This 1988 movie about minor league baseball was written and directed by a former minor leaguer, Ron Shelton, which might explain why so many who know about this kind of thing rave about the realism of the film. It was mostly shot in an old stadium of Durham, North Carolina (since replaced), and the mere sight of this somewhat decrepit ballpark fills those who spent their youths in such places with nostalgia. I am not one of those people, and I am not a baseball fan, but I found this an enjoyable movie all the same, for it's got good actors playing interesting characters, and avoids the typical sports movie staples: an evil rival bad guy/team, a big star player who fails at first but triumphs in the end, his girlfriend beaming adoringly from the sidelines.

The Durham Bulls are beginning a new season with a rookie pitcher, Ebby Calvin LaLoosh (Tim Robbins), he of the lightning arm and five cent brain. Another actor might have played him arrogant, but in Robbins' capable hands LaLoosh is cocky, dim, yet at the same time vulnerable: he has a real charm that only grows as he becomes what everyone can see is his destiny: a pitcher in the big leagues.

Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) is the veteran brought in to help teach LaLoosh. I don't much care for Costner: he takes himself far too seriously for my taste, always the hero, never able to laugh at himself. He's like that here, but this time it suits him: he's comfortable on the baseball diamond and in his aging mentor role, exasperated by LaLoosh's antics but persisting in imparting his wisdom all the same.

The third point of the triangle is Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon), who watches all the Bulls' games and each season picks one player for her paramour, teaching him how to love and to play so that he will have the best season of his career. This season she hasn't decided whether to pick LaLoosh or Davis, and tells them so; predictably, Davis marches off in a huff, refusing to compete with a "boy". That's fine with LaLoosh, who's hot for Annie; he's filled with anticipation when she ties him to the bed, but rather shocked to find himself immobilized all night while she reads Walt Whitman aloud. Later she gives him what he's been waiting for: sex, and a nickname: Nuke LaLoosh.

Guided by these two able teachers, Nuke grows and matures as a man and a ball player. Meanwhile, Annie and Crash find themselves increasingly attracted to each other, so that when they finally do get together their passion spills over into every room of Annie's little house. (It's quite convincing, and all the more amazing when you know that Robbins and Sarandon fell in love during this movie and have been together ever since.)

Along the way there are lots of realistic and amusing little moments that betray the director's minor league past: the coach pulling out the stock speech he uses when he lets a player go, the guys huddled around the mound in the middle of a game wondering what wedding present to get one of their teammates, the women gathered around the bus waving their men off as they take to the road, Crash coaching Nuke in the platitudes he'll need for interviews. It's fun, romantic, and well-acted.

Shelton got an Academy Award nomination for his screenplay.