'Boyhood' and baseball

Need a respite from the tension of the building pennant races or just a break from your favorite team’s latest losing streak? Then get to the theater and catch the best movie of the summer -- and the best movie of the year, for that matter, Richard Linklater’s absolutely amazing "Boyhood."

Filmed over the course of a dozen years, "Boyhood" allows us to watch the character Mason (and the actor who portrays him, Ellar Coltrane) literally grow up on screen, from first grade to his first day in college. Alternately funny and sad, "Boyhood" is always gripping and ultimately uplifting. It’s like watching your team gradually grow from last place to a World Series contender.

Speaking of which ...

I loved just about everything in this movie but my favorite scene takes place when Mason is still quite young and his father (played by Ethan Hawke) takes him to a Houston Astros game where Roger Clemens is pitching. This was filmed in 2005 or 2006 and you not only get to see Clemens pitch but Jason Lane hit a home run as well.

Linklater is one of my favorite directors -- along with "Dazed and Confused," he did the wonderful "Before Sunrise," "Before Sunset" and "Before Midnight" trilogy. That there is a baseball scene in "Boyhood" is no surprise considering that Linklater has a baseball background that included a college scholarship to play at Sam Houston State. He hit .179 in 32 games with four RBIs and a stolen base in 1980.

Here’s a snippet about his baseball career from a recent profile on Linklater in The New Yorker:

As the second semester of his sophomore year began, he was the team’s starting left fielder, batting third in the preseason lineup. Yet he wasn’t entirely satisfied. "I remember daydreaming out in the outfield: I wish I had more time," he says. "I want to read 'The Brothers Karamazov.'" His wish came true, in perverse fashion. He contracted an infection of the heart tissue, which caused an arrhythmia. Suddenly, he couldn’t play, doctor’s orders. "It was like fate had gone, O.K., guess what?" he says. "My whole second half of my sophomore year, during baseball season, I closed down the library every night. I’d be up there writing."

Linklater’s WAR at Sam Houston State didn’t portend a great major league career but even if he had been able to keep playing and reach the bigs, it was very good for movie-goers that he took another direction. His films are as thoughtfully entertaining as they are innovative. And in an age when everything in film is about special effects, explosions and simple plots that can sell overseas to teens, it is very welcome to see intelligent, character-driven movies on the screen.

The Astros scene in "Boyhood" isn’t Linklater’s only film association with baseball, either. He also directed the 2005 remake of "The Bad News Bears" as well as a 2008 documentary on University of Texas coach Augie Garrido, "Inning by Inning: A Portrait of a Coach."

Nor is this the only movie Clemens appears in -- he also had a cameo role as a pitcher in the 1994 movie "Cobb," another in the 1996 movie "Kingpin" and appears in "Inning by Inning."

We’ll have to wait until February to see if it wins Best Picture but right now I’d say "Boyhood" has a 13-game lead over the competition, with David Price and Jon Lester each joining the rotation. See it soon.

My only disappointment with "Boyhood" is we don’t get to see how young Mason copes with the Astros getting swept in the 2005 World Series or his father’s reaction to the Mitchell Report.