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Introduction
When your a kid growing up in Canada it's a given that you play some sort of organised sport. In fact, most people participate in more then one. For most people this is hockey, but since my skating skills are basically non-existent that caused one to be knocked off the list. Soccer's also a popular choice but I was never all that athletic and running wasn't my thing. So that basically left me with Baseball, the sport of choice for most American youngsters. Being a Canadian, little league baseball isn't as big as in the US, but it still draws quite a big number of kids. I started playing T-Ball around the age of ten and continued playing baseball in one form or another through to the age of fifteen. I'll never forget my first year of 'Hardball' when I played on the local Esso station's team. The coaches were Mike McBride (a local merchant and slave driver on the field) and Ron Gruber (carver of wooden ducks and all around nice guy). I wasn't the most confident player and spent my time either riding the pine or out in lonely old left field. Adding to my fear was the fact that I couldn't hit the ball to save my life. It wasn't the best sports experience for a thirteen year old, so the coaches made me a deal that if I could start hitting the ball then they'd buy me my very own bat. This was a big deal and improved my comfort level tenfold. I eventually earned my bat and when it came time to play the next year I had found my groove. I became the team’s relief pitcher and was a decent batter. Thanks to the leadership of two great coaches I came out of my shell, and although I knew I'd never go pro I did enjoy playing the game, which is all that a kid really hopes for. So Baseball movies have always held a special interest to me. Even though the sport of baseball itself doesn't come across as overly exciting, with the right story mixed in it can make for some quality entertainment.

Woah.. That's a bit big doc.
Movie
Twelve-year old Henry Rowengartner (Thomas Ian Nicholas) has the same dream as many kids have, and that is to play to Major League Baseball. The problem is he isn't very good at it and has been warming the bench for his local Little League team. He's so bad that the coach would rather play the kid that's allergic to grass. One day Henry gets his big shot as the coach puts him into right field. In typical movie fashion the next hit is a fly ball to right, which he of courses misses, fumbles and throws in the wrong direction over the outfield fence. The next day at school the usual bully's make fun of him and offer him a chance to prove that he can indeed catch a fly ball. He agrees when he sees the girl of his dreams sitting nearby. Of course he stumbles and falls on a previously hit baseball and in doing so breaks his arm in a number of places.  After spending months in the cast it's finally "cast removal day" and as the doctor removes it he notes that the tendons have healed together rather tightly but that Henry shouldn't worry. As a present Henry's mom Mary (Amy Morton) has bought Henry and his friends tickets to that afternoon's cub game at historic Wrigley Field. The Cubs are having a losing season as always and it look's like the current owner Larry Fisher, nicknamed Fish (Dan Hedaya), will be on his way out if that doesn't change. As luck would have it the answers to the Cub's prayers are found when Henry is suddenly able to throw a 100 mph fastball. It just so happens that Fish has a connection to the player, as his right hand man Jack Bradfield (Bruce Altman) just happens to be dating Mary. So Henry gets signed to a big league deal and begins to realise his dream alongside his pitching idol Chet Stetman (Gary Busey). It's not all fun and games however, as Henry struggles to earn the respect of his fellow team-mates and other league players, all the while learning about the corruption of major league sports. Adding to all this are Henry's friends who refuse to hang out with them after they figure he's gotten to good for them when he misses working on their boat due to photo shoots for his endorsements.

"Rookie of the Year" is a film that works as well as it does because it doesn't take itself seriously. There's no confusing this film for something that could actually happen in reality. The film touches on the hopes and dreams of youth everywhere and that is to play professional sports. It's pure fantasy, and although the film does follow a very predictable chain of events, there is something really genuine and likeable about young Henry. First time director and long time comedic actor Daniel Stern takes a basic story concept and runs with it, by providing a nice mix of light family friendly comedy and emotional dramatic moments with relative ease. He knows his target demographic well and aside from a few subplots that aren't fully realised, he crafts a film the whole family can enjoy

Look who has the ball now.
One of the things that helps make this film work is it's very likeable cast lead by Thomas Ian Nicholas who, at the time, was a relative newcomer hoping to get his big break with this film. Now of course he's best known as Kevin in the American Pie films. Now kids in film have the tendency to either blow me away with their performance or annoy me to the point where I'm about to snap. Thomas's performance falls right in the middle here as his rather high pitched voice was a bit on the annoying side yet he does a good job portraying a kid who gets to live out his dream to play at Wrigley Field with the boys of summer. Supporting performances from Gary Busey as a pitcher long past his prime, and Dan Hedaya as the team's sleazy business manager, are both worth noting. Hedaya all but nails his role here, as he's played different variations of this character a number of times. Not faring so well is Daniel Stern, whose over the top pitching coach Phil Brickman just seems out of place in the picture. Perhaps Daniel Stern wanted to appear in his own film but the character doesn't fit the movie very well at all. The late John Candy also appears in the uncredited role of the Cub's PA Announcer, but even he seems restrained in what could have been a very funny performance from the actor.

