Sam leaps into Lester “Doc” Fuller, a minor league baseball player already well into his career. Al believes that Sam is there to help Doc get into the major leagues by impressing a scout at an important game, but this will mean betraying Chucky Myerwich, an angry young player that Sam has befriended. Over Al’s objections, Sam does what he can to help Chucky improve his future, both by letting him pitch the critical game and helping him restore his relationship with his father. Sam is ultimately able to help both Chucky and Doc to a better future by trusting his instincts.
Written by Tommy Thompson. Directed by Joe Napolitano.
Play Ball is pretty much what you expect from a second episode of a new season. Where The Leap Back did what it could to stretch the envelope of the series’ core concept (although it was all returned to the status quo by the end), Play Ball firmly stayed inside of it, concentrating instead on how good a story one could tell within the regular format. Which approach is better is of course a matter of opinion, although the ideal blend presumable contains elements of both.
The episode they’ve opted to use to get us back into the swing of things in this new year is a particularly confident one. It’s got all the usual qualities that make Quantum Leap work: a fresh and interesting setting, human drama which elicits our compassion, internal and external conflicts which mirror each other and cannot just be easily solved, and a bit of tension between Sam and Al about how to do things.
It also has a good “fish out of water” opening with Sam finding himself with the revolting flavor of chewing tobacco in his mouth, and then suddenly set upon by an excitable young woman who starts stripping down before him. As a nice change up to things, the classic “Oh boy” line is said not by Sam but by the young boy Billy when he opens the door up on them, delivered with excellent comic timing. The actor playing this part turns out to be the boss’ son (see “Cast Notes” below)–sign that kid up, he’s a natural!
A big part of the success of this episode is thanks to the strong performance of main guest star Neal McDonough as Chucky. He injects a lot of believability into the angry ball player, and keeps his otherwise melodramatic moments grounded. Don Stroud is also very good in the smaller (and potentially thankless) role as the coach
Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell are consistently good in this episode, which is not surprising. I like the dynamic between them this time around because the tension is not built on one of them just being a bit thick (carrying the “idiot ball”, as they say), but rather on Sam’s desire to help others, and Al worrying that those instincts won’t do him any favors this time around. Of course, Sam proves to be right, which helps to give the episode the uplifting ending it needs to be fun to watch, but not too challenging to digest.
• Neal McDonough (Chucky Myerwich) is well known to me as Dum Dum Dugan in Captain America: The First Avenger and some other MCU projects, as Damien Darhk in Arrow and related projects, and as a doomed guy in the movie Timeline. Oh, he was also in Minority Report, and I just discovered he was Lt. Hawk in the film Star Trek First Contact–he’s the bridge officer who I think gets assimilated by the Borg during the well-regarded but interminable to watch “deflector dish” scene.
• Don Stroud (Coach) was the co-star of a bunch of those Mike Hammer films and projects in the 80’s. He played a police officer.
• Peter Jason (Kilpatrick) by coincidence, also played a police officer in a Mike Hammer project, but in this case it was the attempt at a revival series in the ’90’s.
• Royce D. Applegate (Radio Reporter) was a co-star on Seaquest DSV, and apparently played “Man with a Bullhorn” in a movie I like called O Brother, Where Art Thou?
• Michael Bellisario (Billy) is the son of series creator Donald P. Bellisario, and makes his second of four appearances on the show in this episode.
• Juan Garcia (Jorge) was John Torres, the father of chief engineer B’Elanna Torres on two episodes of Star Trek Voyager.
Who and Where is Dr. Sam Beckett?
Sam is Lester “Doc” Fuller, a minor league baseball player in Galveston, Texas, from August 6 – 7, 1961.
However, at the start of the episode, Sam is another city which is never named, but which is a 6 hour bus ride away from Galveston. On the way back, they stop somewhere or lunch that is not named, but might be called Davis, Texas (a sign which might reveal this name is obscured…all you can see for sure is “…avis, Tex.”
What does Sam have to do?
Sam has to help Chucky reconnect with his absent father. To do this, he must also help Chucky get into Major League basball by allowing him to pitch a critical game And along the way, he helps his own host, Doc, find a future in baseball as well (albeit as a pitching coach.
What do we learn about Sam Beckett?
Sam clearly does not like chewing tobacco. He remembers seeing Pete Rose sliding into base (whether it was in person or on TV is not specified.)
