Today’s game 3 of the 2015 National League Division Series, and the Cards and Cubs are tied one each. If you’re not up on your baseball rivalries, this is one of the fiercest, and strangely friendliest, in the Major Leagues. In that spirit, I am giving my enthusiastic recommendation, as a lifelong Cardinals fan, for Rookie of the Year, a 1993 kid’s flick in which a boy pitches the perennial down-and-out Cubbies to post-season glory, because hey, I love fantasy films too.
Though it’s not a home run like similarly themed classics of the early 1990s (The Sandlot, The Mighty Ducks), the movie hits a solid double and enjoys a robust following among adults of a certain age residing along the Mississippi River corridor. Innocent, pre-American Pie star Thomas Ian Nicholas is a big reason with his dorky but charming boy-next-door appeal. After his character, 12-year-old Henry Rowengartner, breaks his arm trying to impress a girl, he learns that his tendons have healed too tightly, turning his arm into a rocket launcher. The Cubs, battling another losing season, immediately draft him in what we must assume is another last ditch attempt to field a winning team. Nicholas’s voice is always on the verge of breaking, which makes Henry’s high-pitched enthusiasm for playing with his heroes even more pronounced.
Once he steps into the locker room though, he finds that the other players are not too keen on sharing the field with a preteen upstart who, let’s be fair, is pretty bad at baseball. Chet Steadman (pre-reality show Gary Busey), the Cubs’ aging, washed-up pitcher, is particularly hostile. Off the field, Henry’s superstar status begins to alienate his friends. He’s not happy that his mom (Amy Morton) is dating a sleazeball (Bruce Altman), a guy who elbows his way into being his agent and who pairs up with the equally skeezy general manager (Dan Hedaya). For all his excitement, Henry realizes that being a pro athlete is kind of hard.
Despite his trials, which includes paying a $500 fine for showing up late to practice (“That’s like six years’ allowance!”), you can’t help but smile at the affection Henry has for the game, a feeling that is shared by the filmmakers. This movie infuses a lot of love for baseball, and the pitiable Cubs, and makes the sport seem fun to watch and play. You’ve got John Candy calling games like Bob Uecker from Major League and Henry convincing his teammates to egg on the opposing teams with sandlot taunts, to say nothing of the raucous Wrigley crowd once the home team starts racking up the wins. Henry’s desire to have the best damn time of his life puts the game and growing up into perspective. Just keep in mind that in this pre-mobile phone era, he and his friends try to build a boat – an actual working boat with a motor – when he’s not throwing balls to people and running around dirt paths. It seems sometimes, we all just need to laugh a bit more and take things a little easier. On that happy note, go Cards!!
Prod: Robert Harper
Dir: Daniel Stern
Writer: Sam Harper
Cast: Thomas Ian Nicholas, Gary Busey, Albert Hall, Amy Morton, Dan Hedaya, Bruce Altman, Eddie Bracken, Robert Hy-Gorman, Patrick LaBrecque, Daniel Stern, John Candy, Colombe Jacobsen
Time: 103 min
Country: United States