I was an androgynous kid. With a perfect bowl haircut, corduroy pants and baseball tees (the ones with orange sleeves), it was hard to tell if my name was Jen or Jim. I loved riding my baby blue Schwinn with the neighborhood boys, watched Steven Segal movies with my dad, and above all else, my favorite sport was baseball. Naturally mischievous and with a penchant for curveballs, I broke a lot of windows and dreamed of owning a Harley. What triggered these tomboy memories was a recent DVD purchase made by my dad. "I got your favorite movie for two bucks," he bragged, refusing to reveal its title. Intrigued and confused all at once, I immediately agreed to an impromptu movie night.
"Could it be a childhood favorite like Nightmare on Elm Street?" I wondered, experiencing a momentary surge of excitement. Arriving at my parents' house, the sound of a child's voice screaming obscenities came from the living room, followed by my mother exclaiming, "You let her watch that? No wonder why she's the way she is!" I was entirely perplexed.
"He's drunk!" the same high pitched voice shouted, and it all came back to me like a gallery of old childhood friends: Tanner, Buttermaker, Tatum O'Neal, the guy from Little Children -- bail bonds, swimming pools, and beer cans, I was overwhelmed by a rush of nostalgia. My dad had facilitated a sudden 19-year reunion with long forgotten friends who possessed a certain charm, innocence and rambunctious nature that I had gravitated toward. So I opened a can of beer and entered the living room, where I collapsed onto the couch and proceeded to grin. Re-watching The Bad News Bears, I remembered why I used to harass my dad into driving me to the local video store and why week after week, I chose to spend time with these ramshackle friends of mine.
Sometimes the best coaches tell you to shut up and don't make you wear a seatbelt
Coach Morris Buttermaker likes to start his mornings with a combination of beer and whiskey. Does he sound like the type of person who should be coaching baseball to little kids? Most people today wouldn't think so, but this would have been normal in the 1970s. I know this because my parents were always watching movies from the' 70s and there were usually characters that drank whiskey or beer in the mornings, afternoons, evenings, or sometimes all day. When Buttermaker first meets the team, he tells them to get out on the field and pick their own positions. Any questions are met with "shut up" or "sit down and shut up'" or "shut up and get out there." Even as a kid I felt there was something oddly charming about Buttermaker. He takes the kids to work with him and lets them clean pools and mix cocktails, and fully utilizes the space in his car by allowing some of the kids to sit on the rear hood without a seatbelt. Buttermaker may occasionally pass out on the pitch and walk around with a cigarette and a can of beer, but he lets the kids play their own style of ball. The satisfied smile on his face whenever one of his kids manages to bunt the ball or walk to first base, always reveals how proud he is of his team. Buttermaker must have made an impression on me because I usually find myself telling boys to "shut up" and firmly believe that pouring a little whiskey in my coffee is an ideal way to start the morning.
Losing a fight to the entire 7th grade and getting thrown into a trash can make you awesome
I initially thought Tanner Boyle was a very small man. Tanner was loud-mouthed and embarrassingly candid -- a real firecracker of crazy energy. He used obscenities, was a miniature misfit, but also loyal to his team. He had a fighting spirit akin to that of a small pitbull and when the Bears were playing completely rubbish games, sliding across the field like uncoordinated drunken toddlers, Tanner firmly defended his team's integrity by fighting. Literally. Although it resulted in a black eye, he single-handedly took on the entire 7th grade after they insulted the Bears, and even shoved a burrito into Joey Turner's face. This kid may have taught me offensive words, but he also taught me about ramshackle loyalty. No one messes with the Bears. No one. Tanner was the kind of friend who would kick someone's butt for you, and then kick yours to teach you a lesson. As we grow older, we all need a Tanner Boyle in our lives to remind us that it's okay to fight, be uncensored, and to shove greasy food in the faces of those who try to push us around.
