The Rookie – Pitcher Jim Morris
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The team wins the District Championships and around the same time, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays hold open tryouts. To uphold his end of the deal, Jim goes to the tryouts but does not tell his wife because he does not want her to worry about him re-injuring his shoulder. After watching him throw a few balls, the head scout asks him how fast he was throwing fifteen years ago:
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Jimmy: I don’t know… 85-86?
Dave Patterson: You just threw 98 miles an hour.
Dave Patterson: Twelve straight pitches, three radar guns. Same thing on all of ’em.
Jimmy: Look, Dave, there’s no way…
Dave Patterson: Jimmy, I’ve been a scout for a long time, and the number one rule is, arms slow down when they get old. Now, if I call the office and tell ’em I got a guy here almost twice these kids’ age, I’m gonna get laughed at. But, if I don’t call in a 98-mile-an-hour fastball, I’m gonna get fired! I’m just saying there’s a chance you might get a call on this.
Jim’s wife Lorri finds out about the tryouts when the scout leaves several messages on their answering machine and at first, does not wanthim to go. However, after seeing how inspired their son is by his father’s accomplishments, she agrees. Jim then visits his father for advice, even though the two do not have a good relationship. His father’s response is not as supportive, citing “There is a difference between what you want to do and what you were meant to do.”
Jim is signed to a minor league contract by the Devil Rays and quickly moves up to the AAA affiliate, Durham Bulls. However, after a few weeks he decides to call it quits because of mounting bills at home and some resentment by his teammates who view him as a publicity stunt by the ballclub. His wife, Lorri, however, does not want him to have any regrets and urges him to stay a bit longer. After watching a Little League game one night, he rediscovers the same love for the game he had as a kid and stays with the team.
In September, Jim is called up by the Devil Rays while they are on a road trip in Texas to play the Rangers. He calls to tell his wife and son and the news quickly spreads throughout the entire town. His family, high school players, and most of the town make the 5.5 hour trip to Arlington to watch him. Near the end of the game with the Devil Rays losing by a lot, the bullpen phone rings to tell Jim to start warming up. He is called into the game to face Royce Clayton and strikes him out on three straight fastballs to end the inning.
After the game, Jim catches a glimpse of his dad behind all the reporters. After answering a few questions, he heads over to his dad to give him the game ball in which he struck out Clayton and the two talk about what went wrong in the past. Jim then meets up with his wife and they walk out of the empty tunnel together, then are greeted by the rest of his family and all the townspeople when the doors open.
Real Life, Reel Differences
- The film portrays Morris as a resident of Big Lake and a chemistry teacher at Big Lake High School. In reality, Morris lived in San Angelo and was a chemistry/physics teacher at Reagan County High School, which is located in Big Lake. There is no Big Lake High School.
- The film portrays the Big Lake Owls as barely having enough players. In reality, 55 players tried out for the team.
- The scene where Morris pulls off to the side of the road and gets out of his pickup truck to throw some baseballs past the radar sign didn’t really happen.
- Morris did throw 12 straight fastballs clocked at 98 mph at the tryouts and the scouts did double-check their radar guns. He also did have a 2nd tryout in the rain, but there was someone holding an umbrella over his head handing him dry baseballs.
- The Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Texas Rangers are wearing 2001 uniforms instead of 1999 uniforms. This was done so filmmakers can film actual footage of real games and fill in with athletes and actors wearing the same uniforms.
- The bullpen in which Jim warms up prior to his first major league appearance against the Texas Rangers is actually the Rangers’ bullpen; the visitors’ bullpen at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington is much less visible.
- In the film, Jim is called up to the majors with another AAA teammate, Brooks. In real life, Steve Cox was the player called up with Jim. Brooks was a fictional character created for the movie.
- Alex Rodriguez appeared as a member of the Texas Rangers but in 1999, he was still a Seattle Mariner.
- Morris does strike out Royce Clayton in his major league debut, but on four pitches, not three. Clayton fouled off the 3rd pitch.
Where Are They Now?
Jim Morris made 4 more relief appearances in the 1999 season. In 2000, he pitched in a total of 16 games. His final appearance came on May 9, 2000 at Yankee Stadium. He entered a tie game in the bottom of the 10th inning with the bases loaded and issued a game-ending walk to the first and only batter he faced, Paul O’Neill. He was sent back down to AAA two days later and ended up having elbow surgery. He was released in November 2000 and signed to a minor league contract by the Los Angeles Dodgers during the 2001 Spring Training, but shortly retired from the game after that.
Overall, the professional major league career of Jim Morris consisted of 21 relief appearances with a 4.80 ERA in 49 innings pitched and no wins, losses, or saves.
Jim wrote an autobiography, The Oldest Rookie, in 2000. It was updated and re-released as The Rookie in 2001 to coincide with Disney’s movie about his life.
After retiring from baseball, Jim became a motivational speaker in 2000 and briefly served as the Head Coach on his own baseball camp, Camp63.
Jim and Lorri separated and he remarried in 2002. He and his new wife, Shawna, currently live in San Antionio.
If you know Jim Morris or anyone from the 1999 Reagan County baseball team and would like to contribute additional information to this page, please send me an email!)