Rehashing the sentiment of family and duty that the grand old game of baseball inspires — whenever Hollywood is concerned — “The Winning Season” dips into the same emotional well that “Field of Dreams” visited 15 years ago. Starting the season with a reminder that baseball handed down from generation to generation is a good thing, for that alone “The Winning Season” has some merit. But by taking the shlocky road on every sentimental trip, “Season” becomes an also-ran among baseball movies.
Pic involves time travel — though no one steps into a corn field — as young Joe Soshack (Mark Rendall) gets his hands on the extraordinarily rare Honus Wagner baseball card that was included with packs of cigarettes before the famed shortstop cried “halt.”
Soshack is the worst player on his Little League team, but is infatuated with the lore of his hometown Pittsburgh Pirates. Strolling down baseball’s memory lane, from Wagner’s astounding turn-of-the-century career to Willie Stargell, Soshack escapes his parents’ arguments over money.
He’s a good kid, though, helping an elderly woman, Mrs. Young (Jackie Burroughs), with household chores. It’s in her house that he discovers the Wagner card and seeing it as the answer to their money woes — the card could sell for nearly half a million dollars — he gets even more down in the dumps when his parents shoot down his idea and suggest he return it.
Soshack bicycles to his local ballfield for solace and drifts, seemingly awakening in 1909 at the start of the World Series between the Pirates and Detroit Tigers. He meets Wagner (Matthew Modine), the nicest guy on Earth, well as his fiancée Mandy Henton (Kristin Davis) and the evil Ty Cobb (William Lee Scott). During his time travel he grew from a 12-year-old to a 20-year-old, but wisely scribe Steve Bloom has kept his emotional capacity at that of a preteen.
Story gets extra-gooey as Wagner is forced to choose between love for a woman or love of the game; Henton, too, has to make a sacrifice, though she goes about it in a much more maudlin fashion. Cobb forces Soshack to play a bad guy, but it ends up only being temporary.
Returning home, Soshack gets his priorities straight and even gets an answer as to why he was seeming sent on this journey through the past. It’s all cornball and once it starts steamrolling there’s nothing to derail the action except a big fat happy, lesson-learned ending.
Modine gives Wagner a majestic flair that starts to wear. Davis chirps her way through her hoity-toity lady about town with little conviction. Director John Kent Harrison gets a lot out of Rendall, the young Joe, but one the bathos starts pouring he can’t find the spigot to turn it off.