When Disney offered to make Jim Morris’ life into a movie, he said the massive entertainment company mentioned several actors would might play the 35-year-old high school baseball coach turned major league baseball pitcher.
Matthew McConaughey’s arms are too short to be a pitcher, Morris said, and Brad Pitt is too good-looking. But Dennis Quaid – he was authentic. Quaid ultimately ended up portraying Morris in the 2002 classic, “The Rookie.”
With equal parts humor and inspiration, Morris on Friday night told stories of “dream killers” and “dream makers” at the Sunflower Theatre for the first “TEZ Talk” event of 2019.
“If you let a naysayer or a dream killer get involved with your life, they’re going to find a way to tear you down,” Morris said. “So you surround yourself with good people. That’s how you’re successful.”
Morris was a standout athlete in high school in football and baseball. At age 19, the Milwaukee Brewers recruited Morris to play in the minor league. After about five years in the minors, he said he walked away from the game because of shoulder injuries. Doctors told him at age 28 that he would never pitch again.
Still in love with the game, Morris became a high school science teacher and baseball coach in the small town of Big Lake, Texas. Morris said God knew what he was doing and had picked just the right person to coach those boys in Big Lake.
Morris spoke of several dream killers and dream makers throughout his life, and how they prepared him to coach baseball. His biggest dream killer was his father. He drank, beat his son, cursed him down and told Morris he would never make it. On the other hand, his grandfather was a major dream maker.
He said the most significant lesson from his grandfather was that you can’t respect anyone else until you respect yourself. He said his high school players didn’t have any self-respect, so that was his first mission.
“The first thing I had to do was instill self-respect,” Morris said. “We’re going to learn how to respect ourselves. We’re not even going to worry about baseball. That will come later.”
His players wore their uniforms correctly, spoke positively to teammates and opened doors for teachers. They also maintained the field, batting cages, parking lot, and infield and outfield, which led a dad on the fourth day of practice to question why his son was picking weeds instead of playing baseball.
“After I talked to that father, on the fourth day of practice, that dad was picking weeds,” Morris said as the crowd laughed.
As Morris taught his players to follow their dreams, he said they eventually started asking him about his dreams. He said they knew his heart was still in the game, even after nine surgeries and weighing 260 pounds at age 35.
As portrayed in the Disney movie, his players made a bet. If they started winning games, then Morris would try out for the big leagues.
His team, of course, started winning games, and Morris tried out for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, despite describing himself as “old and fat.” He threw a fastball and saw the scout shake the radar gun in disbelief. The scout had clocked the ball at 98 mph, enough to land him a spot in the MLB for about two years.
Throughout his TEZ Talk, Morris kept returning to the theme of dream killers and dream makers. His grandparents helped him realize that life is not about himself, it’s about what team he can plug himself into to make that team better.
“I’m going to hang out with good people, and I’m going to make myself better because if I hang out with bad people, they’re going to bring me down,” he said.
But a team that is as good or better than him can change the world. He said it’s a matter of dreaming big and putting in a plan of action.
“If you have a better plan and more heart, you’re going to be on the winning team,” he said.
The TEZ Talk program is a collaboration between the city of Cortez and the Cortez Retail Enhancement Association. First National Bank Cortez sponsors the event.
At a recent City Council workshop, CREA Executive Director Mark Drudge said attendance at previous TEZ Talks has been low. Now in its second year, the venue has been moved from the large auditorium at Montezuma-Cortez High School to the intimate Sunflower Theatre. About 100 people showed up, filling the seats.
He said Friday’s TEZ Talk was “what it’s supposed to be like.” But he said there could still be a chance that the program ends after 2019.
“We’re just hoping that they catch on and people enjoy them ... but at this point we’re questioning if we’ll do it next year or not,” Drudge said.
Motivational speaker Alvin Law will speak at the next TEZ Talk on March 15.