Well, I finally sat through The Rookie. The 2002 Dennis Quaid vehicle wasn’t bad, per se, but it sure was a grind. The feature film clocks in at more than two hours, and is essentially two movies in one. The first movie painstakingly details Jim Morris’s childhood and life as a thirty-something father and high school teacher. His experience of starting up a high school baseball club and inspiring them to be winners felt like a complete after-school special in itself, but then the real movie starts–over an hour in. Despite having a big budget and being generally well-acted, well-shot, and well-edited, nothing can save us from 127 minutes of pure Disney schmaltz.
But you’re not visiting this site to read a twenty-year-old movie review. (If you want to do that, especially while ruminating on the passage of time, read Bill Simmons’s cringe-worthy review from ’02.) No, we’re here to talk the minors. Unfortunately, the film does not show any of Morris’s dalliance in the minors as a young man in the eighties, so we are deprived of seeing teams like the Paintsville Brewers and Sarasota White Sox. Instead, we get a brief segment (rife with montages) of Morris’s time with the Orlando Rays, followed by another brief segment showing him with the Durham Bulls before his callup to the Devil Rays. Fortunately, the film did a great job of being level-accurate with not only the featured teams, but the opposition teams.
Let’s break it down. Note that there are surprisingly few stills floating around on the Web from this movie, especially those that show minor league action. Other than the shot of Quaid at the top of this page, all these images were made by pausing the film as it played in my browser, then taking a screenshot. As such, the resolution/quality isn’t ideal.
The first opponent of the Orlando Rays that we get a clear look at is the Carolina Mudcats. You have to squint a bit to make it out, but that is clearly a Mudcats logo for a sleeve patch. As weird as it might seem to have the Mudcats and Orlando slugging it out at the Double-A level, let’s remember that these two franchises eventually became the Montgomery Biscuits and the Pensacola Blue Wahoos–two perfectly natural Southern League rivals.
The other opponent that we see is the Birmingham Barons. There are some nice, clear images of Barons batters (or actors in uniforms) whiffing at Morris’s fastball. The Barons are shown in their Michael Jordan-era uniforms, which aren’t that different from what they have today–just without the red embellishments.
The Mudcats and Barons are the only two Southern League teams that are shown facing the Rays. The film does a great job of quick-cutting between them in strikeout montages, and the filmmakers were able to drive home the impression of Morris’s Double-A stint while only having to suit up fake teams twice.
It sure was serendipitous for the filmmakers that Jim Morris happened to have played for the Durham Bulls on this way through Tampa Bay’s farm system. The events of the film happened shortly after their move up to Triple-A, so it was pure luck that The Rookie could piggyback on the Bulls brand–already a well-established part of general baseball knowledge due to another film. This image doesn’t do justice to how nicely Durham’s uniforms looked in the movie, and it showcased the script on the jerseys that was sort of a blend of old-school cursive and nineties-era garishness.
The opposing teams were pretty underwhelming. I assure you that this image at left is the best that I could capture of this team–and that’s after rewinding and pausing about a million times. It’s a quick flash of a strikeout against a player for a team with logo-less helmets. However, there’s just enough of a hint peeking out underneath that arm to make me feel 99% sure that this is the Richmond Braves. For comparison, check out this image of Chipper Jones from his time in Richmond. It’s from about a decade earlier than the film, but the R-Braves’ road grays look accurate.
The next opponent is even more difficult to make out. Birdwatchers talk about getting the giss of a bird in flight and being able to make an educated guess at identifying it. Similarly, when I watched this brief flash of an opposing team, my thought was “Charlotte Knights.” There was sort of a blue and green sparkle to the cap and jersey lettering, and certainly Charlotte would be an appropriate southerly IL opponent to the Bulls. The still I was able to grab is inconclusive. It appears that there is some lettering on the left side of the chest (CHA?) and another image on the right side. It’s worth noting that in those days, some Charlotte jerseys had the horse logo on the right side. Is that what we see here? It’s hard to say conclusively, but that’s my guess.
Fortunately, the final minor league team appearing in the film is much clearer, with a strikeout victim being a fictional member of the Norfolk Tides. These are the blue-based “toothpaste” Tides uniforms that they wore through the most of the nineties, aughts, and up until their rebranding after the 2015 season.
Though it is a bit disappointing to see that the filmmakers opted against using some of the more unique identities (Louisville RiverBats, anyone?) of that era, the disappointment is more than cancelled out by the satisfaction of seeing accurate opponents for the Rays and Bulls. Compared with other films, like Major League: Back to the Minors, The Rookie was a breath of fresh air as far as authenticity is concerned. Other than that, watching this film was about as fun as reading outdated magazines in the waiting room of a dentist’s office.
Oh, the hardships we endure in the struggle to catalog the history of minor league baseball.
Click here to read more entries in the Minors in the Movies series.