Sam mentions that his father was a farmer, which of course we already knew.
See below for some tidbits about how Sam and Al first met.
What do we know about Al?
When Sam and Al first met, Al was running the Star Bright Project. At the time Al was struggling with anger and alcohol abuse problems, and specifically Al was attacking a vending machine with a hammer when Sam first met him. Al would have been pushed out of the project by the government if Sam had not intervened.
Al was a starting pitcher for the Navy baseball team, earning the lowest Earned Run Average in the league.
Apparently he spends time at a fitness centre.
What about the experiment?
It’s never explained, but somehow Sam pitches the same game (at least, the first few innings) that Doc did originally. Presumably this is another example of the odd transference of personality or skills of the leapees that Sam sometimes seems to exhibit.
Ziggy, presumably, is able to cause A’s handlink to squeal (a sound Sam is able to hear) in order to alert Sam to the fact that he’s lying.
“Driven by an unknown force…” (God or Time or Something)
No references this time around.
Amusingly, the catchphrase is said by the boy Billy, instead of Sam, upon finding Sam with Bunny in a pretty compromising situation. Sam throws out a quick “Oh boy,” when he is trying to make excuses to get away from Margaret.
Sam finally says it at the end of the episode, after he has made the next leap.
Sam’s Complicated Love Life
Sam has both Margaret Twilly, the owner of the baseball team, and her daughter Bunny, coming onto him very strongly. Margaret is blackmailing “Doc” to sleep with her in order give him a prominent place on the team, and in isolation it looks like Sam actually goes through with it, but later dialogue makes it clearer that he did not. Bunny on the other hand just seems to want to sleep with Doc even though she is also dating Chucky–a conflict that nobody ever really talks about. But Sam manages to avoid getting together with her as well.
The Many Loves of Al Calavicci
Al leers at Bunny and hasn’t had the chance to romance a pair of twins that he know at a fitness centre.
• The radio announcer has some funny dialogue: “Ooh, howdy! It’s a hot one out here today. I’ll tell you that much. Feels like the Good Lord went on vacation, and the devil opened a subdivision, doesn’t it?” And later, “He’s been pitchin’ about like a brute sow in a slop-eatin’ contest. Ain’t been pretty, but he’s been gettin’ the job done.”
• Sam’s reaction to the chewing tobacco is also pretty funny. We see him continually spitting it out.
• Doc wears glasses. We never see any indication of Sam reacting to trying to look through them.
• And then in case anything gets too serious, we can always use a joke about this silly pig that Sam has to look after.
• Cute exchange between Sam and the coach. Sam says, “Guess I should’ve stayed at second, huh?” And the coach replies, “Stayed? Should’ve knelt down and prayed!”
• There’s a pretty awkward joke conversation between the coach and the Mexican band who don’t understand English very well.
• Typical Al hokiness about the pig with lines like, “Well, it better be possible, or else you’re gonna spend the rest of your life holding the line to the swine. Also, the pig makes Al feel hungry of a BLT.
• I like the bit where Al is interpreting data from the handlink and says, “Yeah, it’s right here in yellow and pink…green and blue and orange and purple.”
• Cute scene with Al teaching Sam to pitch. “It’s fine if that was a hand grenade, but it’s a baseball. You gotta treat it like a woman.”
• Al usually has the best lines. Sam talks about when he first met Al: Al was attacking a vending machine with a hammer. In reminiscing about the story, Al says, “Oh, uh, it ate my dime.”
• Even after he has been taken out of the game as a pitcher, Sam is still playing the big game as a fielder. Maybe that’s normal, I don’t know, but I wouldn’t have thought that’s how the rules of the game worked.
• The credits role against part of the soundtrack from the show.
Sam Leaps To
I guess my favorite is a line of Chucky’s at the end, when he’s complimented on his pitching. The line has as a nice double meaning with reference to Sam’s spectacular outfield catch.
Well, I don’t know about that. I’d have been in a lot of trouble if…if Doc here hadn’t made that leap.
Special thanks, by the way, to this site for the episode transcriptions.
The Best Moment
A great argument between Sam and Chucky takes place on the pitcher’s mound while Chucky practices. Repeatedly as they argue we see Neal McDonough throw believable pitches over the plate to his catcher. The guy obviously has some legitimate skill with the baseball and combines it excellently with the dramatics of the scene.