I’m a huge Dennis Quaid fan. He can say more in a look than most people say with words in a lifetime. I loved Finding Forrester, so I was primed to see the second movie scripted by writer Mike Rich, a former Portland, Ore. disc jockey. The Rookie is the true-life story of Jimmy Morris — a small-town Texas high-school chemistry teacher/coach and father of three — who, at age 35, becomes the oldest rookie to play for the major leagues. As if that weren’t incredible enough, the back story is just as good. He is challenged to seek his life-long dream by the boys on the high-school baseball team he coaches — who themselves went from ho-hum losers to local heroes. With all the emotional bases loaded, does the movie strike out in a morass of predictable heart tugging or do we have a home run on our hands (a G-rated one, no less — when’s the last time you saw one of those rare birds?)? I’m thrilled to say that The Rookie is a hit. Quaid looks more appealing than ever, the screenwriter can look forward to growing old in Hollywood, and for all of those people who hate baseball … you’re gonna love it after you see this movie. As a kid, Morris lived and breathed baseball. Despite hard times and the toxic influence of a dream-killer father (Brian Cox, Braveheart), Morris made it into the minor leagues. But a catastrophic shoulder injury destroyed his career and benched him into a risk-free detour as a high-school teacher and coach. Morris finds it easy to lecture his losing team on their need to follow their dreams. But the kids have seen Morris’ fast ball (radar-timed at a phenomenal 98 mph) and throw the ball back into his court: If they get their act together, they demand he seek his own dream of playing professional baseball. When the high-school team turns themselves into champions, Morris has no choice but swallow his grown-up fears and keep his promise. He packs his three kids into the dusty station wagon and — while he’s changing a gooey diaper — finally gets the call to pitch for the jaundiced baseball scouts. Dig that foot into the sand, hold that ball like the precious golden globe it is, squint into the catcher’s eye, flex that injured shoulder, let all the dreams you ever had roll silently across your face for everyone in the bleachers to feel — and, man, throw that ball! Whoosh! Surprising everyone –including himself — that humdinger of a fastball takes Morris right into an offer to play baseball for the minor leagues. Loving wife (Rachel Griffiths, TV’s Six Feet Under) finally agrees that Morris has gotta do it because if he doesn’t, how can he be a role model to their son (Angus T. Smith (See Spot Run)? Can a man Morris’ age survive the ordeal of a minor-league season to make it to the big leagues? Is the movie’s tag line (“It’s never to late to believe in your dreams”) really true? Aw, heck, isn’t that why they make movies in the first place?
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