March 31, 2002 -- The philosopher Joseph Campbell was one of many who said this: "Follow your bliss." You could also say follow your dreams, follow your heart and never settle for less. This film, based on an incredible true story, is a fine example of that philosophy.
It is about a washed-up minor league pitcher, Jim Morris (Dennis Quaid) who had never made it to the big leagues, but that remained his dream. His doctors advised him against ever trying to pitch again with his surgically-repaired shoulder. He finds himself coaching baseball and teaching science at a dusty little town in Texas. One day while throwing batting practice, he throws a hard fastball, harder than anything his high school players have ever seen -- real sizzling heat. He challenges his team to play to the best of their ability and his team makes a bargain with him: If they win the division championship, he must follow his dream and try again to get into the major leagues.
The team, which had won a total of only two games in its previous three seasons, went on a winning streak. Morris doubted that even if major league scouts would look at him, that he would get a chance to pitch even in the minor leagues. Even when he was young, his fastball, in the mid-80 mile per hour range, was not good enough. Now he is twice the age of many major league prospects. Why would it be any better now? Morris' wife, Lorri (Rachel Griffiths of "Blow") didn't want him playing minor league baseball. The pay was lousy. He was away from home all the time, and then there were the injuries. When his high school team started winning, he began getting offers to coach for bigger high schools for more money.
Morris also got static from his father, Jim Morris, Sr. (played by Brian Cox), who urged him to be realistic and stick to jobs where there was a reliable paycheck. He had a wife and children to think of, after all. There was no reason in the world that Jim Morris should have realized his dream of being a major league pitcher, and yet, there was that fastball. There is a belief, advanced by Campbell and other philosophers, that if you do follow your bliss, the universe will arrange itself in such a way that you can realize your dreams, that is if you truly follow your heart. Few people have the courage to truly follow their bliss. Most people, being practical, settle for less. The result is people who are frustrated and unhappy with their jobs and their lives. Much happier are those who love their work, and would probably do it for free.
This movie is kind of a cross between "Bull Durham" and "Field of Dreams." There is the flavor of minor league baseball and big league dreams. There is also the theme of a father and a son trying to connect to each other through the sport of baseball. Most sports don't lend themselves to this kind of symbolism, but baseball is perhaps the most lyrical and poetic of all sports. Even in today's world where the violent sports of hockey and football have gained ascendency in this country, baseball continues to have a kind of mystic power. It is played in a park, a green oasis, a world apart from the dusty, desperate, grimy, shrill, violent world outside. It is played at its own pace and according to a strict set of rules that have changed little in a hundred years. It is a game steeped in tradition, but which also observes a strict meritocracy. It doesn't matter who you are. If you can throw a baseball close to 100 miles per hour with accuracy, you'll get your chance, particularly if you are a lefty.
The film, directed by John Lee Hancock, is a bit on the slow side, but so is baseball. The screenplay, by Mike Rich ("Finding Forrester"), wanders a bit, but the message is crystal clear. The story also has some toughness to it, some edginess. It is not too gooey and sweet. Quaid, Griffiths and Cox are all convincing and the supporting actors are also good, including the kids on the high school team. Quaid is particularly good playing sports figures, as he proved in "Everybody's All American." This is a film about a kid's game, but it is told from an adult point of view. There is sweetness in the story, as well as hope and triumph, but there is also bitterness and sadness. One line sums up the movie, after an epiphany, Morris turns to a teammate, and with a big grin says something like, "Guess what? We get to play baseball today!" This film rates a B.
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