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Jim Morris is a Texas high school chemistry teacher and coach of the school's baseball team. He's always loved baseball and as a way of motivating his players, he agrees to go to a professional try-out if they win the championship. He once had aspirations to be a professional baseball player but an injury brought that to an end. Sure enough, the 39 year-old father of three finds himself at a camp for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and he somehow seems to have regained his pitching arm, easily throwing a 98 mph fastball. Signed to a contract, he toils in the minor leagues while his supportive wife stays home raising their children. He soon finds himself called up to the big club and pitching for Tampa which is in Texas playing the Rangers. Based on a true story. Written by
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Walt Disney's "The Rookie" is based on the story of Jim Morris, a former minor league picher who made one of the most amazing comebacks in sports history, ending an almost 10 year retirement and making his Major League debut in 1999 at the age of 35.
The film opens with a brief synopsis of Morris' childhood, which included a series of re-locations - his father was a military man. And even when his family settled for good in football crazed Texas, Morris' passion for baseball remained strong.
The childhood segment then jumps ahead about 23 years to the adult Morris (played by Dennis Quaid) who is now a baseball coach and chemistry teacher at Big Lake High School (in real life it was Reagan County High School in Big Lake, Texas). It is mentioned that he attempted a career as a baseball player but that it didn't work out.
Morris's team is struggling and he lectures them about giving up on their dreams. They turn the table on him, telling him that he should try out for a Major League team. At several times when he pitches to them in practice, they express amazement at the speed with which he throws. Morris seems unconvinced but agrees to a deal with his players in which if they win district, he will try out for a Major League team.
Big Lake does win district and, adhering to his end of the deal, Morris attends a Tampa Bay Devil Rays try out. Phenomenally, he throws 98 miles an hour - faster than he threw during his minor league career and an outstanding speed even for a Major League pitcher. After another try out with the team, Morris is offered a contract with the Devil Rays.
This leaves him with a tough decision - stay in his comfortable life or once again pursue his Major League dream by going through the minor league grind of making little money and spending months at a time away from home. And the decision is even more agonizing than during his first minor league stint because he now has a wife and three children.
Morris signs with the Devil Rays, begins at the AA level and moves up quickly to the AAA level, one level below Major League Baseball. But as the season winds down, the chances of him getting "called up" grow increasingly slim.
For the most part, I love this movie. There are lots of great performances and likable characters and it's easy to find yourself really pulling for Morris. Also, the movie does a great job portraying professional baseball at both the major and minor league levels. And most of all, it teaches the timeless message of holding tight to your dreams even when they seem distant and almost impossible to achieve.
Still, the movie has some flaws. While generally accurate, it exaggerates and even fabricates a few things. Check out http://espn.go.com/page2/s/closer/020410.html for some examples. Also, except for one scene in which he prays with his players, the movie completely ignores Morris' Christian faith. But considering Disney's left wing zeal, that's not surprising.
Presumably, a lot of the exaggerations/fabrications were done to make the story more dramatic. Yet the 20 minute documentary on Morris that is included on the DVD features some information that makes his story more dramatic but is excluded from the movie.
For example, from birth until his family settled in Texas for good when he was 12, Morris re-located 14 times. And his initial minor league career ended after four surgeries through which he lost half of the muscle in his left (pitching) shoulder, thus making his throwing 98 mph even more inexplicable.
To fully appreciate and understand the story of Jim Morris, it's good to not only watch "The Rookie" but to watch the DVD's documentary, check out the aforementioned link to the movie's inaccuracies and probably also to read Morris' biography, also titled "The Rookie." I haven't read the book but I hope to one of these days.
But overall, "The Rookie" is a very good portrayal of a miraculous story and is a powerful testament to the power of dreams and the triumph of the common man. 8/10
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