Jim Morris was a slightly overweight, 35-year-old high school teacher with a bad arm when he reluctantly tried out for a professional baseball team.
He expected to embarrass himself, but he promised the high school baseball team he coached that if it won the district championship, he would try out.
If his story sounds familiar, it’s because he was the inspiration for the Walt Disney feature film “The Rookie.” Morris visited Gainesville on Tuesday to share his story at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County’s annual Future for Kids Gala.
Morris said the Boys & Girls Clubs provides an avenue for children to achieve the impossible, just like he did.
“My kids can watch the film with their kids one day and know that I did something nobody thought I could do,” Morris said. “That’s what these kids are here for. They’re doing things that everybody else is counting them out for.”
Morris commended the Boys & Girls Clubs for the work it does in the community and said he too worked with at-risk youth for years.
All children need someone to believe in them, he said, and to remind them their dreams can be achieved. He reminded those gathered that they can be an instrument in the life of a child.
“Everybody has something going on,” Morris said. “But what excuse, how many will we come up with, before we realize the answer? The answer is our future, and our future is our kids.”
In 1998, Morris began coaching a high school team in Big Lake, Texas, that had won only one game a season for the three seasons before he arrived. He said he prayed about how to encourage and support his players, both on and off the field.
The same team would go on to win the district championship that year, and would be the reason he became a Major League Baseball player.
Morris said he could relate to his players, because he’d been put down his entire life, by his own coaches, counselors, even his father.
“These kids were beat down, put down, hurt down their entire lives,” he said. “I was the perfect person for that job at that time. I knew what these kids were going through, because I’d been through the same thing.”
Morris said he also could relate to Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County’s alumnus Gabe Copeland, who was named the Youth of the Year at the gala. Copeland was recognized along with Lanier Partners of North Georgia Inc., which was given the Helping Hands Award for its commitment to the clubs.
Copeland said the Boys & Girls Clubs supported him physically, emotionally, spiritually and intellectually for years and helped him become the man he is today.
“I’m here today as a testimony,” Copeland said. “... The club taught me to make the most of every opportunity and never be afraid of stepping out on faith into new experiences. To the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County, I just want to say thank you, so very much.”