In the end "Rookie of the Year" is a fun distraction from the real world that contains a positive message for kids everywhere. It's not swinging for the fences but it does manage to get on base. The film works because those involved look to be having a good time. It also does a good job of appealing to people of all ages. The last time I saw this movie was when I was twelve or fourteen and I found it enjoyable then and it's still enjoyable now. Which is something that I can't say about all the movies I liked at that time. It's not a masterpiece but it's certainly not painful for people above the age of twelve to watch. There's nothing questionable about the content either, as it's free of objectionable language and crude humour. If you’re looking for a fun family film you could do a lot worse then "Rookie of the Year"

Video
20th Century Fox releases "Rookie of the Year" as part of it's new collection of "Family Features" which include both anamorphic widescreen and full frame transfers on different sides of the disc. As is often the case with Fox back catalogue titles, the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is very good but comes up just short of a home run. Colours, led by the green grass of the ballparks, appear fairly natural. Sharpness and detail are generally acceptable although a number of the non-action oriented scenes did seem a tad on the soft side. Also raising some concern was a very unstable black level which seemed to be perfect one moment and troublesome the next. On the plus side the print is fairly clean with only a few minor flaws and no instances of pixelation, shimmering or grain. On the other hand there is some edge enhancement sprinkled throughout the film though in this case it's only a minor annoyance. It's not going to become anyone's reference disc, but Fox once again proves they take good care of their film elements so that the eventual DVD releases will look terrific.

Audio
Fox takes viewers out to the ball game by including both Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 audio tracks on this disc. Since "Rookie of the Year" was released in 1993 it made it's theatrical debut before the onslaught of Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. So the 5.1 mix here is actually a brand new remix made especially for this DVD edition. Keeping in mind the limitations of the original source material and the fact that this is a kid friendly comedy, one could expect the audio to fold up into the front speakers. That isn't entirely the case as the track does manage to take the viewer into the ballpark through Bill Conti's excellent score. The crack of the bat, the fast-ball hitting the mitt at ninety plus miles per hour and the roar of the crowd all sound natural and bring back memories of the ball games I attended as a young child. Aside from the baseball scenes the audio does tend to revert back to the typical comedy type mix, but the warmth of the music and the realistic nature of the ball games does give this disc an added edge. Dialogue is mixed well and doesn't seem forced, although a few of young Thomas Ian Nicholas’ lines do have his voice cracking.  I guess this couldn't have been helped though given the time in his life that this film was made. There was more to the soundtrack than I was expecting given the type of the film, and as such it's a pleasant surprise.

I'm playing for the Cubs now Mom.
Extras
Part of Fox's new collection of "Family Features" this disc like the others in the line is fair in the extras area. Making up the majority of the bonus feature section is a five-minute making of featurette that plays out much like an extended trailer. It's made up of film footage as well as very short interviews with actors Gary Busey, Ian Thomas Nicholas and director/actor Daniel Stern. Pretty much an electronic press kit.

Also included are eight TV spots ranging from fifteen to thirty seconds in length, as well as the three theatrical trailers which aren't all that different if you ask me. All are full frame and Dolby Digital 2.0

That's about the extent of things in the extras department. I understand that these discs are aimed primarily at families, but I'm sure that trailers for some of the other "Family Features" could have been included.

Overall
"Rookie of the Year" isn't the world's best baseball movie and it certainly doesn't hold a candle to "Field of Dreams" or "Bull Durham", but then again those films are aimed at adults and this one's aimed at kids. It's fairly successful in achieving everything a family friendly movie should, with clean humour, good role models and a positive upbeat message in the end. Fox's DVD offers a nice video presentation, a surprisingly good audio presentation, but sadly nothing much in the way of special features. Still this is a fine family film that's definitely worth a look.


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