From the Big Leagues to the Big Screen: The Story of Jim Morris

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I had the privilege of interviewing legendary major league pitcher Jim Morris a few months ago. Here is how the conversation went:

Baseball fan or not, it is very likely you know something about former Devil Rays pitcher Jim “The Rookie” Morris. You will recall almost fourteen years ago when Walt Disney Pictures began launching real life sports dramas starting with Remember the Titans (2000). The next in line was The Rookie (2002), led by Dennis Quaid as big league hopeful, Jim Morris.

Not only did Morris’s life inspire a movie, but he also wrote a book, The Rookie, formerly titled The Oldest Rookie (coauthored by Joel Engel) which gives fans further insight into his life. In the preface Morris states, “It’s not me who touches people; it’s what I represent: the possibility that dreams from long ago may still come true, even if they look lost forever.”

“But what about people whose dreams really are lost forever?” I asked him over the phone. “People’s dreams aren’t lost forever,” he said adamantly. “You’ve got to dream a dream and make it come true.” This stubborn persistence does not stop at just words, as exemplified by his life story of achieving the big leagues at the age of thirty-five (twenty-eight is considered elderly in the modern world of professional baseball).

But he’s more than persistent. Somewhere beneath the taciturn exterior is a big-hearted man who finds value in people and seeks to connect. In one episode as described in his book, Morris and a group of guys are playing Poker while a storm rages outside. Morris draws back the curtains and jumps at the site of Andre the Giant peering in (no joke), probably looking for shelter. All of them were too stunned to do the polite thing and invite him in. “What would you have talked to him about if you had invited him to join you guys?” I asked. His answer didn’t miss a beat:

“I would have liked to get to know him. Get to know the man instead of the persona. You want to see what they’re like and see what their hearts are like.” He then quoted his grandfather, Ernest, “Don’t judge anybody by the outside.”

His relationship with his grandfather proved to be tantamount in Morris’s life. It was his grandfather who taught Morris, among other things, to follow his dreams, and how to treat a lady, be respectful, and be a God-fearing man. It was his grandparents that helped show him the way to God. From fifteen on, he knew that the way toward God was the path he wanted to take. “After my surgery I went from 88 mph throws to 98 mph throws.” He went on to say that that could only have been God, and that no one’s complained about him publicly attributing his success and talent to his Lord.

Even moving from town to town (his father was in the Navy), Morris has been playing baseball since he was three years old. Even from that age, his throw impressed the neighborhood kids enough to invite him to play in their games. Even before he made it to the minors, he was told that it could take more than a decade to make it to the major leagues – if he made it at all. I asked him if any part of him wanted to throw in the towel at that point. “No. I’m stubborn,” he answered.

Though he hadn’t yet hit seventy home runs in one major league season, Morris struck Mark McGwire out early in his career. One could only imagine what Morris thought years later in 1998 watching his former competitor rewrite baseball history. When I asked if he wished he could pitch to him again, he said that you “always want to pitch to someone again, especially when they’re at the top of their game.”

Morris would have had no regrets if his journey to the big leagues stopped at the triple-A’s or lower. “I did something to help a group of kids trust adults.” And that’s where the Disney movie picks up Morris’s life. As a high school biology teacher and baseball coach, his team made a wager with him that if they won the District Championship he would have to try out for the major leagues. He became a superstar literally overnight.

They won, he tried out, and he was drafted by the Tampa Devil Rays, thanks to his 12 consecutive 98-mph pitches – not his age. By his second day in the big leagues, he had to change his name to get a hotel room because everyone from everywhere wanted to hear and report his story, and why it took so long for this old rookie to finally find his place on the pitcher’s mound. When he and his agent pitched the movie idea to Disney that week, he told them, “I want [the movie] to be about the kids and second chances.” As soon as those words were out of his mouth in the producer’s office, he thought, That’s it. I’m done.

The movie was not only green-lit – it was everything Morris wanted, lacking only the relationship between him and his grandfather, and the impact he had on young Jim’s life. Aside from that, Morris was pleased with the final cut of director John Lee Hancock’s 2000 film. Since then, he’s directed The Alamo, The Blindside, and most recently the critically-acclaimed Saving Mr. Banks, which Morris expressed enthusiasm for. “[He’s] one of the smartest people I’ve ever met,” said Morris about the director. He couldn’t emphasize enough how important it is for Hancock to get the facts right for his movies.

