“The Perfect Game” comes out–and goes under–on DVD. But why?

What happened to The Perfect Game? It’s a warm, sweet (and yes, fairly predictable) sports film for the whole family, like The Rookie or Angels in the Outfield or Hoosiers. It should have gotten some decent ink and a healthy if not meteoric theatrical run. It should be at last as well remembered as those other films. Instead, it just…disappeared.

Clifton Collins, Jr. has never been better (and who knew he could throw a baseball like that?). Cheech Marin is at his twinkly-eyed best as the local booster-priest, and the story is the kind that gets made into inspirational little sports-flicks every couple of years, and should be. We love movies like this. And best of all, this time the tale of the underdog making good, the unknown team coming from behind, the ragtag band of misfits winning the day…is both true and Latino. These kids not only do battle on the baseball diamond, they have to confront good old-fashioned racism and become heroes in their own heads…and they have to do it in 1957 Texas, no less.

Perfect Game had a lot of familiar faces. Along with Collins and Marin, there’s Lou Gossett Jr., Bruce McGill, and Lost’s Emilie de Ravin, joined by familiar child actors like Moses Arias from Hannah Montana, Ryan Ochoa from Pair of Kings, Carlos Gómez from The Glades and Jake T. Austin from The Wizards of Waverly Place, as the ambidextrous young pitcher who was destined to throw the only perfect game of the Little League World Series–ever. And it had a smart and accomplished director, too. Hell, William Dear had even done baseball movies before: he’d directed Angels in the Outfield, as well as Harry and the Hendersons and more. (And in fact he’s got another baseball movie, A Mile in his Shoes, about an autistic pitcher played by young Latino actor Jaren Brandt Bartlett, coming out later this year.)

So how come you never heard of it? Why isn’t it one of those lovely little classics you should have taken your kids to a couple years back, and remember warmly to this day? It would be nice to imagine some worldwide anti-Latino conspiracy, some evil manipulation of the gods of Racist Hollywood…but in fact, it’s far less than that…and something far more common.

It’s all about the money.

Back in 2008, Lionsgate was zooming upwards. In late summer alone, the young, ambitious studio had had three new movies scheduled to release in August, four in September and three in October (including Oliver Stone‘s much-anticipated George Bush bio, W.) And, quite simply, that was too many. None of them made quite as much money as they had hoped, and Lionsgate didn’t have the ready cash to market that many films all at once–not without a hit on their hands. Something had to give.

The Perfect Game, for instance.

Its original release date of August 8, 2008 got bumped. Indefinitely. The balance of the summer, all of baseballs season a summer itself, slipped away. The film was submitted to a couple of festivals, but otherwise it languished entirely, and if Lionsgate’s original idea has been to hold it until the other films on its slate generated some new money…well, it didn’t happen. There was a tiny little theatrical release in April of ’09–four weeks out in the open, in no more than 417 theaters at its high point–with no discernable marketing at all. It made a little over a million domestically and twice that overseas, then retired from the field. And now, almost exactly two years after its original, unfulfilled release date, The Perfect Game becomes available on DVD–again, with no fanfare at all, most likely to sink into the background of Netflix and the dollar bin at Blockbuster without a whisper.

And it’s too bad. It’s a nice little movie, with some solid acting. Yes, it’s kind of predictable, but what sports movie isn’t? You want them to be predictable, really. You want your team to win. You want to feel good about it, if only for a minute. And if the viewer gives The Perfect Game half a chance, everybody will walk away a winner.

It’s just too bad so few will ever see it at all.