I have had Hardball on my list of movies to watch for awhile. Finally I made a point to get my hands on a copy of the DVD, which I popped into the player to watch one evening this past week.
Mere minutes into the movie, I realized, “Oh, wait, I’ve seen this before.” I had watched Hardball with my brothers shortly after it first was released, but it has been so long that I had forgotten the name of the movie, or even who starred in it. But I remembered the plot very clearly.
Funny how memory works.
Keanu Reeves plays Conor O’Neill, a gambler who finds himself severely in debt with two bookies. In order to repay the debts, he is receives and offer from a friend in the corporate world, in which he must coach a baseball team of troubled African-American fifth grade kids from the projects in exchange for $500 each week. Desperate for the money, Conor agrees.
However, Conor doesn’t really care about coaching the kids — at least, not at first. He shows up at the first practice to be greeted by a group of smart-mouthed, street-smart youngsters who struggle when it actually comes to playing the game. Various outside forces threaten the team’s season — a teacher (Elizabeth Wilkes) who won’t let a couple boys play until they finish their book reports; an opposing coach going out of his way to try to undermine them; and so on — and Conor realizes that if he is to receive his $500 a week, he needs to keep the season alive.
After agreeing to help ensure the boys’ book reports get done, Conor starts to take practices more seriously. He convinces the boys on the team to stop trashtalking one another and to start actually behaving like teammates. While they lose their first game in embarrassing fashion, Conor still treats the team to pizza, which helps to foster a greater sense of camaraderie between the boys. Finally the team starts winning some games, and Conor works to cultivate a romantic relationship with the teacher, Elizabeth Wilkes.
Throughout the season, both Conor and the team endure a series of highs and lows, during which Conor, at one point, even announces that he’s done with the team. However, he realizes that he has come to care about the boys too much, and after winning a large bet to dig himself out of his debts, he instead vows to give up gambling and takes the boys to see their first-ever Major League Baseball game.
Just after winning the game that qualifies them for the championship, the team’s youngest player, known as G-Baby, is killed by a stray bullet from a gun fight outside his home. The team decides they still want to continue on and play the championship game in his honor.
As I mentioned, I enjoyed this movie the first time I had watched it, and I’m happy to say I enjoyed it just as much this time around. It’s a heart-warming flick that can be pretty eye-opening when it comes to realizing just how good so many of us have it in our own lives, compared to life in the inner city.