While filming, actor Dennis Quaid told Morris that if he sees anything wrong or out of character for him, stop him and correct him. Morris doesn’t keep in touch with his portrayer, although Quaid extended an invitation for him and his family to come out and stay at his ranch in Wyoming any time he’d like. “I feel like guys like him are on a different planet than guys like you and me,” said Morris when I asked if he plans on taking him up on that offer. “I just wouldn’t want to bother him.” I would love to hear someday that he took him up on it.

Jim Morris realized his childhood dream, with the help of a bunch of kids, at thirty-five. He pitched in twenty-one major league games from September 1999 to May 2000. Now, several years later, he’s travelling the world speaking to dreamers and baseball enthusiasts. He’s the official spokesman for Arms of Hope, a Texas-based non-profit Christian organization that assists children and single mothers in need of help. (You can check out their website at armsofhope.org.) He lives with his wife and children in Kerrville, Texas with their two dogs Max and Butter. Oh, and he’s still teaching baseball. I guess some dreams, even after they’ve come true, refuse to die.

For more information on Jim Morris, visit his website at Jimtherookiemorris.com.

My Top 10 Movies, No. 2

Brad-Pitt-in-Moneyball

Amongst the overgrown lineup of best picture nominations for the 83th annual Academy Awards (2011) was a movie only the closest movie-watchers would have known about.

It’s a true story about a California baseball manager, Billy Beane… hold on. This is a baseball movie that even the most adverse baseball critics will enjoy – my wife, for one. She doesn’t give two rats’ tails about baseball, but she’s watched this movie twice since we got it. In fact, Moneyball is hardly about baseball, but rather it’s about how a particular man chose a revolutionary path to running a failing professional baseball team. 

The book, by Michael Lewis (The Blindside) can be found in the business section of the bookstore – not the sports section.

Brad Pitt portrays the insecure, rags-to-riches Oakland A’s manager with convincing skill and such an easy-going manner that it’s hard to recall that he’s regarded as Hollywood’s pretty-boy.

And Jonah Hill, an R-rated comedy regular, pulls off his role as the timid numbers-happy assistant with much more talent and raw humor than I’ve ever seen from him, spotlighting his acting skill with a deeper layer you’ll hope he keeps displaying in future roles.

Like Frost/Nixon, Moneyball is about putting it all out on the line. Even though pride and a posh career are at risk, Beane holds nothing back in order to jump head-first into an unexplored experiment in baseball management, budgeting, and putting faith in those who’ve yet to earn it.

There aren’t any special effects or explosions in this film, but the acting far outweighs any of those trivialities. I’m in the middle of the book right now, and though it’s mildly interesting, it’s not nearly as compulsive as director Bennett Miller’s take on the underdog story. You might even call it a milder version of a modern Cinderella tale. 

Don’t wait to rent this movie, because you’ll want to watch it again and again in months to come. I nearly have withdrawals if I don’t watch it a couple of times during baseball season.

Another plus is that the great Philip Seymour Hoffman pops up every few scenes adding intensity and pressure to an already compelling story.

So, enjoy your weekend watching Moneyball. You’ll be thanking me when it’s over.

 

A Brilliant and All-American Documentary

baseball-ken-burnsIt’s snowing outside the coffee shop right now as I write this. March is just struggling to hang in there, and determined to go out leaving a legacy of the coldest March Louisville has seen in quite some time. (And yet, I still slurp on my ice-cold frappuccino because I couldn’t do a hot drink even if I were sinking with the Titanic.)

It’s snowing in late March. And despite that, baseball charges forward.

In just a few days, Robin’s words will seem almost prophetic: “Crackerjacks, Batman!”

Buy me some peanuts and crackerjacks.

Come March 31, the MLB will make its grand 2013 appearance.

The corn will be popping,

The Thwack of ball on glove will soon be heard by young Major League hopefuls,

The infield grass, whether laden with snow or not, will be mowed to code,

Freshly pressed uniforms will be donned for the first time since October.

And Ray Charles will echo the dazzling fizzes and pops of fireworks against star-lit nights with “God Bless America.”

Even though Sarabeth doesn’t celebrate America’s true pastime in her heart like I do, she still is gracious enough to tolerate my obsessiveness. I don’t follow any team in particular, and I don’t even keep up with the latest scores or modern-day greats, but I follow the history of baseball.

I love reading about the longest game ever played, learning about the scandals, and seeing how pop-culture icons can still use the game to re-spark a general interest in it by the public by telling freshly spun stories surrounding the game and how it relates to life.

I love baseball of old.

That’s why I’m recommending Ken Burns’ documentary simply entitled, Baseball. 

It’s a ten-part series, each episode two hours in length, and available to watch on Netflix Instant Watch.

