Full disclosure: I have no idea at all what's happening in the MLB these days, or which teams are where in the standings, or if I should be rooting for my local teams over my hometown club (the Oakland A's!). What I do know is that when I was 12 years old, I found myself rooting for the Chicago Cubs after they signed a cute kid named Henry Rowengartner to pitch for them in the major motion picture Rookie of the Year.
Cute and squeaky-clean, Henry (played by Thomas Ian Nicholas) got to live every baseball-loving kid's dream thanks to a fortuitous broken arm that healed with abnormal tightness of the muscles. Henry's newfound ability allowed him to crank back his throwing arm and unleash with such a force that he could throw a foul ball all the way from the bleachers to home plate, which is precisely what he does in one of the film's most memorable scenes. Thanks to Rookie of the Year, every kid of the '90s who'd broken some bone or another shared the collective fantasy that they'd have the same powers once their casts came off. If you say you didn't wish for such a thing, I call shenanigans.
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Speaking of shenanigans, Henry's arm wasn't the only transformative entity in Rookie of the Year. Sure, it allowed him a Major League Baseball pitching contract at the age of 12, Pepsi endorsement deals, and (spoiler alert) a World Series Championship ring, but Henry's youthful spirit in turn invigorated his grown-up teammates and spurred them on to victory in the play-offs! Who hasn't watched a languorous Major League game on the tube or from the nosebleeds and secretly hoped that someone would pull a hidden ball trick or strike out a home run champ with an underhanded floater? Don't you think the game would be more exciting if players taunted each other with chants like "Pitcher's got a big butt!" or "Give 'em the cheese!" or if a pitcher called a base runner chicken?
Child actor Thomas Ian Nicholas did all of the above with a sly, wholesome wink in his first starring role. His Henry was a wide-eyed kid living the dream, but he stayed grounded thanks to his rapport with the gruff veteran pitcher Chet Steadman (Gary Busey) and his relationship with his softball-playing mom (Amy Morton), who advised him from the stands when he lost his abilities at the end of a crucial game against the Mets. Her immortal advice ("Float it!") reminded Henry to take a breather from his fast-throwing, fast-moving life as a preteen MLB pitcher and embrace his fun, easy-breezy childhood while he still could. His resulting pitch, a lob to his nemesis Alejandro "Butch" Heddo, confused the heck out of the brutish batter and with one last whiff of Heddo's bat, Henry won the game for the Cubs before returning to his life as a normal 12-year-old kid.
The film performed decently at the box office and buoyed Nicholas to his next starring role in 1995's A Kid in King Arthur's Court, but within a few years Nicholas graduated on beyond kiddie fare. He played the earnest Kevin Myers in three American Pie films, appeared in The Rules of Attraction and Halloween: Resurrection, and starred with Brandon Routh, Shannyn Sossamon, RZA, and Kerry Washington in the 2009 indie Life is Hot in Cracktown. He'll appear next in May's Please Give, director Nicole Holofcener's Sundance comedy.
[Lastly, I'd like to give one last shout out to actor-director Daniel Stern ("The Wonder Years," Breaking Away), who made his first and only feature directorial effort with Rookie of the Year. (He also provided comic relief in the film, appearing as the bumbling pitching coach Phil Brickman.) This has got to be one of the most underappreciated sports comedies of the decade!]