I admit I had seen the TV listing for Hardball on my movie guide and past it over several times because I thought it was going to be just another baseball movie. I'm not a huge sports fan...unless it's hockey. (I think it goes back to my college days.) But anything else sports related and I tend to channel surf until I find something more interesting to me to watch. Had I taken a closer look at what the movie was really about I probably would have given it more scrutiny. I'm a sucker for kid movies. I love seeing kids triumph over adversity. This movie was more than that.
This afternoon I'd walked into the living room to turn off the TV one of the kids had left on before she'd left for work and the movie Hardball was just beginning. Before I knew it was was sitting down and watching it. My husband came in a few minutes later and started talking to me. Annoyed, I quickly shushed him. Within minutes he was sitting next to me watching too, both of us having forgotten the plans we had for the day.
If you haven't seen this movie, you should. I soon learned the story at its core is not about baseball per se but is instead about the human spirit, how one person can change the lives of many and how lessons learned from the most unlikely places can change the course of our lives for the better.
This movie was a surprise for me. I should have known better. I'm frequently surprised when I give into that knee jerk reaction and end up being totally wrong. I was equally surprised when I watched Rudy and Iron Will, two movies that never fail to bring me to tears at the end. Hardball did the same thing but for a slightly different reason.
I'm not going to give away too many details of the movie because I'd hate to spoil everything for you. But let me put my writer hat on for a minute and talk about character arc. Conor O'Neill is basically a mess when the story begins. And what a great place for a character to start at because there is so much room to grow from there. What he has is attitude. He's gambling his life away, waiting for the next big win. He's put himself in a position where he has to coach a kid's baseball team from the projects. It's the last thing he wants to do and he figures he'll only do it until he can score a win big enough to keep him from getting his butt kicked or killed. Pretty simple stuff. Nothing earth shattering there. The guy's a punk.
We see the first glimpse of Conor O'Neill's heart when he has his first meeting with the head of the baseball league. One of the kids on the team G-Baby (And I dare you not to fall in love with the kid. He was absolutely adorable.) is too young to play. Conor is clearly having trouble breaking the kid's heart when telling him he's too young, but smoothes it over by telling G-Baby he's still on the team, making G-Baby very happy to be a part of it all.
The second time we see the effect the kids have on Conor is the night he finally scores a win. He's made back his money to pay off his debt and he's a free man. But we see that the kids have rubbed off on him. He's singing Big Poppa after as he walks into a pub celebrating and then fiercely defends the kids when the pub owner, Duffy, disses O'Neill for coaching the kids. I actually rewound that part and watched the scene again because I wasn't sure if Duffy was really dissing him or purposely trying to make Conor think about what he was going to do with the rest of his life. I like to think it was the latter. But who knows. Regardless, it was a pivital moment for Conor whether he realized it or not.
The next day he's about to walk away and just can't. This story by far is not just Conor O'Neill's story. Each of the kids has a story and we get a glimpse of that, making us cheer for them and worry about them. I loved, loved, loved the Sammy Sosa scene. I love a hero who can bring a child joy and that scene delivered big time! And I love that the story took a different direction than what I'd expected, i.e. the team would end up playing in the champtionship and we'd all have a nice feeling about it at the end because the hero inspired them, etc. There was much more to it than that.
If I'd been reading the black moment of this story in a book, I know I would have had to put it down, get up and take a walk around the house. Of course, I would have come back and HAD to read the rest of it. It was one of those stomach dropping moments when you know you see the trainwreck coming and you're powerless to stop it and all you can do is watch. In real life it would be horrible. In fiction it's perfection! We've just been held by the hand and become fully invested in these characters and there is no way we want to see them hurt. It also lends itself for us to see the most character growth for Conor O'Neill.
In the scenes that follow (and I won't give them away because I think it's more powerful if you don't know it's coming) you see just how much being with these kids has touched Conor's life. Even though you've had the rug pulled out from under you during the black moment, you still have that feel-good moment at the end.
Like I said, Hardball was a surprise for me and I can't believe I past over it at least 20 times before I finally watched it. Definitely a good movie.