Theme: The Game of Life
The movie begins with the story of Texas oil and its birthplace: The Santarita #1. The legend of the man who had hidden pools of wealth, the nuns who believed and invested in him, and the blessing of the land with rose petals1 is an outline of the movie in miniature. Its purpose is to place the film in the realm of faith, the supernatural dimension.
The Loss of Heart
The early scenes of Jimmy Morris' life are almost painful to watch. We see a youth with a gift and a dream. In three relatively short scenes, we see them all but lost. Echoing the theme of baseball, each move Jimmy is forced to make by his stern, taskmaster father is a strike against him. The last move sends him "out" to a barren land void of baseball, ending his dream and killing his hope. The face starring out the window of the family car reflects a loss of heart, a loss of "life".
Having left a box in Florida containing his socks and baseball glove, Jimmy wanders into Henry Sampson's Store in Big Lake Texas. There, three men (Henry, Cal, and Frank) enter his life and quietly begin the restoration of his heart. There is a profound contrast between Jimmy's angry father yelling at him in the unpacking scene, and Henry patiently helping him in the store. One man sees "more important things in life than baseball"; the other man sees the most important thing in life - a heart in need of restoration. For the remainder of the film, this unique threesome will be a part of the "greening" of Jimmy Morris' life.
"Hope deferred makes a heart sick" (Proverbs 13:12). As an adult, Jimmy's hope has not only been deferred, it's simply gone. Having had his shot at baseball and having been hurt, he has ended up the coach of a high school baseball team. As if to underscore how far from his dream he truly is, the team he coaches is a losing team with a dirt field.
The fields are very important to watch in this film. The high school field is transformed; it is "greened" as the team is transformed. First, there is no grass; they lose. As they begin to win, the grass begins to grow. By the Championship Game, the entire field is green and beautiful. (Note: It is because of Henry, Cal, and Frank that the grass grows.) What has brought about the transformation of the players symbolized by the transformation of the field? Hope. The team has seen something in their Coach that he cannot see and vice versa. They have seen a supernatural power released, and they want him to try one more time for the big leagues. They awaken the dream in Jimmy by making a deal with him. Following through with their part, they can say, "It's your turn, Coach."
Hope may awaken the dream, but there is a stepping out that is necessary to make it come true. For Jimmy, this is going to the Minor League tryouts - three children and all. It is important to see that on this day, as all the others, Jimmy's son, Hunter, plays a significant role. Whether he is cheering, speaking, laughing, or sleeping, he is the constant companion and voice that says, "I believe in you, and you can do this." For Hunter, it's never a question of if Jimmy will make it, only when. He is faith personified (Hebrews 11:1).
Just as Hunter believes in his father, his wife, Lorri, loves him. It is her unconditional, sacrificial love that ultimately releases Jimmy not to a dream, but to a destiny. She lays down her life that he might pick up this new life. Hers is the greatest gift (I Corinthians 13:13).
The Game of Life
The turning point for Jimmy comes when he decides to quit the Minor Leagues and return home. Alone, tired, and separated from all those who love him, he becomes vulnerable to the voices of discouragement, doubt, and despair. Sitting in a bar, he just happens to hear himself in a prerecorded television interview. What he hears is not only a description of his dream and the game of baseball, it's a description of life. "It's the drama, the suspense, the camaraderie; it's a great game." Coming out of the bar, he is drawn by the lights to a little league game. Standing there watching a young player, Jimmy has an epiphany2 regarding himself. It restores his desire to play the game and to live the life he was meant to live (Proverbs 13:12).
It is no surprise that "the call" to the Major League now comes to Jim Morris. These are the most powerful and moving scenes in the movie, and they speak a message that transcends baseball. Jimmy and his teammate arrive at the stadium early in the morning. A huge banner over the entrance reads "Home Plate". Jimmy has come home to a place already prepared for him. As the two men walk through the stadium, its size and grandeur put them in a state of awe. Entering the locker room, they find their place by the name on the uniform. There is an overwhelming sense of "this is the place you were meant to be".
That evening, Jimmy takes his place on the pitcher's mound. At long last, he does what he was meant to do. He is surrounded by all those who have hoped for, believed in, and loved him - a great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1-3).
Scripture: Proverbs 13:12
1. From ancient times the scattering of roses is a sign of resurrection.
2. Epiphany: A sudden, intuitive perception of an insight into reality or the essential meaning of something,
often initiated by some simple, commonplace occurrence. Webster's College Dictionary