SUBJECTS — Sports/Baseball; U.S./1991 – present;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Talent;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Trustworthiness; Responsibility; Caring;
AGE: 9+; MPAA Rating — G;
Drama; 2002; 129 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.
MOVIE WORKSHEETS & STUDENT HANDOUTS
TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students’ minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film.
Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM’s Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project.
In 1999 Jim Morris, age 35, was the oldest rookie that the major leagues had seen in 40 years. He pitched relief for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays during the last weeks of the season and for all of the 2000 season. This film accurately recounts the essentials of Jim Morris’ inspiring story of fulfilling commitments, hard work, devotion to excellence, and second chances.
SELECTED AWARDS & CAST
Dennis Quaid, Rachel Griffiths, Jay Hernandez, Beth Grant, Angus T. Jones, Brian Cox.
John Lee Hancock.
BENEFITS OF THE MOVIE
Mr. Morris’ experience demonstrates that if you meet the challenges of life with integrity and commitment, those challenges can turn into unexpected opportunities. The film was sold by Hollywood as a tale of second chances. That is accurate on one level. However, when analysed fully and supplemented by other events in Mr. Morris’ life, the lessons to be learned from this film include: that in order to make your dreams come true, you must fulfill your commitments, do your best, work hard, be lucky, and then, at some point, be willing to accept the hand that fate has dealt you.
MINOR. While many reviewers loved the film, some panned it. A typical comment was that “[t]he Rookie is feel-good film making at its worst. Everything about it smacks of the standard cookie-cutter crowd pleasers that the studios crank out all the time.” Daily Reviews.com, by Brian Matherly. However, the fact that the story is true, means that the film will work as a teaching movie.
Some alcohol use is shown. In an early scene, while the hero is at his job at school, a woman walks by and pats him on his derriere. It turns out to be his wife.
Review the Helpful Background section and describe its contents to your child. Then ask and help your child to answer the Quick Discussion Question.
At 35 years of age, Jim Morris was the oldest major league rookie in 40 years. He played the end of the 1999 season and all of the 2000 season with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He appeared as a reliever in 21 games. Morris signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers for the 2001 season but injured his arm in spring training and retired. For Morris’ statistics, see Score Card for Jim Morris at Baseball-Reference.com.
There are a number of points about Morris’ life that are interesting and important that weren’t shown in the film. Knowledge of these facts will enhance social-emotional learning and ethical issues to be learned from the movie.
As a child, Morris was so focused on sports that he was only a mediocre student. He first attempted a career in the major leagues when he was a young man. This effort took years of his life that other people spent in college or starting a career. Morris later looked on those years as wasted and it was difficult for him to pick up and start a normal life again. A few years after he had washed out in his first try at the majors, Jim Morris went back to school, mostly part-time because he had to help support his family. In all, it took him 14 years, thousands of dollars in student loans and time away from his wife and children to get a college degree. He graduated with excellent grades.
When Morris was 28, he played football at Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas. He was an All-American punter, leading the nation with an average of 44.5 yards per kick. He also dreamed of punting professionally but the professional football teams weren’t interested. This was a dream that Morris was not able to pursue.
Jim Morris and his wife had serious problems with their marriage and separated twice. According to Morris, his marital problems were caused primarily by his own lack of maturity. But he and his wife worked at it and they got back together.
If you looked at Morris’ life the day before his tryout with the Devil Rays, you would see a man who had suffered a major disappointment but who, after several years, had recovered and was making a good life for himself. He had finally gotten his college education. He had a wife he loved and children he adored. He enjoyed his career as a high school teacher and coach.
These aspects of Morris’ life are just as inspirational as his short stint in the major leagues and have more relevance to what will be the experiences of a vast majority of the young people who watch this film.
Being the right person at the right time always plays a role in success. “Some, including Morris himself, question whether he would have made the majors if not for the ‘novelty’ factor. As Morris progressed through the minors, there was already considerable national media coverage and talk of a Hollywood version of his story. In his book, Morris writes that he thought many others were more deserving to be added to the Devil Rays’ expanded September roster, but his agent, Steve Canter, told him to hang tight. ‘The Devil Rays, Steve explained, were fast losing fans who’d lost interest in the losing team, and they needed a good story to tell,’ writes Morris.” ESPN Page 2 – ‘The Rookie’ in reel life by Jeff Merron.
