Dare to follow that dream and listen to teens

On High Schools

May 14, 2006|By MILTON KENT

There's a lot more wisdom and knowledge behind the eyes of teenagers than most people give them credit for, a fact that Jim Morris is doubly aware of.

Years ago, when he was a teenager, someone who should have known better wrote Morris off as, shall we say, less than bright, with a limited future. And years later, a group of teenagers prodded Morris to give big league baseball another try after 10 years away.

So, it should come as no surprise that Morris, the subject of the 2002 film The Rookie, and the featured guest speaker at tomorrow night's McCormick's Unsung Heroes Banquet at the Hunt Valley Inn, is a big believer in listening to what kids have to say.

"As far as kids around the country, kids want to know that you respect them for who they are," Morris said recently in a phone interview. "A lot of times as adults, we look down on kids and go, `You're not that bright.' When I was 17 years old, I wasn't very bright and I had a guidance counselor tell me that.

"We have to remember back when we were kids how tough it was and remember that it's compounded now. There are a lot more people in the world now. A bachelor's degree from back in 1982 is not the same. Now, you need a master's and you need to be working on a doctorate to get a job you really want or a job that you can really do, and that may not be the job you really want anymore. It's just tough for them. We have to teach them how to dream again. They have to fix a lot of problems that we created in the last couple of decades."

Morris will be speaking to the 66th annual gathering of 119 football and girls basketball players from 72 public, independent and parochial schools from Baltimore City and Baltimore County during which $30,000 in scholarships will be awarded.

Morris' story and the underlying message are appealing. A left-handed pitcher, Morris languished in the minors for five years, undergoing nine surgeries on his pitching arm. In the last operation, doctors took out a bone spur from his shoulder as well as removing a large portion of the deltoid muscle.

Morris left baseball at 25, got married and had a family. He played college football and eventually became a high school physics teacher and baseball coach in Texas.

It's there and at that point that Morris' life took a fascinating turn. While preaching the gospel of pursuing your dreams to his high school team, the players turned the tables and dared Morris to pursue his dream.

Morris promised his players that if they won a district championship, he would try out for the majors at age 35. The kids held up their end of the bargain, and Morris, remarkably, did as well, throwing near 100 mph during a tryout with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

He was signed to a contract and made his major league debut, 10 years after retiring, in September 1999. He made 21 appearances that season and the next before retiring for good. Morris wrote a book, which eventually became a successful Disney movie, starring Dennis Quaid.

Since he left baseball, Morris has settled in the Dallas area, raising five kids with his second wife. He has become popular on the lecture circuit, speaking to colleges, high schools and corporate audiences, delivering a message of hope to kids who need just a little prodding.

"I see bright eyes that are looking for something and they may not even know what they're looking for yet," Morris said. "But with a little bit of a talk from me and some support from some other people, I think they can see themselves succeeding in whatever they want to do."

Morris, who has two teenage kids, says adults need to give kids more credit for being able to discern what they want and how they can get it.

"I think we need to bring all our kids up like that and not put these walls up around them, going, `Oh, that's not really a good choice for you,' " Morris said. "We don't know what's a good choice for them. They're different than we are. My kids are a part of me and my wife's kids are a part of her, but they're all different from us, too, and they've got to find their own way."

Currently, there's one kid Morris wants to help to find his way. Delmon Young, the Tampa Bay prospect who was suspended for 50 games by the Triple-A International League for hitting an umpire with a bat he tossed at him last month, was coached by Morris in a youth league all-star game when Young was 15.

Morris said he wants to call Young to find out "where his head's at," to see if the 20-year-old can turn things around with the proper encouragement.

"Now, I'm wondering," Morris said. "We give kids a lot of money. That's one of our problems in a Type-A society. Well, they're 18 now. They're men. Let's give them $8 million and see what they turn into. If you give a kid a bunch of money, they're going to act like a kid with a bunch of money."

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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