Over the winter, MLB Network took to showing the 1985 Richard Pryor film Brewster's Millions. The film was a remake of a 1945 film, updated to be about a man (Pryor) who learns that he will inherent $300 million if only he can spend $30 million in 30 days. The film has its moments, but it's helplessly dated in some groaning ways; At one point, Yakov Smirnoff actually shows up and does a bit, which is the most 1985 thing that could possibly happen. It's also Pryor in a PG-rated movie, which always felt like a straitjacket; it's like putting Fred Astaire in a movie and telling him he can't dance.
But I never remember the movie for any of that. (It's not like it got the best reviews.) I remember the movie for the scene when the New York Yankees play at the Hacksensack, N.J., minor league stadium.
The premise is that Brewster, a former minor league pitcher, in an attempt to spend some more of those millions, hires the New York Yankees to come play three innings against his club team in Hackensack. The movie does not say explicitly how much of Brewster's money this would cost, but it's probably a safe bet that, today, it would take up most of the $30,000,000 he'd have to spend. The average baseball salary in 2012 was $3.8 million, which means each player averages roughly $23,456 a game. Multiply that times a 25-man roster and there's $600,000 solely on player salaries. Add in the cost of travel, transport, bribing the player union, insurance waivers and every other thing that would come up, I think you'd wipe that $30,000,000 out in one shot. $30,000,000 doesn't get you what it used to: These days it won't even get you Clayton Kershaw.
Anyway, when I was a kid, I always loved this scene not because of Richard Pryor -- whose other movies my parents would never let me watch -- but because of the disparity between the New York Yankees being the biggest baseball team in the world (even in 1985, even to a nine-year-old Midwestern kid who thought New York was in China) and them playing on a tiny minor league field with a train that occasionally ran through the outfield. Baseball is a sport that can be played anywhere, in massive cathedrals worth a billion dollars or in your backyard with old newspapers as bases and a piece of a broken tree branch as a bat. Games are played at every level, and the glory of it is that the game is still, no matter what, essentially played the same.
Who hadn't looked at that broken down field jutting off from that city park that no one goes to anymore, the one with all the stray dogs roaming around, and wondered what it would look like if a Major League team decided to play there? For all its silliness, Brewster's Millions attempted to answer this question, or at least pose it. The Yankees in the film are slumming it, but eventually they get into it a little bit. They might not play on those fields anymore, but they once did. We all once did.
I always think of Brewster's Millions when we reach the midpoint of spring training -- which we've finally hit -- because we're that much closer to some of my favorite days of the preseason schedule: Those last few days when major league teams, transitioning out of Florida and Arizona, play their minor league teams in the minor league stadiums. It's a common occurrence and makes a ton of sense: It allows the minor league teams to sell out their stadiums, it allows the big league teams to acclimate themselves to the cold weather of April and it gives everyone one last chance to take one last deep breath before plunging into the six-month grind of the regular season.
And it lets fans watch the big leaguers on their own fields, in their back yard. There might not be a train running through the outfield. But it can feel like that field in Hackensack. (Sadly, that was just a film set. There's not even a real field like that in Hackensack.)
There are sadly fewer this year, perhaps because the season is starting a little earlier than usual.
Here are the games this year:
Cincinnati Reds at Pensacola Blue Wahoos
Chicago White Sox at Birmingham Barons
St. Louis Cardinals at Memphis Redbirds
Atlanta Braves vs. Braves Future Stars
Tampa Bay Rays at Montgomery Biscuits
Cincinnati Reds at Louisville Bats
The best part about this is that, in one of these games, the Major League team is going to lose. That's another great thing about baseball.
The season is about two weeks away, and we're already seeing some of the spring prospects sent off to minor league camp. It's all whittling down. Everyone's getting ready. Soon, the big leaguers will go off and play their own games, and we mortals will settle into watching them. They will roam among us for only one more fortnight. If only we all had $30 million to spend on them playing three innings with us and our friends. I'd probably try to get the Astros to come. Cheaper.
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