finet, 30, is a true Sox die-hard who can also be seen in the documentary "Still, We Believe," along with her friend and fellow season-ticket holder Erin Nanstad. In 2003, both nabbed their season ducats (alas, bleacher seats). "How's this for sick?" Nanstad told the Boston Herald. "We also bought season tickets to spring training next year."
In Reel Life: Ben teaches at East Boston High School. In Real Life: That's a real high school, and the real exterior of the school. If it looks familiar to you, you're probably a "Boston Public" fan. East Boston's exterior served as the exterior of that program's "Winslow High."
In Reel Life: Lindsey (Drew Barrymore) is a math whiz who knows nothing about baseball. In Real Life: After the production wrapped, Barrymore said that when she started working on the film, "I was such a newcomer to the temple of baseball." Gag me with a spoon.
In Reel Life: Early in the movie, Lindsey is belaying Robin (KaDee Strickland), who's making her way up an indoor rock-climbing wall. While Robin climbs, Lindsey gabs with her other friends, who stand beside her, and then lets go of the rope, and Robin tumbles down from the wall. In Real Life: A harmless fall? Not quite. The point of belaying is to protect the climber from such a fall, which Lindsey couldn't have done no matter how firmly she gripped that rope. Both climber and belayer need to be wearing harnesses -- Lindsey isn't -- and she doesn't appear to be using any belay device. Without some kind of friction, no way she can hold onto her friend in a fall. Also, it's OK for her to talk to friends -- but she should have been watching Robin the entire time. These are fundamental rock-climbing safety rules.
A good indoor climbing gym (including the one in the movie, apparently) has walls that go at least 25 feet high; you could walk away from such a fall without a scratch, or you could be hurt so badly that you wouldn't be able to walk away. Which is why indoor climbing centers don't allow climbing without a person to belay or an automatic belay device. At good climbing centers, she would have been given a warning by a staff member before such an incident occurred, and after, she would have had her belaying privilges revoked. Which is not a good thing.
Robin should have dumped Leslie as a friend immediately, and Lindsey should have cowered in shame for weeks. And if Ben saw this moment, he should have never seen Lindsey again. This is how she protects her friends?
In Reel Life: The fans in Ben's section give Lindsey an abridged history of the Red Sox. Part of it: The curse started when Red Sox owner Harry Frazee sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees to finance "No, No, Nanette." In Real Life: Frazee produced many Broadway shows and needed the money, but he didn't use it to finance "No, No, Nanette." The musical didn't debut until five years after the Ruth sale -- and two years after Frazee sold the entire club.
In Reel Life: Another part of the history lesson: "Remember the time Roger Moret went catatonic? The grounds crew had to carry him out of here in a wheelbarrow." In Real Life: Moret was an excellent pitcher for the BoSox between 1973 and 1975. He went 36-15, starting 52 games and relieving in 45. However, Moret had some behavior problems, but nothing like what's described in the film. And he had incredible promise -- he was only 25 years old in 1975.
Red Sox fans were probably more annoyed by Jimmy Fallon.
The Red Sox traded Moret to Atlanta for Tom House in Dec. 1975, and the Braves dealt him to Texas a year later. He didn't pitch well for either Atlanta or Texas.
The catatonic state actually occurred on April 12, 1978, in the Rangers' locker room after a pregame workout. "Witnesses said Moret took off his uniform, told [Rangers manager Billy] Hunter he was leaving the club and walked to his locker," reported the Washington Post. "There, standing only in his underwear and holding a shower slipper in one hand, he stood frozen for 45 minutes." Other accounts had Moret frozen for up to three hours.
Moret was hospitalized; several brief comeback attempts proved fruitless.
Moret's story lives on -- but in Rangers lore more than in Red Sox lore. "It remains," wrote Jim Reeves in the March 25, 1998 edition of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, "as the only recorded instance of a clinically diagnosed catatonic trance in Major League Baseball and stands as the signature moment of the Rangers franchise in the '70s."
In Reel Life: Ben picks up Lindsey at the airport and drives her to her apartment, which is located, according to the Boston Herald, at a tony intersection near the Hancock Tower. He finds a parking space in front of her building. In Real Life: An open parking spot at that location? Pure Hollywood magic, according to the Herald.
In Reel Life: Ben offers to sell his season tickets to a friend. He can't give up the tickets officially, but he offers to sell the "rights" to two season tickets, behind the home dugout, for $125,000. In Real Life: No doubt, Sox season tickets are a tough get. At the start of the 2004 season, the Red Sox capped season-ticket sales at 20,000; an additional 1,000 fans were put on a waiting list. And how hard is it to get off the waiting list? 99.3 percent of season ticket holders renew each season, meaning a grand total of 140 season passes open up each year.
In Reel Life: Near the end of the movie, Lindsey leaps down from the bleachers onto the field and runs across to reach Ben before he sells his season tickets. In Real Life: The Red Sox granted the Farrelly brothers 10 days to shoot at Fenway, including five game days. This scene was filmed at Fenway after a game, and many fans and the players stuck around for the shot. Johnny Damon, who Lindsey has to run around to get to Ben, told the Boston Globe, tongue firmly in cheek, that Barrymore runs "better than most ballplayers."
In Reel Life: The original script, like the rest of the movie, hewed closely to convention: The Red Sox would contend until September, then sink like a stone. In Real Life: The Sox' coming back from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Yankees in the ALCS and then sweeping the Cardinals was so unusual that it forced the filmmakers to rewrite the ending. The final scene, when Ben and Lindsey celebrate on the field in St. Louis after the Red Sox' final victory, was filmed live in the middle of the real celebration.