Made by Jeremy Spear, a Yale-educated Conceptual artist who joined the ranks of the sport's barnstorming players, ''Fastpitch'' is at once a valentine to fastpitch softball, a tale of men clinging to boyhood dreams, a telling story of the impact of big-time money on a small-town sport and a sociological odyssey through a changing American heartland, ethnicity and love.
Moving swiftly, covering its territory with the range of a talented shortstop (Mr. Spear's position) and an artist's eye for telling details, t
his intelligent, insightful, touching film opens today at the Village East as the Fastpitch World Championships reach their conclusion in St. Joseph, Mo.
But don't look for this equivalent of baseball's World Series on network television. Its heroes -- in Mr. Spear's film, men like the Maori slugger Shane Hunuhunu and the dominating Ojibway pitcher Darren Zack -- grace no cereal boxes, attract no multimillion dollar endorsements.
For the most part, they are like Mr. Spear, a former college ballplayer who at 35 decided to take time out from his life as an artist to return to sports. They play out their careers for love of the game but little money in towns like Ashland, Ohio (population 25,000), Kimberly, Wis., and Aurora, Ill.
And in most instances, they hold down full-time jobs when they are not traveling by van or bus to some game or tournament where they often play three times a day.
''It ain't baseball; it's a different game,'' an old-timer says of the sport, in which games last seven innings and pitchers bound off a mound only 46 feet from home plate to hurl a blinding assortment of stuff.
In a sport where bunts and slapping at the ball are prime offensive weapons, one player notes, ''It takes two years to hit .200.''
If there is a villain in this, it is Peter J. Porcelli Jr., a Florida magnate who has set out to win the world championship by allocating $500,000 and all manner of extracurricular luxuries to his Tampa Bay Smokers, and makes no secret of his ambition.
By contrast, Nick McCurry, who manages the Ashland Abbott Labs team that Mr. Spear joins, operates on a budget of $30,000. Most of it, he says, comes not from the sponsor but out of his own pocket.
''Fastpitch'' is a fine film. But as its sport is relatively obscure in a country where baseball lays claim to being the national pastime, some assessment of its players, skills and demands by a baseball expert might have added to its otherwise admirable illumination.