Ken Burns literally picks the story up well before Baseball was even called that – Cricket, rounders, bat ball, ball, base-ball, baseball. The documentary tells about the game bringing Confederates and Unionists together during the Civil War, and early-day entrepreneurs attempting to introduce the game to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and England where it was denounced as “Just a fancy form of the otherwise deplorable and infantile sport, rounders.”

Baseball.

It’s hard for me not to get choked up during the National Anthem being sung before a perfectly-cut diamond set in a bright green field.

Even though you’re covered in snow in this part of the country, welcome, Spring. Welcome. Curse us with your snow, but we will still lick cotton candy off our fingers, paint our hot dogs with red and yellow, and dress our burgers up with all the gifts that spring farms bring – freshly cut tomatoes, crisp lettuce, crunchy onions.

If, for some reason, you can’t make it to a game this summer, gather around the TV and watch history unfold on the baseball field, in the dugout, in the ticket booth, and in some of the greatest stadiums ever built upon this free land.

Check out Ken Burns’ Baseball. And relive America’s greatest pastime with those you love.

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The Best Book I’ve Ever Read is…

Bottom-of-the-33rd

I have been waiting all year to read this book again. Ever since I read it last April, I’ve often daydreamed about it.

During the hot summer days of 2012, trapped behind a cash register at my day job, I often escaped to the frigid midnight setting of this masterpiece by poet-like author Dan Barry.

During the windy days of fall, my imagination still would not let me forget the Easter Morning images of a crippled ballpark in Pawtucket, New Jersey that was destined for record-setting greatness.

Even as Carols played in the car driving with my wife to Christmas Eve Service, I anticipated the day I would once again crack open the modest book about little-known McCoy Stadium, pregnant with soon-to-be greats such as Cal Ripken Jr. and Wade Boggs, and nurturing has-beens and never-quite-was’s, just dreaming of the day they could grace the filed of a major league stadium, if not for just a moment in time.

Sarabeth and I make it a point to read books with each other. She doesn’t like baseball much – hates it, really. But after reading just a few pages of The Bottom of the 33rd to her, she agreed that Dan Barry is a very good author. And if there’s anything to know about Sarabeth, it’s that she does not say something unless she means it.

So Baseball haters, I’m telling you that this book is so good, that even you should give it a chance.

With the number of books I’ve read in my lifetime, I believe I can qualify as a book critic if I wanted to (just got to figure out how, I guess). And this often-tough critic gives this book a certified 100% approval rating. Why don’t you take a moment to read a couple of select paragraphs from the Prologue to see if it convinces you to get this book:

“Three thirty in the morning.

“Holy Saturday, the awkward Christian pause between the Sorrow and the Joy, has surrendered to the first hushed hours of Easter. The cold and dark cling to the rooftops in a Rhode Island place called Pawtucket. Triple-decker houses, packed with three, four, six sleeping families, loom over its empty, half-lit streets, while the river that cascades through its deserted downtown releases a steady, dreamy sigh. Yet somewhere in the almost sacred stillness, a white orb disturbs the peace, skipping along the night-damp grass, flitting through the night-crisp air, causing general unrest at three thirty in the morning on Sunday, Easter Sunday.”

“Someone not here tonight could pose quite legitimate questions to the players and fans, questions that would naturally start with why. Why did you keep playing? Why did you stay? At two o’clock in the morning, and then at three o’clock, why didn’t you just – leave? The official answer, that some umpire refused to call it a night, would be so lacking in the weight of common sense that it might twirl off like a deflating balloon before the sentence could be finished. But the truer answer might be as unsatisfying to the outsider as it is surprising to these inhabitants of this in-between place, where time’s boundaries have blurred.

“Why did you keep playing? Why did you stay?

“Because we are bound by duty. Because we aspire to greater things. Because we are loyal. Because, in our own secular way, we are celebrating communion, and resurrection, and possibility.”

Do not delay this Easter Season. Get The Bottom of the 33rd on Amazon here.

Disclaimer: This book contains frequent use of the F-word.

I also recommend: Calico Joe by John Grisham and The Rookie by Jim Morris.

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The Longest Baseball Game Ever

There is a certain type of story that is unique to all other types of plots. The content may vary, the themes might oppose one another, and the setting will almost always never be the same. It is a type of storytelling that I have been falling more and more in love with, and honestly I don’t even know if there’s a technical name for it.

I call it “singular plot” storytelling. I doubt if it could ever work for fiction. But what I mean by singular plot storytelling is that type of story that focusses exclusively on one split-second time frame, in one location, plucked out from all of history and examine it exhaustively from every angle. Fans of movies like 127 Hours, World Trade Center and Phone Booth will know what I’m talking about. It’s the type of story that stays in one place and only leaves the setting or the characters through a series of flashbacks, if any.

