“Field Of Pete,” originally aired Sept. 11, 1994
What’s the difference between a winner and a loser? More importantly, how do you know what you are? That’s the question plaguing Big Pete in “Field Of Pete.”
Here’s the skinny: Pete loves baseball, but that love’s never translated into him being on a winning team. This year, he gets assigned to the Prosthetics, whose mascot is a guy with a bunch of fake limbs sewn to his costume. (Awesome.) His coach, Ed Narrins, is a singularly minded man with “just win” written across his knuckles and a penchant for staying in his Lincoln Towncar during both practices and games.
When the Prosthetics finally manage to win a game, they’re treated to free slushies at the Slush Shack, just off left field. Ellen works there, of course, as apprentice to Slushmaster Bob Oppenheimer. (Get it?) The team argues over what to get — a Lime Balthazar? A Grape Judas? — before Narrins approaches and demands Orange Lazarus for everyone.
An Orange Lazarus is a dangerous thing. Consumed too quickly, it can shut down a drinker’s central nervous system in 1.2 seconds. Oppenheimer created it looking for beauty and perfection, but instead created a “hedonistic nectar of greed and power.” It’s “too tempting, too delicious, too cold.” You think you drink it? “No, it drinks you.”
It’s open to interpretation as to what an Orange Lazarus represents here — drugs? Winning? Nuclear energy? Right and wrong? — but it’s very clear that the icy drink is bad news. Narrins basically lives off the stuff, and it’s what comes to fuel the Prosthetics run to glory, at least until Teddy Forsman gets a flu shot and manages to get half the team sick sharing a Lazarus.
Narrins, of course, has to win so he brings in a ringer: Little Pete, the Ty Cobb of trash talk. He rides the pine and churns out insult after insult, freezing out pitchers and batters alike with burns like “brief staining chum jockey” and mere mentions of secret shames. When the Prosthetics are just one game from the championship, Little Pete ices out Bill Korn by just staring at him, forcing Bill to drop his bat and just admit that he ate snot once. “It was at the candy counter at the movie theater,” and he “thought it was imitation butter flavored topping.” Like that, he’s annihilated, not just on the field but also in life. Now that snot eating’s on the table, Bill’s family might have to leave town and change their names. It’s that embarrassing, and Pete didn’t even have to say a word.
Big Pete is, of course, a good dude at heart. He’s worried they’re winning for all the wrong reasons and confronts Pete, who threatens to make sure “everyone knows why mom won’t let you buy lard anymore.”
After Teddy falls victim to a brain freeze seizure, though, Big Pete knows what he must do and gets 20 gallons of Orange Lazarus, made as cold as Bob Oppenheimer can get it, delivered to the championship game. The Prosthetics are winning, but after every single player and Narrins fall victim to the worst brain freezes of all time, Lincoln, the opposing team, ties it up. As the freezes wear off, there’s just one out left and Big Pete convinces the team to try and win the game cleanly, with no trash talk, outraging Narrins who takes off with his “frosty friend.” The Prosthetics lose, of course, but somehow save baseball in the long run, at least on that field, in Wellsville, for that day.
Ultimately, “Field Of Pete” is kind of a fluffy story about winning and goodness and summer, but it’s a fun one all the same. Watching this episode, I could almost feel my brain freezing up, virtually paralyzed by the creamy orange goodness that only Lazarus could provide. It’s schlocky, for sure, but the idea of kids figuring out that winning doesn’t necessarily make someone a winner is probably a valuable one to teach. It’s taught so often in other ways that if Pete And Pete could drive it home this way, that not only speaks highly of the show’s ability to freshen up a stale topic, but that they could make a kiddie topic thoroughly palatable to adults — an idea horse that I’ve probably ridden into the ground a million times in these recaps already. It’s worth re-stating, though, if only because Pete And Pete does it so well.
Speaking of doing something well, the props and sets for this episode. Consider the fact that “Field Of Pete” was filmed all at one location — a baseball field at the end of a New Jersey block. It never feels tired, and it never feels cold. The Slush Shack is covered in notices for senior citizens and funny signs about brain freeze. The Prosthetics’ uniforms aren’t crazy looking, but they do have a fake leg drawn on the front. Even the aforementioned mascot is only seen from a distance for a few seconds, but it’s an absolutely perfect sight gag. Actually, it’s not really a gag, but more like a warm feeling of, “hey, that’s good,” for the viewer. A guy with a ton of arms and legs is a fun idea, and one we wouldn’t have had ourselves, and so we love it, period. Ditto the name of the evil drink, Orange Lazarus. This episode wouldn’t have had the power it does if it was just about an Orange Julius or an Orange Slush. Lazarus, beyond being a funny name, holds biblical significance as well. Lazarus is resurrected by Jesus simply because he believes in him. Orange Lazarus, by comparison, lives when it should not, and may just be an opiate to the masses.
Whatever. It can get a little dangerous to read too deeply into a show unless it’s warranted. Sure, Pete And Pete’s creators could be making some deep statement here about absolute power corrupting absolutely, but they could also just be talking about slushies and baseball. Either one’s fine by me.
• Little Pete insult of the week: "You scrape the legs of dung beetles to ice your cupcakes."
• "And that, my friend, is how you turn a colt into a gelding."
• The dizzy lens the director used to film the mega-brain freeze scene made me want to mega-barf onto my mega-laptop.
• The sound a baseball makes when it hits a Little League scoreboard is really visceral and satisfying.