The minor leagues make an ideal setting for a baseball movie, because they put us in touch with what professional baseball is really all about: young men who dream of making it in the big leagues — but, if not, are still happy to spend every day playing nine innings. (It beats working.) Thus far, there’s been one great minor-league-baseball movie: Ron Shelton’s soulful, raunchy, exuberantly literate Bull Durham (1988), which featured Kevin Costner in his best role to date. For a while, Pastime has echoes of the same spirit. Set in 1957, it centers on Roy Dean Bream (William Russ), a 41-year-old relief pitcher who’s finishing out his career with the Steamers, a small-town California team that plays to nearly empty stands. The early scenes have some humor and spunk. As the young players razz and encourage each other from the dugout (while the team’s owner doubles as a hot dog vendor), the movie evokes the comic scruffiness of life in the class-D lane.

But soon that feisty spirit leaks away. Pastime is about how the earnest, dedicated Roy — a man who knows how to do nothing in life but play baseball — must face the fact that he’s over the hill. The setup is so familiar, so obviously ”poignant,” that we keep waiting for the film to do something original with it. ‘Fraid not. Roy is such a simple, middle-of-the-road nice guy that, despite Russ’ genial performance, he never becomes an interesting character. The movie turns out to be the opposite of Bull Durham: Instead of undermining baseball clichés, it re-embraces them. C+

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