Some teenagers smoke, ride motorcycles, and appear to be 14 and 18 years old at the same time
With each viewing of the The Bad News Bears, I became increasingly confused by Kelly Leak's age. The first time we see Kelly, he's parked next to the baseball field on a motorcycle and lights someone's cigarette. "Thanks, mister," he's told. Mister? Just how old was this kid? His arms give him the slight appearance of a 17-year-old, while his attitude hints at 19 or 37. Kelly gambles and beats men at table hockey, hits on women and asks them if his Harley "turns them on." At one point when a ball is pitched, he catches it with his bare hand. I firmly believed that only a grown man or an old teenager could do such an awesome thing. Kelly genuinely confused me when he wore his boots and sleeveless white tees because he looked like a small man-child, but in his Bears uniform he actually looked like a kid. Twenty years later and I still can't tell how old Kelly is. I've seen this actor (Jackie Earle Haley) as Freddy Kruger and Rorschach, and even as those characters I can't tell how old he's supposed to be. As a 10-year-old and now as a 30-year-old, I've learned from Kelly that some people can appear to be many ages at once, and that owning a Harley makes you successful at flirting, gambling, and playing ball.
Dressing like a boy can make you better at pitching
"You almost ruined me with that sports stuff," Amanda Wurlitzer whines when we first meet her. She's wearing a tube top and a long skirt, and my immediate reaction as a tomboy child was to be annoyed. The movie is full of wise-cracking boys, just as my life was at the time, and there wasn't any room in it for girly girls. In my experience, the girly girls were not very accommodating to androgynous children like me who preferred sneakers and lopsided ponytails to perfectly brushed tresses and flowy outfits. I didn't want her around, and neither did the Bears. Boy, was I being a closed-minded little jerk because after seeing Amanda throw a curveball stronger and harder than the boys ever could, I instantly wanted her to be my best friend. Unleashing those pitches, her entire demeanor changed. She looked relaxed, started wearing jeans (well, bell bottoms) and even walked with fresh confidence. As a kid who preferred the more rugged aspects of life, Amanda was a character that reminded me of myself and confirmed that it was okay to do things like go on a date with a boy while still liking bikes and baseball. In her Bears inform she was a true part of the team regardless of gender, and even made bets with Kelly Leak, rode on the back of his Harley, and struck the boys out over and over again. Watching this movie years later, I have to laugh because I still prefer the company of wise-cracking boys, would rather wear motorcycle boots than heels, and continue to live life with the mischievous spirit of an adventurous kid with mud-stained jeans.
If you play your best, you can drink beer
The Bears are a team made up of loud mouths, smart mouths, a smoking teenager who rides a motorcycle, a girl who pitches better than most of the league, a miniature man-child, and a coach who passes out drunk on the field. But beyond the apparent awesomeness of this team are humor, naiveté, loyalty, and the drive to play decent baseball. Wearing their Chico Bail Bonds sponsored uniforms, the Bears aren't united by a need to be champions -- they just want to hit the ball and make it halfway to first base. "You can take this trophy and stick it up your..." Lupus remarks when the Bears lose the Little League World Series, and with their usual lopsided charm, the team erupts into cheers and begins to celebrate. They seem happier than the actual winning team, because they are. Joining in the festivities, Buttermaker passes out beer to the kids (this is okay because it was the 1970s) and this seemed perfectly natural to me when I was a kid because the team and its members never seemed to do anything considered normal. Buttermaker taught the Bears a ramshackle form of ball playing that was infused with humor and oddball innocence.
Re-watching The Bad News Bears, I wanted to shed a little tear at the end and I wasn't sure if it was because I had finished my beer and there wasn't any more left in the fridge or if I was just nostalgic for the old days. Buttermaker, Kelly, Amanda, Tanner, and the whole gang of Bears had made me smile for nearly two hours as I remembered why I used to watch this movie so obsessively. I was reminded of my tomboy roots, my need for adventure and laughter, and the importance of doing things with authenticity and humor. In fact I think I might start tomorrow off with a cup of Irish Coffee, maybe go for a bicycle ride, and perhaps start saving up for that Harley again...