This film combines two of Hollywood’s tried and true formulas: the team of underdogs who triumph and the hero who overcomes the odds and attains his lifelong dream. There were a few points in the film that don’t appear to have a basis in reality but they are minor. They include the scenes of the nuns at the beginning and the end of the picture; the episode about the deer eating the grass on the baseball field; and the episode in which Morris pitches to a roadside radar sign. The portrayal of Mr. Morris’ father exaggerated his deficiencies as a parent.
The location of most of the events in the film, the town of Big Lake, Texas, is a town whose economy was based on oil. Santa Rita No. 1, the area’s first “gusher” started a boom in 1928. Since that time more than 140 million barrels of oil have been pumped from the Big Lake oil field. Santa Rita No. 1 was named the “Oil Well of the Century” by Texas Monthly and was productive until 1990. The University of Texas is one of the richest universities in the country, in large part because of its ownership of the land on which the oil was discovered. [Derived from ESPN Page 2 – ‘The Rookie’ in reel life by Jeff Merron.]
[No suggested Answers.]
2. Read this paragraph written by the well-regarded movie critic, Roger Ebert:
“‘The Rookie’ combines two reliable formulas: The Little Team That Goes to State, and the Old-Timer Who Realizes His Youthful Dream. When two genres approach exhaustion, sometimes it works if they prop each other up. Not this time, not when we also get the Dad Who Can’t Be Pleased However Hard His Son Tries, and the Wife Who Wants Her Husband to Have His Dream But Has a Family to Raise. The movie is so resolutely cobbled together out of older movies that it even uses a totally unnecessary prologue, just because it seems obligatory. I know, it’s based on a true story, but a true story that seems based on old movies….” Roger Ebert.
Name a movie that uses the “little team that goes to state” or the similar “underdog who prevails against all odds” theme.
3. What is the willing suspension of disbelief? If this story had been fiction, would you have believed it? What does this tell you about good fiction, including movies, novels, short stories, and plays?
The “willing suspension of disbelief” is just what it says. When a person reads a novel or watches a film that is fictional, the person will suspend his normal skepticism, at least for a while, to allow the storyteller to spin his tale. It is only if the events in the story are fantastic or so unlikely that they could not have occurred that the viewer or reader will start to question the story. In the case of “The Rookie” it is just too unusual for a major league team to pick up a 35-year-old rookie. In addition, the success of the bet with the baseball team that Jim Morris coached is also too unusual to be believed in normal fiction. It tells us that reality is often stranger than fiction.
1. On the day before his tryout with the Devil Rays, was Jim Morris a happy man? What was the state of his life at that time?
As shown in the film and in real life, Morris had become reconciled to the loss of a career in baseball and had rebuilt his life. He was happily married, had children that he loved, and a career that he enjoyed. There were times when he would think wistfully of what might have been, but he had moved on.
2. Should Morris have been dissatisfied with his life had he thrown a little slower and had he not been picked up by the Devil Rays?
No, he was a good father, a good coach, had a loving marriage etc.
3. Jim Morris’ students helped make a big difference in his life. Can you think of any situations in your experience in which a child helped an adult with a difficult decision or life passage?
It doesn’t happen often but it does happen. If the class can’t think of an example, give them one from your own experience. If you can’t think of an example either, you might use this true story of how a daughter and a grandson stopped their mother/grandmother from smoking. A grandmother had smoked a pack of cigarettes each day for thirty years. Her adult daughter, concerned for her mother’s health, objected to her smoking but could never convince her to quit. When the first grandchild in the family began to speak, he was asked to tell his grandmother that he was very sad that she was smoking because it meant that she could die soon. The grandmother stopped smoking. That was twenty-five years ago. She hasn’t touched a cigarette since and she is still alive and well today.
4. Jim Morris was a multifaceted athlete with enormous talent. Up until his tryout with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and his great stroke of luck, did that talent help him in his life?
No, and yes. No, because his attempts to develop his talent in baseball had come to nothing and cost him very important years of his life. While his years as a punter for his college football team may have brought him satisfaction, it brought him little else. Yes, because Morris’ talent and interest in sports, when combined with his interest in educating children, allowed him to become a coach and pursue coaching as a profession. It is trite but true that developing a talent usually takes great sacrifice.
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS (CHARACTER COUNTS)
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.