The Bottom of the 33rd is one such book, where we never leave the ballpark. To do this as a storyteller is deserving of my admiration. Author Dan Barry has earned said admiration. I’ve been wracking my brain trying to decide if I’ve come across a writer that possesses such great prose since Charles Dickens.

It’s difficult to own up that going to a ball game this summer would not be the wisest use of our money in this economy, but I feel like Mr. Barry provided me with VIP tickets complete with locker room tours, pre-game exposure, and everything else a baseball fan could ask for in this unforgettable book.

James Patterson fans and baseball haters may now excuse yourselves if you wish. This book is not a pulse-pounding thriller, but it delivers a grand slam of a a singular story about baseball’s longest game ever played. Even though it wasn’t televised, it’s all true, and the publishers provide a photocopy of the ridiculous scorecard to prove it.

Join the Pawtucket Red Sox and the Rochester Red Wings on Easter Eve, April 18, 1981. It’s the AAA minors, the game is unimportant as there aren’t even any scouts, and almost every player is sporting a mustache carried over by the ’70’s. Barry does a masterful job at retelling the play by play, pausing at just the right moments (“Dave Koza drifts to his right… ready to catch a ball he believes is his…”) to flash back in time to enlighten his readers about each influential player, manager, and batboy about who they are and why they’re still at the local ballpark at 3 in the morning on Easter Sunday, trying to keep warm, praying that this game would just be over already.

Being a fan of brilliant and rare writing styles, America’s favorite pass time, and stories that revolve around singular plot lines, I cannot recommend this book enough, especially with the temperatures rising and the grass shining green just off the patio. Treat yourself to a simpler time and take a tour of the small town called Pawtucket (Paw-TUCK-et) tucked in the small Rhode Island state and stop by McCoy Stadium on your way to the Easter Church service, and ask the Pawtucket’s manager, Joe Morgan, what he’s doing peering through a hole in the backstop at 3 in the morning. I’ll be revisiting this book for many more summers.

Disclaimer: This book contains frequent use of the F-word.

I also recommend: Calico Joe by John Grisham

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Summer Movies

I have a few weird habits concerning my movie collection. First, I alphabetize my DVDs. I’m sure that’s one of those things that’s weird, but common. Second, I categorize them into Drama, Action/adventure, Comedy, and animated in four different cabinets throughout our loft (and of course a special shelf that exclusively displays my Pixar movies). Now, that’s getting a little weirder. But wait – there’s more! The weirdest thing I do is watch my movies seasonally. Most people have regular movies, and Christmas movies. I divide mine up into Christmas, winter, spring, and fall movies. Quirky, I know. I just can’t watch White Fang when it’s 98 degrees out, you know?

So with that said, I’ve just pulled out all of my Summer movies that we’ll be watching in the next few months and I realized that most of them have a recurring theme (no, this was not intentional). Most people have common themes that run through their DVD and book collections. For some, their themes might be romance, and finding your true love (Never Been Kissed, 10 Things I Hate About You, Bridgett Jones’s Diary). For others it might be the idea that death and blood and gore are glorified elements (Halloween, Freddy, Walking Dead). For many, the theme is mindless (and sometimes funny) 90-minute breaks from reality (Dumb and Dumber, Anchorman, Monty Python).

The theme for our Summer movie lineup, I discovered, is redemption. Bellow are films I highly recommend if you’re browsing through Netflix and just need to be inspired to get off your chair and do something meaningful for others and your family. Feel free to recommend some of your own. Enjoy!

The Last Samurai

I remember years ago when I saw the poster for this movie hanging up in the hallway of the movie theater, I thought instantly, “That has got to be a joke.” Tom Cruise as a Samurai warrior… really? But this film wows me the more times I see it. Though my wife and I quibble over the validity of this film’s origins, it is a wonderful reminder that no no matter how far we’ve sunk, how far we’ve fallen, or whatever we’ve done, there is always a reason to redeem yourself and a chance to start your life anew.

The Majestic

Say what you will about Jim Carrey, but he really does pull himself together for this one. It’s a perfect film to celebrate 4th of July or Memorial Day. This film is a testament to why we should stand up for what we believe in and not be so pacifistic as many of us have become. It reminds us that our freedom came at a very high cost and that there is shame in shrugging it off as no big deal. Our country was worth the fight, and if we agree, we will show a little more respect toward it.

