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Jim "The Rookie" Morris inspires dream makers

By KBell
April 28, 2011 at 7:01 p.m.
Updated April 27, 2011 at 11:28 p.m.

Jim Morris, also known as The Oldest Rookie, talks about life after a difficult start in professional baseball at the age of 35. Morris, who became a high school physical science teacher in Big Lake, is now a motivational speaker.

MORRIS' BASEBALL CAREER

POSITION: Pitcher

BATS: Left

THROWS: Left

BORN: Jan. 19, 1964 in Brownwood

HIGH SCHOOL: Brownwood

DRAFTED by the Milwaukee Brewers in the first round (4th pick) of the 1983 amateur draft (January Secondary)

MAJOR LEAGUE DEBUT: Sept. 18, 1999

TEAM: DevilRays 1999-2000

FINAL GAME: May 9, 2000

Source: www.baseball-reference.com

A nearly packed auditorium at Victoria College watched Dennis Quaid portray the 35-year-old high school baseball coach turned major leaguer in a trailer to the Disney movie, "The Rookie," on Thursday afternoon.

At the end, the real life Jim "The Rookie" Morris walked on stage.

"I had makeup on when we filmed that," he joked.

In a speech mixed with hilarious quips, inspirational sound bytes and saddening anecdotes, Morris' life story was defined by what he called dream killers and dream makers.

"Surround yourself with the best people possible to be the best 'you' you can possibly be, and you will work out every time," he said.

As the last guest of VC's Lyceum Lecture Series, Morris talked about his first dream killer, his father. Morris said the movie, which he claimed was about 80 percent accurate, offered a G-rated version of the tumultuous relationship between father and son.

Having a movie made about the bumpy road to reaching his ambitions contributed to the understanding he now shares with others, he said.

Morris said his first dream maker was his grandfather, who taught him about strong handshakes, eye contact and being true to himself.

At the age of 15, Morris said, his father sent him to live with his grandparents, which completely changed his outlook on life.

"Jimmy, you're born with your name, and you die with your name. It's what you do in between that matters," he said his grandfather told him.

The same year his grandfather died, Morris was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers. He was 19 and thought, despite the dream killers in his life, he was on his way to achieving his dream.

After several injuries left him on the bench, Morris said he finally went to college and discovered the importance of education.

From that moment, he put all of his ambitions into fostering other kids' ambitions, by becoming a teacher and coach.

"I was the perfect person for this job at this point in time. There's always a plan, there's always a destiny. If we're learning, we're dreaming," he said he taught his kids.

The rest of the story, as chronicled in the movie, goes that the baseball coach made a deal with his struggling team - if they won the district championship, he'd try out for the major leagues.

"What it came down to is a promise I made to a group of kids who did not believe in adults: If you have a dream, chase it," he said.

When his team won, Morris upheld his end of the deal. Admittedly embarrassed to be trying out with kids straight from high school and college, Morris said he assumed he'd throw a few balls for the scouts and leave.

When he threw pitches reaching 98 mph, he was as surprised as the scouts.

Morris would end up being recruited to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

"At 35, it finally occurred to me, it's not about me. Not only is it not about me, it never has been," he said. "It's about dreams, it's about hopes, it's about aspirations, it's about achieving goals."

The senior baseball players from Victoria East High School said that's the message they took away from Morris's talk.

"Work hard, and dream big, and don't let anyone tell you differently," said 18-year-old Logan Curtis. "He had so much stuff bringing him down, but he rose above it."

The players joked they were going to make a similar deal with their coach, who seized the opportunity to bring them to the lecture.

The coach, Wes Kolle, said he took away inspiration from Morris as well.

"Any time I can go listen to somebody to help me grow professionally, I'm going to jump on it," he said.

If his players graduate knowing one thing, it would be, "to have a dream, don't settle - and work hard each day to make their dream a reality," Kolle said.

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