As a young The Mike, one of my deepest loves was baseball. Maybe that love never hit the level of my love for football, in which my Dad and I share our deepest bond as Packers fans, but there was always a peaceful, easy feeling when baseball season rolled around. Maybe it was the fact that summers were more meaningful then, or maybe it was the five years I spent in our high school team's dugout as stastician/P.A. announcer (yes, I was a nerd), but the game of baseball itself has always been a stress reliever for me (which is definitely the opposite of what my passion for football provides). Thus, baseball movies have always had a soft spot in my heart. While I'd never consider most of them as anything I'd ever mention on this blog, there's one movie that sticks out in my memory as a seedy blast - Tony Scott's 1996 thriller The Fan.
I'm not at all a fan of the term "guilty pleasure" when it comes to cinema, because I've never subscribed to the ideal that there's a tangible difference between "good" and "bad" movies. But if there was ever a movie I'd apply that term to, it's The Fan. Something inside me tells me it's a stupid movie with stupid characters, overacting stars, and little technical intrigue - but I can't help loving the ridiculous nature of it all. It's got DeNiro in psycho-mode, a soundtrack packed with Rolling Stones tunes (plus NIN's Closer in a pivotal scene), and a completely ridiculous final act that would make most thrillers point and laugh.
For those unfamiliar with Scott's film, the story tells of overpaid free-agent slugger Bobby Rayburn (played by Wesley Snipes) who returns to his hometown San Francisco Giants (if this sounds familiar, you should know that Barry Bonds sued the film for stealing his character....and probably should have won), much to the delight of obsessed fan Gil Renard (whom I get confused with Buck Rodgers in the 25th Century star and personal hero Gil Gerard). Alongside a supporting cast of Ellen Barkin, John Leguizamo, and slugger-turned-TV-analyst John Kruk, there's a star in the making who provides the spark that makes The Fan an awesome spectacle for me.That star, as pictured above, is the unforgettably talented Juan Primo. Played by aspiring youngster Benicio Del Toro, Primo is everything Giants fans want at a fraction of the price the stressed Rayburn comes to town at. Worse, he owns Rayburn's preferred jersey number, 11, and if you know nothing about athletes you should know that numbers are a religion to these guys. Primo isn't selling his identity, and as Rayburn becomes frustrated and injured the unsound Renard makes it his mission to convince Primo that the number belongs to Bobby.Movie plot aside, Juan Primo freaking rules. Cinema's greatest gift to humanity (the montage, of course) establishes him quickly as a likable and charismatic player on the field, and he quickly moves into the heart of even a depressed Mets fan like myself. Del Toro has to establish Primo physically without much dialogue (he still wasn't the most fluent English speaker at the time of production), and a look back at the hero-making montage reminds me of a young Johnny Damon or a pre-steroid scandal Brady Anderson. He's a small player, but it's clear that he combines speed on the base paths with a power swing and a magnetic glove and truly is what the scouts would call a "five-tool" player.As you can guess from the title, Juan never gets a chance to fully realize his potential, and I'm still a little heartbroken about this. But, knowing how sports fans work, I'm sure there's a fictional cult of Primo worshipers in The Fan's ridiculous world who still recall Primo fondly and spend many innings pondering what life would have been like if they had a little more time with a player like Juan Primo roaming center field. I enthusiastically throw myself into that fictional band of brothers, because the fact that I didn't get more Juan Primo still irks me nearly fifteen years later.And with that, I gladly welcome back baseball season with hopes that a real-life Juan Primo could come along and remind me how fun the game can be now that I'm older and less attentive. And here's to you, Juan Primo. Thanks to you (as Kruk wisely said) "Now we all get to wear the number."
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