Sweet Home Alabama

I’m not much into romantic comedies at all, and this movie is hardly a funny, though it is lighthearted. I appreciate this movie so much because it defends the honor and integrity of marriage. The main characters have been trying for a divorce for many years, but something in them just won’t let them go through with it, even if it means ditching the new boyfriend. Marriages are worth fighting for, and this movie shows that it’s not easy, but the rewards can be great.

Cinderella Man

Whenever you put Russell Crow and Ron Howard together, you’re in for a great time. Not great time as in, escapism. But more like, getting to see a movie for what, I believe, movies are meant to be made for – documenting the lives of otherwise overlooked, great personalities in our world’s history. Cinderella Man is a fine film that does just that. Our country is headed toward hard times, and this is a great film for fathers and husbands to see to give them a picture of how a real man handles difficult times.

The Sandlot

This is an oldie, but very much a goodie. And yes, the 4th of July scene with the fireworks makes me cry every time. With all this talk about putting a stop to bullying these days, this is a great film for kids to watch as it shows that we can’t expect to change society to accommodate our insecurities, but we must be willing to adapt to some surroundings if we want to be accepted into a group. Show ’em what you’re made of and you’ll earn their respect.

Other redemptive movies: Finding Neverland, A League of Their Own, A Beautiful Mind, Finding Nemo, Cars

Image credits: Last Samurai, The Majestic, Sweet Home Alabama, Cinderella Man, The Sandlot

This Summer’s Reading List

Summer’s approaching and that means… book fever! Yes, it’s time to dust off those books you’ve been meaning to read for so long, pull out those books you received for Christmas last year, open them up and start reading. I always say that no one is too busy to read. If you’re saying that, then stop *reading* this blog (or tweet), and stick your nose in a book. (And not a book that’s most likely going to be made into the next steamy movie – that doesn’t count… that’s just watching a silly movie in slow motion.)

So as you’ve probably figured out by now, every Tuesday is Book Rec day here on Adopting James. I’m just tingling with excitement over the next several books I’m going to read  this summer. Here’s a sneak peak at my bookshelf I’ll be making my way through in the next few months, so if you have any of these books, you can read along, or maybe this post will inspire you to get out there and treat yourself to some useful purchases. Be looking for my reviews in the next few months. And remember, I’m open to suggestions, so email them to me or comment. Happy reading!

This will be my first official baseball book, as I’ve just recently developed a love for the sport. I’m more interested in the history of baseball than taking it up as something I currently follow. Anytime you mix history in with something, my attention is taken captive. And heck, reading about the world’s longest ball game could be a good way to begin my baseball reading endeavor. Anyone have any other baseball book suggestions?

 

 

I am indebted to this man, like many of you, in so many ways. No so much because of the products he’s invented (Sarabeth and I still only have a MacBook, but would like others), but because of certain investments he’s made. Many people don’t know this, but it was Steve Jobs who gave Pixar Animation Studios their start by funding them back in the late ’80’s. In so many ways, it’s because of Steve Jobs that we have movies like Toy Story, Up, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and others, thus ultimately saving the Disney Studios. And, I’ve been told that it was Jobs himself who suggested Woody be a good guy rather than antagonistic when Lassetter, Stanton and their team were creating the first Toy Story . Why is that such a big deal, you ask? Let’s just say I’ve got a small collection of Woody figurines on my desk, including a real pull-string Woody doll on my bookshelf… with my name (Andy) written on the bottom of his right boot.

 

This is one of my favorite books, written by one of my favorite classic authors. If you haven’t read it, or Around the World in 80 Days, you finally need to do so. Plus, I hear Disney is making a movie about Captain Nemo, so… gots to be prepared for that.

 

 

 

I’ve heard nothing but outstanding things about author Erik Larson, and especially this book of American history. It’s set in Chicago, 1893, and centers around an architect, who was behind the idea of the 1893 World’s Fair, and a serial killer who used the fair to lure his victims to their death. This sounds like it has all the makings of a classic. Why didn’t they teach us this sort of stuff in school?

 

 

This book came highly recommended by Dr. Albert Mohler, and quite frankly, after reading a couple of his recommendations, I just keep going back to his list for more. And, after seeing The Conspirator last year, I’m very excited to get the story inside the story. I mean, other than hunting down Nazis or terrorist, what else could be more exciting than searching and capturing John Wilkes Booth? Plus, this will be great preparation for Spielberg’s Lincoln coming out this summer – And no, he does not go around hacking zombies to death with an axe.

Additional books: The Universe Next Door, Sire; The History of Israel, Kaiser; To Try Men’s Souls, Gingrich; America: The Last Best Hope, Vol. 2, Bennett; God’s Passion for His Glory – Piper

Image credits: Bottom of the 33rd, Steve Jobs, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Devil in the White City, Manhunt