Monday, September 14, 2009

Happy in Strange Places

I’ve been listening to a book on tape this weekend called “The Oldest Rookie.” If that sounds familiar, you’re right. It’s the book the Walt Disney movie was based on. The subtitle of the original book is “Big League Dreams from a Small-Town Guy.” The subtitle of the book after the movie came out is “The Incredible True Story of a Man Who Never Gave Up On His Dream.” (And for anyone who’s interested in that kind of stuff, there’s a lesson there about titles.)

The movie focuses on a relatively short period of time, from the late 1990s when Jim Morris was challenged by the team he coached to try out for a major league team. The movie covered the next few years but this stage of Jim Morris’ life really only lasted a few years. By May 2000, his professional career was once again ended due to arm and shoulder injuries. Is he devastated to lose his dream once again? Not a bit. It was meant to be, said Jim Morris. Just part of God’s plan.

I like the book because it allows Jim to discuss his faith in God and his belief that God had a plan for him. "I consider myself very lucky,” Jim said. “God has a funny way of bringing some things around and knocking you in the head with the ultimate destination. Something I should have achieved quite easily took me a long time to get around to. It came in His time, not mine."

Sports were everything to Jim Morris growing up, but when sports were taken from him because of his injuries, he found a whole new world he’d never paid attention to. He found out he liked school and he was good at it. He had a knack for teaching and helping kids to understand and become interested in science.

A big part of Jim’s story is his relationship with his wife and their challenges. Part of those challenges came from his inability to communicate, but over time he learned how, painfully, and though a host of experiences, from his wife’s difficult pregnancies, to his own health problems, problems that actually helped him and his wife to grow closer although it seemed to add to the stress at the time.

I loved watching Jim get corralled into using his other talents, talents he didn’t know he had, as he began working with, first, people who were developmentally challenged and then youth considered at-risk. And then of course, there were the kids he coached. But baseball became something he did; it was a part of his life, not the whole of it.

And that’s the point Jim makes about the movie. “It's not a baseball movie. It's a family-oriented movie. It entails relationships with high school kids and adults, adults and adults, adults with children. Baseball just happened to be the dream that I pursued."

I also loved watching the difference between his description of 23-year-old Jimmy Morris playing professional baseball and 35-year-old Jim Morris trying out and playing baseball. It reminded me of something Laurel Ulrich Thatcher said. (She’s one of the few, if only, Mormon women to win the Pulitzer Price for her book about a midwife in New England in the late 1700s.) She went back to school when she was older and although she was intimidated at first, felt out of place, felt too old, she said, in a paraphrase, there’s a big difference between a 21-year-old with a humanities degree and a 41-year-old with a humanities degree. That should comfort anyone who’s thinking about going back to school but feels “too old.”

To Jim, his story is about second chances. "I don't know if I want anybody to walk away from the movie thinking about me specifically," he said. "I do want them to walk away asking themselves, 'Well, if I get a second opportunity at something, I should walk through that door.'"

Although I believe in second changes and am grateful for them, to me Jim’s book is about a lot more. It’s about the learning that takes place along the way. It’s about growing up and getting smarter and wiser. And it’s about finding ourselves, happy, in places we didn’t know we were supposed to be.

1 comment:

Cheri J. Crane said...

Wonderful post, Val. This appears to be another case where the book is better than the movie. This definitely sounds like a book I would enjoy.