Former Tampa Bay Devil Rays’ relief pitcher Jim “The Rookie” Morris recently sat down to talk with me about his new book “Dream Makers.”
It was such an amazing story, Disney made a movie about it in 2002 called The Rookie starring Dennis Quaid.
If you are familiar with his story, you know he ended up teaching at Reagan County High School in Big Lake, Texas. He took over as head coach of a baseball team that had won exactly one game in each of the previous three seasons. In his second season, he led them to a district title, and then, at 35-years-old, he tried out for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Three months later he made his major-league debut.
Flashback to his first attempt at professional baseball. Jim was sitting in a room with Dr. James Andrews discussing his future. After multiple surgeries, he decided it was time to move on with life after baseball. He went to college and became a teacher.
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Morris for our soon-to-be relaunched Rays Colored Glasses podcast. As a former teacher, I was curious about his experience as an educator and a leader in the community.
“Growing up with my dad being physically and verbally abusive, and screaming and cursing at me all of the time and telling me I would never make it. Then some high school coaches and coaches along the way who would scream, curse, and yell.”
“I thought, man if I ever coach kids – which I want to be a part of baseball and I can’t play so I might as well coach – I want to talk to kids and not talk through them. I don’t want to scream at them and I don’t want to curse at them. I want them to know that I care about them and their future.”
“It’s not just about baseball when you have them on the field. It’s about the whole child you are trying to bring up. If I can instill character and integrity on the field, then we can take it into the classroom and we can instill it there.”
“I wanted to teach them the opposite of what I did. It’s been an incredible journey and a testimony to those kids.”
Jim went on to discuss the impact a teacher or a coach can have on a student’s life. Sometimes the impact goes far beyond how you teach the curriculum in the classroom. He recalled an occasion where another teacher approached him about a student.
“This kid is a sorry kid, you need to watch him.” the other teacher told Morris.
Drawing upon on his troubled home-life as a child, Jim retorted, “You don’t know what he had to go through to get out of that house. You don’t know what that kid had to go through to get from the house to the school, or down the hallway and in the bathroom. We don’t know.”
Every day Mr. Morris took the time to say “hello” to him or simply ask how he was doing, or if he needed anything.
Every day for two years, he made it a point to simply acknowledge his existence.
“I never heard from him again until five years ago. I get this letter and it is the most amazing letter. He’s married, he has three daughters, he’s a great father, he owns a company.”
The letter read, “You are the only person that ever took an interest in me and you talked to me every single day when nobody else would. For that, I want to thank you. You’ve helped me become the man I am today.”
“That is what teachers do.”
The new book is Dream Makers. In it, Jim talks about his love of baseball and describes his major-league debut in great detail. Unbelievably, perhaps the biggest obstacles came after his miraculous journey to the big leagues.