How many of us have thought about being Pele and scoring a goal in a world cup final ? How exactly did Ian Botham feel when he inspired England and rouse a nation to win the ashes all those years ago ? Did Bjorn Borg realise what he inspired in the tennis fraternity when he won Wimbledon 5 times on the trot ? When Muhammad Ali stepped into the ring did he have any idea that he was likely to become considered as the greatest sportsman that ever lived ? Such sporting prowess invokes the stuff that legends are made of and such legends inspire many that follow to aspire to achieve far, far greater things for themselves.
When you witness a spectacle of a great sporting achievement it has the uncanny habit of either living in your memory forever or as I say, likely to later inspire you to try to achieve greater things in your own personal life. For those that are inspired many retain the wish to be able to emulate their sporting heroes in some shape or form. However, for most of us that just simply remains a pipe dream but it's nevertheless fun to simply dream on.
The Rookie is simply such a story based on one mans inspiration. Inspiration, not to be the best, but inspiration to be the best that he could possibly be. James Morris had a desire to fulfil his sporting ambition. It's a story that says no matter what your dreams are, age is not a barrier and you should never let go. If you have the ability then all you need is the desire. It's a story that's made all the more poignant being that it's actually based upon a true story.
Back in 1923 in Big Lake Texas when prospectors were striking for oil an upcoming tycoon managed to persuade two local nuns to invest in him in his quest for oil. With the help of the nuns, a blessing from Saint Rita (Patron Saint of Impossible Dreams) and a liberal sprinkling of rose petals it ensured that oil was certainly found there. As an aside and quite possibly through divine intervention the blessing didn't just stop there. Many of the oil workers played baseball on that bit of land in their social time and many of them uncannily went onto become accomplished players in their own right. Saint Rita certainly had heard the call for impossible dreams and responded in kind.
Much of the early part of the film lays down the background of how the Morris family came to be in Big Lake Texas. Jimmy Morris's father was in service in the navy and this led for an unsettled family life along with a troubled childhood. Having lived in no less than fourteen locations in a short period of time his love of baseball had to continually take a back burner to all else in his unsettled life. What was clearly a natural talent for baseball was never allowed to nurture into one that could and probably should have flourished. Jimmy Morris was essentially robbed of his ambition. His relationship with his father was tempered for the many years that followed because of this.
Roll on many years later and into adulthood. Jim Morris (Dennis Quaid) is now into his 30's still based in Big Lake Texas, works as a high school Science teacher and coaches the High School baseball team known as the Owls. He'd had a stab at minor league baseball but his arm had never held up to the rigours of being a fastball pitcher. It's never easy being a sportsman and injury has undone many a prospective sporting career. Jim Morris was no exception and many resulting operations on his arm had put paid to his sporting aspirations as a result. I guess everyone knows that there comes a time in your life that you simply have to accept when priorities take over personal ambitions and desires. It happens to the best of us and you know how it is; life gets in the way. Becoming a schoolteacher is not so bad after all? I mean it pays the rent and puts food on the table for the family and kids and that's got to be good right? Coaching a good bunch of high school kids how to play baseball also helps to keep you in touch with the game and it's all an eminently sensible way to progress in one's life, surely?
Now the Owls had never won anything for the high school and frankly looked quite unlikely to ever be able to do so. They were simply a nice bunch of kids with some limited talent, trying to expend their youthful energy and social time playing baseball and that was about it. Frankly the likelihood of them ever winning anything would have taken something of a minor miracle to happen. However, a little inspiration never goes amiss especially when the kids realised that their coach could throw a mean fastball. Amazed by his talents they continued to egg him on to throw harder and faster. James Morris obliged. Whoooosh went the baseball past the bat, time and time again. Mr Morris could throw the ball pretty hard. Though he never realised it at the time, he was actually throwing far harder and far faster than he ever did throughout his earlier years.
The kids continued to be mightily impressed with their coach and so cut a straight deal with him. They promised to endeavour to reach the District Playoffs on the condition that if they did, that their coach would have another stab at minor league baseball. It's the stuff of dreams really but the kids somehow reached and won the playoffs that season. In hindsight this was essentially due to the fact that they were being served with the equivalent of major league pitches. Of course at the end of the season it then left Jim Morris with no option but to try keep his end of the bargain afterwards.
Now the movie moves swiftly on from this point. Morris tentatively attends the minor league tryouts and being surrounded by kids nearly half his age clearly found it unsettling. Well he was not the only one who was unsettled, even the talent scouts were suitably embarrassed for him. Anyhow he is given a shot to pitch and show his stuff. The charms of this movie really do reveal themselves throughout in a many number of the scenes and this whole tryout episode is charming to say the very least. He stands on the pitchers mound, the speed radars are all pointed on him and he fires off his first throw. Hmmmm the reactions from the scouts are interesting. He's asked to do it again. Hmmmm little looks over the shoulder and a few more mutterings this time. He is asked to do it again and again and again. A total of 12 times in fact before he's asked to step down off of the mound. Now Morris consoles himself that at least he's had a go and if he's suitably embarrassed himself then it was what he expected anyway. Little does he know that he's actually pitched every delivery at a consistent 98mph. Wow ! That's what you call a fastball and in baseball terns that is some serious heat !!! In actual fact you could count on one hand the amount of pitchers that could throw the ball at 98mph in the whole world at that time. So, in turn it naturally doesn't take long that he's enrolled into the minor league.
As a married man with children he faces all the uncomfortable compromises of having to give up a regular paying job. It's something that toys with his conscience and it's something that toys with the older viewer. It's the sort of realism and attachment to reality that tugs at the viewer's heartstrings throughout this movie. Eventually his perseverance pays off as a 98mph pitcher irrespective of age is simply too fast to be ignored by any decent team. In step the Tampa Bay Devil Rays who snap him up as a consequence. Jim Morris at the age of 35 finally gets a chance to achieve a lifelong ambition and play in Major League Baseball. It's an achievement that puts paid to all his lifelong self-doubts and all his doubters as well.
Dennis Quaid plays the role superbly and he really puts in a shining performance throughout this movie. His portrayal of Jim Morris is simply superb and you the viewer cannot help but be drawn in emotionally. The self doubt, the conditioning from his father from his early childhood, right through to his interaction with the kids and his burning desire to fulfil his ambition of playing baseball at the highest level, all tug on the heartstrings in a way many of us can relate to. Brian Cox plays Morris senior, his father and the tension between father and son throughout their lives is incredibly realistic. It's an uncomfortable form of respect that can only exist between a father and son and adds a wonderful context to Jim Morris's ambition and life.
Ever reminisced and thought “what if I had done that in my life instead?” Ever had a talent for something and never had the opportunity to fulfil your dreams? Hit an age in life where things are beginning to pass you by and your duty bound responsibilities start to take precedent ? Well, I would suggest that you have a watch of The Rookie and think again. You may just be inspired enough to get up off that couch and give it one last go.
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