No matter where you look, Christmas movies are everywhere at this time of year. Between Freeform’s “25 Days of Christmas,” Hallmark’s near-endless parade of holiday films, Disney+’s Hawkeye, and Netflix’s small army of holiday specials, aside from turning off your television and avoiding streaming services for the month of December, it’s almost possible not to watch at least one Christmas movie.
In a similar vein, baseball films dominated this past summer, thanks in large part to Major League Baseball’s first Field of Dreams Game, a nationally-televised event in which the Yankees played the perfect villain role for the country by losing in heartbreaking fashion. Everywhere you looked, baseball players, sportswriters, bloggers, and fans were talking about their favorite films centered on baseball’s national pastime.
Earlier this week, while I was waiting for the bus home from work, I was thinking about how Hawkeye has reignited debates about what it means for something to be a “Christmas movie” when it occurred to me that we haven’t seen a Christmas movie that’s also a baseball movie (no, MLB.com, the fact that there are baseball cards behind Ralphie’s head in A Christmas Story does not make it a baseball movie). There is, of course, a good reason for this: Christmas movies, by definition, take place at Christmastime and typically involve wintery landscapes — not exactly prime baseball conditions.
But that got me thinking. Could it be done? Is a baseball Christmas movie possible? To do that, I sat down at my desk, brought up all the lists of baseball and Christmas movies that I could find, and set out to find the answer. Before we can talk about what a hypothetical baseball Christmas movie might look like, however, first we have to define these two genres independently.
Let’s start by looking at Christmas movies. Categorizing them as one distinct genre is rather difficult because they carry so many different tones. You have the ghost stories like Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (yes, I know it’s a book, but it’s arguably the foundation of the genre, no matter the medium, and has been adapted to the screen many times). There’s the animated specials that comment on the superficiality of modern materialism, such as A Charlie Brown Christmas and the original The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Even today, the stop-motion classics like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer dominate the holiday season and influence “modern” movies, such as Elf. Then, there are the movies like Die Hard and Iron Man 3 — the films where fans will endlessly debate whether to categorize them as Christmas movies or movies that take place at Christmastime.
To see what these stories have in common, I’d like to take a quick look at two narratives that, in essence, bookend the genre in 2021: the aforementioned grandfather of the modern Christmas story, A Christmas Carol, and Marvel’s Hawkeye, a story that is deliberately trying to hit as many Christmas tropes as possible. At first glance, these two stories could not be more different, but a closer look reveals many similarities, as both Ebenezer Scrooge and Clint Barton are struggling to put their pasts behind them, as their ghosts have finally caught up to them (in Scrooge’s case, quite literally). At the center of it all are their families.
Although A Christmas Carol is primarily centers on Scrooge learning about the harm that his miserliness inflicts and becoming a better man, his relationship with his family is at the center of it all. He rebuffs his nephew’s invite early in the story, is reminded of his close relationships to his departed sister and his lost love with the Ghost of Christmas Past, learns that his nephew still cared for him despite his attitude with the Ghost of Christmas Present, discovers that he has nobody who truly cares for him with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, and he finally accepts his nephew’s invitation on Christmas Day; additionally, Dickens describes the changed man as becoming like a second father to Tiny Tim.
The story of Hawkeye is a little bit more straightforward, at least through the four episodes that have been released. I’m going to be intentionally vague, as I don’t want to spoil anything for anybody in the comments section, but from the first trailer that was released a few months back, it’s clear that the main narrative thrust of the story is rather simple: Can Clint Barton clean up his mess so that he can return home to his family by Christmas Day? Along the way, however, he also begins to expand his family, becoming a father figure to Kate Bishop, who herself is looking for direction and someone to look up to.
In each of these two stories, we see two types of family relationships: the family you are connected to by blood and the family that you find along the way. I would argue that, at their core, these family bonds make a Christmas movie what they are.
Baseball movies, in a way, are rather similar to Christmas movies. There are all sorts of plotlines to follow: Moneyball’s tale of a quest to redefine the game of baseball, The Rookie’s narrative about a man taking one last shot at living his childhood dream, and The Sandlot’s coming-of-age adventure, just to name three. But in many ways, they too share their focus on family bonds. Field of Dreams centers on a relationship between the main character and his father. Rookie of the Year’s climax involves Henry Rowengartner learning that the glove he used once belonged to his mother. Even Moneyball does not escape the genre’s focus on family, as the scene in which the Athletics sign Scott Hatteberg is marked by Hatteberg’s young daughter crashing the meeting, while Billy Beane’s decision to decline the Red Sox GM job is juxtaposed with Beane playing a CD made by his daughter.
If the two genres match up thematically, then it should be easy to make a baseball Christmas movie, right? Unfortunately not, for although the thematic centers are similar, there is still something else that baseball movies need to include: baseball games, typically at the story’s climax (The Sandlot being a notable exception). A story surrounding a Major League Baseball team in the month of December by definition cannot include games, and while you could try to make a movie about a front office executive at the Winter Meetings trying to juggle free agency and spending time with his family at Christmastime, you’d essentially end up with a version of Elf where the father works for the Yankees, not a publishing company. The movie needs baseball games.
In order for a baseball movie to take place at Christmas, the genre needs to drop something that has been intrinsic to how American audiences, the primary target for baseball films, see the game — namely, as America’s pastime. There are baseball games going on in the month of December; they’re simply played in Latin America, particularly in places where the weather permits baseball to be played year-round. A film that uses the winter leagues as its foundation instead of MLB or Little League Baseball would be able to incorporate Christmas into the narrative (and even if they didn’t make it a Christmas movie, a story set in the winter leagues would be a welcome change of pace for the baseball genre).
What exactly would that narrative be? I haven’t a clue — but I am excited for the possibilities that such a pairing would bring.
Unfortunately, given how risk-averse Hollywood has been in recent years even prior to the pandemic shutting down the industry last year and reducing movie crowds in 2021, it’s unlikely that we will see the pairing of winter league baseball and Christmas any time soon. But if that day does come, I’ll certainly be on line waiting to see it in theatres.