(Be honest; Don’t deceive, cheat or steal; Be reliable — do what you say you’ll do; Have the courage to do the right thing; Build a good reputation; Be loyal — stand by your family, friends, and country)
1. It looked as if Jim Morris would simply embarrass himself at the tryouts. What would he have lost if he had stayed home that day?
His sense of his own integrity and the second chance at his dream. Opportunities can come from fulfilling commitments.
(Do what you are supposed to do; Persevere: keep on trying!; Always do your best; Use self-control; Be self-disciplined; Think before you act — consider the consequences; Be accountable for your choices)
2. It’s very difficult to throw 12 straight balls over 96 miles per hour with excellent accuracy. After all, Jim Morris didn’t think he had any chance of making the team. What would have happened if, when Jim Morris had tried out, he hadn’t given his all? What if he had just pitched well and only achieved speeds of 80 miles per hour?
Morris was the type of person to give everything he had when faced with a major league tryout. This was not because he thought he had a chance and not because he realized that good things most often come when you do your best. He didn’t have either of those thoughts in his mind at the time. Morris’ willingness to put everything he had into those pitches arose out of his pride, his respect for the game, and his general approach to life.
(Be kind; Be compassionate and show you care; Express gratitude; Forgive others; Help people in need)
3. Allowing Jim to go to the minor leagues was a great hardship on his family. Why did Jim Morris’ wife encourage him to play in the minor leagues? What does that have to do with caring?
Nurturing is the essence of caring and nurturing Jim Morris required that he be allowed to fulfill his dream.
ASSIGNMENTS, PROJECTS & ACTIVITIES
BRIDGES TO READING
- Game Day by R. Young — Nonfiction — Grades 3 – 5;
- Batboy by J. Anderson — Nonfiction — Grades 3 – 6;
- The Good Days of Baseball: Sixteen True Sports Stories by Terry Egan et al — Nonfiction — Grades 3 – 6;
- Me, Mop and the Moondance Kid by Walter Dean Myers — Fiction — Grades 4 – 6;
- Shortstop from Tokyo by Matt Christopher — Nonfiction — Grades 4 – 6;
- Finding Buck McHenry by A. Slote — Fiction — Grades 4 – 6;
- Glovemen: Twenty-seven of Baseball’s Greatest by George Sullivan — Nonfiction — Grades 4 – 7;
- Hang Tough, Paul Mather by A. Slote — Fiction — Grades 4 – 6;
- Bobby Baseball by R.K. Smith — Fiction — Grades 4 – 6;
- The MacMillan Book of Baseball Stories by Terry Egan et al — Nonfiction — Grades 4 – 6;
- Great Moments in Baseball by Matt Christopher — Nonfiction — Grades 4 – 6;
- They Shaped the Game by W. J. Jacobs — Nonfiction — Grades 4 and up;
- Babe and Me D. Gutman — Fiction — 4 and up;
- The Story of Baseball by L.S. Ritter — Nonfiction — Grades 5 and up;
- The Kid from Tomkinsville by J.R. Tunis — Fiction — Grades 5 and up;
- Over the Wall by John H. Ritter — Fiction — Grades 6 and up;
- Satchel Paige by Kathryn Long Humphrey — Nonfiction — Grades 7 – 9;
- Baseball in April and Other Stories, by Gary Soto — Fiction — Grades 7 – 9;
- Choosing Up Sides by John H. Ritter — Fiction — Young Adult;
- Moves Make the Man by Bruce Brooks — Fiction — Young Adult;
LINKS TO THE INTERNET
In addition to websites which may be linked in the Guide and selected film reviews listed on the Movie Review Query Engine, the following resources were consulted in the preparation of this Learning Guide:
- The Oldest Rookie by Jim Morris and The Oldest Rookie: Big-League Dreams from a Small-Town Guy by Jim Morris, Joel Engel;
- Best Books for Young Adults by Betty Carter, Second Edition, Young Adult Library Services Association; 2000;
- Our Family, Our Friends, Our World by Lyn Miller-Lachman, R.R. Bowker, Providence, New Jersey, 1992;
- Children’s Catalogue, Eighteenth Addition, edited by Anne Price and Juliette Yaakov, the H.W. Wilson Company, New York and Dublin, 2001;
- Best Books for Children — Preschool through Grade 6, Sixth Edition, edited by John T. Gillespie, R.R. Bowker, New Providence N.J., 1998.
This Learning Guide was last updated on December 17, 2009.