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.]