Making the Grades
Every father who has tried to live out his baseball dreams vicariously knows it's time to pack away those fantasies on the stroke of his Little Leaguer's twelfth birthday. And many an aspiring parent has wished his boy could have just one more year on that scaled-down diamond... now he's finally got the hang of the game.
Such were the sentiments of a dad who was also the coach of this son's team. That father happened to be John Grisham, an author whose work has often been adapted to film, so he decided to turn his feelings into a screenplay. Because his usual genre is legal thrillers, he embellished his baseball script with tax evasion and backroom politics subplots. His final product, best described as Little League Grisham... goes something like this:
Tripp Spence (Harry Connick Jr.) is a Little League baseball coach and his twelve-year-old son Derrick (Shawn Salinas) is the team's star player. But their winning season comes to an abrupt end when the tax man cometh, and announces he is going to investigate Tripp's bankruptcy claim. Although his financial crisis was the result of mounting medical bills incurred by his now deceased wife, the local lawyer knows full well this is not a legitimate excuse for failing to declare all his assets. Fearing he will be sent to jail, the fraudulent father decides to take Derrick and flee.
Dying their hair, donning glasses and pulling their baseball caps down low, the two slip out of town. Beginning fresh in Los Vegas under the names of Glen and Mickey Ryan, the pair settles in by finding a baseball team to join. As luck would have it, Derrick's new birth certificate lists him as being younger than he really is. Under the identity of Mickey, he now has a chance to relive the last year of Little League.
Thanks to his secret age advantage, the already gifted player really shines next to the other kids on the field. However, what starts out as a dream opportunity turns into a nightmare when Mickey leads his team to the city championships and on to the Little League World Series. The more his amazing pitching attracts media attention, the more threatened the father and son's cover of anonymity becomes.
If you have ever tried to warn your children about the domino effect of dishonesty, this may be the film to prove your point. Tripp/Glen feels justified in misrepresenting his economic status to the IRS "bad guys," yet his deception requires him to tell an ever-increasing number of lies. Even worse, to protect himself he must teach his son to do the same.
This is John Grisham's second attempt at penning a family movie. (The other was Christmas With the Kranks.) Marketed direct-to-video, the production sports only a few of the usual content concerns. These include one mild profanity, social drinking, depiction of young boys watching a pornographic movie (sounds only, no visuals), minor sports accidents, some poor sportsmanship, and portrayals of government officials using blackmail tactics or putting political agendas before truth.
The biggest issue for parents (and perhaps where they will need to act as umpire) will be deciding if the consequences shown really hit home the full impact of the characters' poor conduct.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Mickey.
How did Derrick/Mickey’s dishonesty rob him of the joy and satisfaction of his victory? Why can success never be built upon deceit?
Are there any situations when lying is justified? What would you have done if you were in Tripp/Glen’s position? Do you feel the consequences the characters faced were appropriate or realistic?