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Our national anthem. The crack of the bat. Shouts from the peanut vendor. To me, those are the most relaxing sounds in the world because they signify that, for the next three hours, my only earthly concern is whether I'll have to dodge an 80 mile-an-hour souvenir. Hey, don't laugh. When I took my son to spring training this year, a hitter let go of his bat, which nailed the guy sitting directly behind us.

Indeed, watching baseball can be a bit hazardous at times—much like watching baseball movies. You have to keep your guard up. One minute the guys onscreen are scoring runs, the next, well, they're just plain scoring. So I thought I'd share my Top 5, most-recommended baseball movies for family viewing. This isn't your typical "favorites" list. To make it to first base, films needed to be entertaining and uplifting. Promoting solid morals and family ties was a plus, too. And while very few films are perfect, the ones in this lineup couldn't be weighed down by excessive problematic content. With those ground rules in mind, I've tried to include a little something for fans of all ages:

5. Everyone's Hero (G)
An animated comedy/adventure about a young boy's quest to recover Babe Ruth's lucky bat, which is stolen by a win-at-all-costs rival during the playoffs. Not a cinematic home run, but this innocent cross-country quest (with a talking bat and ball) is a bloop single bolstered by warm family bonds and a refreshing nod to the Negro Leagues. Great for little ones not distracted by pedestrian dialogue or an absurd finale that puts a 10-year-old up to bat in the World Series. Harmless and sweet.

4. Angels in the Outfield (PG)
A foster child asks his deadbeat dad when they'll be a family again. "When the Angels win the pennant," Dad says sarcastically, knowing that they stink. So young Roger prays for a pennant. Suddenly, real angels are influencing ballgames. And since only Roger can see them, he becomes a mascot of sorts for a team—and a combustible manager—in need of redemption. Despite a few mild profanities early and some fuzzy theology, it's a fun film with lots of life lessons, assuming parents step up to the plate to engage their kids.

3. Eight Men Out (PG)
Prior to steroids, the game's darkest hour was the Black Sox Scandal of 1919, when a few greedy, disgruntled members of the heavily favored Chicago White Sox accepted bribes to throw the World Series. It's a smartly written, well-acted film that's also a terrific cautionary tale about the slippery slope of temptation and compromise. There's a fair amount of profanity for a PG (including one f-bomb), but for mature audiences it's well worth seeing in its "edited for television" form, or with the help of filtering software.

2. Pride of the Yankees (NR)
Nominated for 11 Academy Awards in 1942, this moving biopic chronicles the rise and untimely death of legendary Yankee slugger Lou Gehrig. It captures the dignity he showed while battling the terminal illness that now bears his name. But more than just an inspirational film about a courageous man, it's a glimpse at baseball's golden age, with Babe Ruth and Bill Dickey appearing as themselves. Don't be surprised if you get choked up during Gehrig's "luckiest man on the face of the earth" speech.

1. The Rookie (G)
This is the true story of Texas science teacher/baseball coach Jim Morris, whose dream of pitching in the majors ended with a series of arm injuries. Years later, when his unmotivated high school players realize he can still throw smoke, they make him promise that, if they win a championship, he'll try out again. They do. He does. And the 35-year-old rookie gets another shot. The stuff on the diamond is great. Even more endearing are glimpses of Morris's family life and the small-town folk who support him.

Well, those are just some of my favorites—five diamond gems I find myself recommending to people who love the smell of movie theater popcorn and a freshly oiled fielder's glove. Enjoy, and maybe I'll see you at the ballpark!

Published April 2010