I like sports drama and own a bunch of them. This is one of the very best.
Why? It is well-filmed, well-directed, well-acted, and it is a real story. Well, well, well. Look up "Norway Baseball" and you get the whole story. The screenplay and the film that came from it are remarkably true to that story. Sure. The story is of a school competing in the smallest school division and the competition at that level is very different from that in the largest divisions, but Norway baseball was legendary. Its head coach was a legend. Its players were picked up time and again to fill rosters in colleges with strong programs.
19 State Titles was the source of extraordinary pride. And then the school board came to a very difficult decision. Here the film plays the members as true villains and that is unfortunate because schools the size of Norway in communities the size of its little farm town do not have the resources needed in a modern high school. Merger with another nearby school with a more up-to-date physical plant and room to grow. Merger was necessary, BUT there was a strange effort made to make the last season less dramatic by gutting the baseball team. Leadership on the Board did not want the baseball team to emerge as a gathering point for continued resistance to the merger. So, the legendary head coach was released and replaced by a young rookie with very little experience. A number of key players did not come out for the team in its final playing season.
The coach ends up being a natural coach. He forges a team whose chemistry is initially difficult. The right players emerge. Virtually none of the drama is manufactured for the film. Check out the newspapers. A strong start is followed by a big slump. A timely push back is good enough to get them into the state playoffs. The team is an underdog up against far larger programs with amazing talent that manages to win the baseball way: sound defensive play, a smart line-up, good scouting, a couple of very talented kids, a bunch of less talented but solid players, and big fan support.
Background stories are equally compelling as a spoiled and angry city-kid is transformed by his coach, his grandparents and his team.....and then meets his father on the field of play, real common ground. A bus driver, a priest, a couple of sports reporters and a girl friend each provided another story that makes the BIG STORY work.
Lastly, there are no ultra-dramatic, over the top, I-Can't-Believe-It moments. These moments are common devices in sports drama. They generate big moments for big feelings. There are lots of little moments that feel very real: mock bets between a pitcher and a catcher, a heart patient/bus driver who sneaks into the championship game, the fired coach returning for the last game, an often disheartened relief pitcher who is scared to death of the opposing pitcher's fast ball but still manages to crowd the plate at a critical moment, a coach who falls in love with a state official who has endorsed the school merger, and so much more.
In the back of the informed viewer's mind is the knowledge that these moments actually took place. Yeah, there is some condensing of action. There is fictionalized dialogue. There are combined characters. But, overall the truth wills out.
This film belongs on your shelf. Watch it with young athletes and discuss it. It's amazing what they have to say. Watch it with your family just for fun.