The Rookie
directed by John Lee Hancock
(Walt Disney, 2002)

To love The Rookie, you have to love baseball movies. It sure helps, anyway. And you have to love them a lot because, at more than two hours, Dennis Quaid's movie has lots and lots of baseball, from high school leagues to the big time.

It's based on the true story of Jim Morris, a Texas high school coach and chemistry teacher who once dreamed of a wider baseball world beyond small-town Texas.

Lots of kids have that dream, Jim admits (well, they did before the NBA and threatened strikes pulled lots of kids away from the game). But Jim actually had the arm to make a go of it until injury forced him to give up the game. Now, as a middle-aged father of three, he makes a deal with his last-place high school team: qualify for the state tournament, and he'll go to a Major League tryout.

It's not a spoiler to say the kids win, and he goes to the tryout. And his arm, much to his shock, is better than ever. And it brings up The Rookie's two central issues: Never forget your dreams. And, if you get a second chance as an old man to pursue a young man's dream, do you pursue it?

It's that second issue that has Quaid, as Jim, in knots. He has a wife, kids, a mortgage, a decent job he likes well enough. At what point do you say, "Enough"?

In the pantheon of baseball movies, The Rookie isn't quite Bull Durham in its ease and flow. It's too long, and some of its more "emotional" moments seem too scripted. Yet there are several, mostly between Jim and his wife, Lynn (Rachel Griffiths), and his kids, that have an unforced sweetness which carries an undercurrent of knowledge -- keeping a family going is hard, hard work even in families whose members laugh a lot and truly love each other.

Jim has to take the kids along to his big tryout while his wife's at work. Bumbling to the sign-up table with stroller and sticky kids, changing a diaper, while all around him guys half his age sprint and pitch, trying to talk to the baseball scout while his kids horse around in the car -- it is true, and it is funny.

It doesn't have much to do with baseball, but it does, ultimately, have everything to do with Jim's baseball dream.

The strengths of The Rookie come in its more gentle moments, when the script, which at big Disney moments veers toward oversentimentality, shows some restraint. There are little touches tossed in the background adding nice depth to Jim's story ("Jessica did it!" his son, Hunter, yells when they accidentally hit the horn while goofing off).

And the real Jim Morris gets his own cameo, playing a minor league umpire in Orlando.

A shot at the Majors. And a spot in a movie about your life. Some dreams are worth following.

- Rambles
written by Jen Kopf
published 6 September 2003

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