Baseball is bigger than ever.
Every year, more than 3 million kids play Little League with more than 350,000 adults trying to teach them the fundamentals and mechanics of playing ball.
A few years ago, MasterVision produced the "Little League's Official How-to-Play Baseball Video" and it immediately became a home-video classic. Here was an exceptionally well-produced program with the unqualified endorsement of tough-to-please Little League officials. It was one of the best-made instructional tapes on the market.
Now, MasterVision is selling the 70-minute tape with a 210-page book based on the best-selling video. More than 125 illustrations supplement the tape and the book also contains the official Little League playing rules.
Any kid who needs to learn baseball's basic skills or wants a clear refresher course will find this tape-book combination irresistible. It's divided into 19 short sections starting with a brief explanation of the equipment itself and an example of some warm-up exercises. Then the youngster is shown how to grip and throw, catch, hit and bunt a ball; how to slide; how to play as a team member, and how to play every position.
Other tapes have tried to do this in the past (such as Major League Baseball Productions' All-Star "Tips" on batting, catching, base stealing and pitching). Still more tapes have tried to teach the basics using some of the great names in baseball history- Mickey Mantle, Pete Rose and others.
But what makes this tape so appealing is that the bulk of its clear instructions are presented by the young players themselves who are surprisingly natural, helpful and at ease in front of the camera. It's as if they were informally chatting with a new ballplayer trying to help him or her avoid the mistakes they've made in the past. It gives this unpretentious video a refreshing truthfulness and charm.
The video players are the real-life members of a Little League baseball team (from the Union, N.J., Little League All-Star Team). Keep your eyes on three of them (Matthew, Bobby and Frank): They are good enough to be professional actors. The kids and two coaches (Ron Winders and Saul Alpiner) clearly demonstrate the skills any aspiring ballplayer needs to have.
One reason the tape is so well done is its high-quality professional credentials. Ted Kerley, Little League's director of instruction, was the tape's adviser. Veteran sports producers John Gonzalez and David Stern (from NBC's World Series and "Game of the Week" telecasts) have used their exceptional skills to turn this official how-to guide into a clear, good-looking video presentation.
You can get both the video and the book at less than half the cost of a good baseball glove.
These young boys of spring should meet "The Boys of Summer," one of the most moving documentaries ever produced on baseball (VidAmerica, 90 minutes). This story, based on Roger Kahn's book, is about former Brooklyn Dodgers, filmed during the autumn of their lives, reliving their days of summer glory. Marty Bell's script, read by Sid Caesar, is faithful to the book. But it is the interviews with the ballplayers themselves that bring the documentary to life-Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella, Joe Black (all working in public relations at the time of the interviews), Carl Erskine (an Indiana banker), Duke Snider (a broadcaster) and other Dodgers.
"The Boys of Summer" is three-handkerchief viewing for anyone who remembers baseball in the late 1940s and 1950s.
VidAmerica also distributes "Baseball's Hall of Fame," narrated by Donald Sutherland covering Babe Ruth through Hank Aaron in a tour of Cooperstown, and "Baseball: Fun and Games" with Joe Garagiola featuring expert and witty narration with some of the funniest moments in baseball captured on film. It's the kind of tape to show junior after he booted that grounder or struck out to end the Little League game.
For those dyed-in-the-wool baseball fans, Major League Baseball Productions offers more than 45 videotapes of the World Series, beginning with 1943's Yankee-Cardinals match-up to last year's October classic.
If that's not enough, Major League Baseball Productions also has videotapes of the All-Star Games from 1970 to the present, plus "All-Star" instructional tapes including "All-Star Batting Tips" with Mantle, Rose, Willie Mays, Stan Musial and others; "All-Star Catching and Base Stealing Tips" with Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, the late Thurman Munson and others, and "All-Star Pitching Tips" hosted by Whitey Ford. More pedigree than quality.
If you still are confused about baseball's mystique, listen to comic George Carlin as he compares baseball to football. It's hilarious and true to the mark ("Carlin on Campus," Vestron).
What's left? One thing. Play ball!