The Rookie (2002)

Directed by John Lee Hancock
Written by Mike Rich

As a young boy, and I’m sure I share this sentiment with countless other baseball fans, but as a young boy my dream was to play in the Major Leagues. To play baseball for a living, what an easy job, right!? I mean, to play a child’s game is amazing. To get paid to do it is something altogether different. Of course, in my naive youth, I didn’t realize the hard work and dedication achieving such a goal would take, even if I had the natural talent to begin with. I’m not selling myself short, I was a pretty good ball player, made all the all-star and travelling teams in little league and played in high school, but at that level I can’t even imagine the ratio that ends up in the Major Leagues, given how small that number is even for guys who make it to the minor leagues. But I think the point is that I had a dream, and I felt passionately, and still do, about the game of baseball.

Jimmy Morris (Dennis Quaid) was the same way as a youngster, but the difference between he and I is that he had the talent. After moving ceaselessly as a kid thanks to his father’s Naval occupation, something for which Jimmy never quite forgave his father (Brian Cox), and even a short stint in the minor leagues coupled with multiple arm injuries, Jimmy settled into his hometown of Big Lake, Texas, a town devoid of the game of baseball. He married his sweetheart (Rachel Griffiths), taught science at the high school, and coached the fledgling baseball team, and pitched by his lonesome to the same backstop as when he was a kid. So when he made a wager with his players, after finding out he still threw pretty hard, that should they win the district championship, he would attend a major league tryout, Jimmy Morris once again began chasing his big league dream.

I think the first thing I want to mention about this film, The Rookie, is that it is a Disney movie, and in that regard it definitely falls under the category of Disney schmaltz. However, I don’t want to scare away too many people with that characterization of the film. In fact, the contrary. I like Disney schmaltz, especially when it is as balanced and restrained as it is in The Rookie. Look, it’s sentimental, it’s about dreaming big and following those dreams, it’s essentially like any other Disney movie in that regard, but it is a very marketable formula, and one which seems to work time and time again. Disney failed somewhat with Angels in the Outfield (1994), though it was a childhood favorite at one point. They redeem themselves somewhat with this film.

That is not to say it’s perfect. It’s not. There is a time near the middle of the film where the film begins to drag in parts. As it attempts to transition from the success of the high school team’s season, which, like Hardball, seems to lack a true turning point or coaching moment that feels real or valid in the absence of any kind of montage showing development or progress as a team (the team is a perpetual loser, then the coach asks them to play better, then they win the district championship) to when Jimmy is trying to make it in the big leagues. As a result, the baseball action certainly lacks behind some of the other entries in this baseball marathon. The high school season is sped through to get to Jimmy, and his journey consists of throwing the ball multiple times really hard. For Love of the Game captured the position and art of pitching much better because all we see here is Jimmy throwing the ball hard. That’s not pitching.

Yet, everything comes together, and I’d like to credit the soft touch of John Lee Hancock, who manages to take these disparate parts and carefully constructing his story around them. Hancock focuses on the human aspect of the story, to the film’s benefit. Keying on the relationships Jimmy has with his wife, his mother, his father, his son and especially his students and team, The Rookie shows a man worthy of following his dream, worthy of working hard to get it, worthy of the respect he demands from his players. It’s schmaltz alright, but the good kind, and delivered with a deft hand.

*** – Good

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