- Jeff Celentano
- Run Time
- 2 hours and 6 minutes
VP Content Ratings
- Sex & Nudity
- Star Rating
Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart… yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.”
We have seen dozens of inspirational films on leading baseball figures, such as The Jackie Robinson Story, Pride of the Yankees, The Babe, or the recent documentary about Yogi Bera, It Ain’t Over. The subject of director Jeff Celentano’s film biopic does not rise as high in the baseball pantheon as those in the already mentioned films, but his hero Ricky Hill faced as many obstacles to achieving his dream as all those major stars combined. Indeed, he faced such uphill handicaps as health issues and a stern father’s opposition, that his name should be changed to Mountain!
As sports films go, the film is totally predictable—why Rickey growing up in Fort Worth, Texas even has to wear leg braces because of a degenerative spinal disease. Also, his pastor father, Pastor Hill (Dennis Quaid), earns barely enough to feed his family–that consists of his mother Helen (Joelle Carter), his Gram (Bonnie Bedelia), and his older brother and sister. He loves baseball, but because there is no money, he has to settle for sticks and stones to practice hitting. Turns out, he is a heavy hitter—first to his brother who encourages him, then to a girl his age, Grace, and, after he hits a rock over the trees into a man’s windshield, Ray Clemons (Randy Houser). Ricky admits to Clemons that he hit the rock, and when, at the astonished man’s command, the boy repeats the feat, he becomes a life-long booster, encouraging the boy to dream of the big leagues.
Sadly, no matter how hard Rickey tries, his stern father pours cold water on his son’s dream. Even when the boy speaks in Pastor Hill’s own language, saying, “When I swing that bat, I ain’t crippled no more. I am David taking down Goliath.” In reply his father tells him that he has to choose between “God’s will or your will.”
Much of the church life that is shown seems more a chariture than real life, with an unkempt male parishioner smoking in his pew and a woman spitting tobacco juice into a can and onto the floor. This is like no Baptist Church that I have ever seen, nor is the unkempt building with its paint all but vanished like any of the white churches that I’ve seen in the South—we used to be able to tell from a distance whether or not it was an African American church or a white one by whether or not its sides were painted. I must say also, that, judging by the snatches of Pastor Hills sermons that we hear, his gospel is a judgmental one, based more on fear than faith. And thus, he certainly comes across in his many arguments with Ricky.
The story takes us through Ricky’s last year in high school, long after he has been able to throw aside his leg braces. Lots of improbable things happen, such as Grace, whom he has not seen since childhood days, showing up suddenly so she can encourage his dream. This adds to his brother, and now his Gram, and the adult from childhood, Ray Clemons. The latter believes in the young man so fervently that when he learns that Ricky needs an expensive operation on his back, he is willing to write a check as a loan against what he believes will be the lad’s future earnings. Pastor Hill rejects this, though fortunately, Gram and Mom speak up for the boy. There’s more, an ankle injury, surgery, from which the doctor declares the ankle will not heal in time for the upcoming major league tryouts. Red Murff (Scott Glenn), a retired player and now major scout, has gathered some 200 hopefuls at a nearby training camp.
This time the Big Game rally is different from any other baseball film. Ricky had ben almost cut due to his bad ankle, but Red Murff had agreed that Ricky could be the pinch hitter for both teams. Meanwhile, back at church on the same night, Pastor Hill confesses what had ben a boast—that he had NEVER attended one of his son’s baseball games. Will he stay away this time? Will Ricky, coming up to bat 11 times, thanks to batting for both sides, and never strike out, despite the ace pitchers Red calls in?
Predictable as it is, there are still inspiring moments in the film that even non-baseball fans will enjoy. Early in the picture when the family has moved to a new church and house, even more run-down than the ones they had been forced to leave, the children go to a local drive-in to order a hamburger, fries and coke for their Dad. They are a quarter shy, but the kind carhop adds her quarter. At home the children present to their father as, touched by their love, he picks the sandwich up. Also, Bonnie Bedelia’s Gram develops from harping criticizer to loving grandmother and at last fierce advocate for her grandson.
The end cards inform us that Ricky was picked up by the Montreal Expo’s in 1975 and played four seasons for their farm team before his childhood disease reasserted itself, giving him what was described as the “spine of a 60 year-old.” He retired and lived out a life of service. Pretty good for a boy who once had to wear leg braces!
No questions for this review.