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Jim Morris - Tried Out For Major Leagues

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The Owls did make it to the playoffs, and then it was Morris's turn. On a 103-degree Saturday in June, the 35-year-old science teacher drove two hours with his children to a Tampa Bay Devil Rays tryout camp. Surrounded by 20-year-old wannabe baseball players, the left-handed pitcher lied about his age so the scouts would give him a chance. When it was his turn at the mound, Morris threw a 94-mile-per-hour pitch, followed by several 98-mile-per-hour throws. He was as dumb-founded as the scouts; after ten years of retirement and four arm surgeries, Morris's fastball had increased in speed by about ten miles per hour.

The Devil Rays signed Morris almost immediately, and he spent the summer in a minor league farm camp. After three months of intense work, which kept him away from his family and focused completely on pitching, Morris was called to the major leagues, becoming baseball's oldest rookie pitcher in nearly 30 years. His first game was on September 18, 1999, in the home stadium of the Texas Rangers. Morris's family took a seat in the audience, and his wife burst into tears when she saw her husband in his baseball uniform. When he was called in to pitch, he struck out the first batter, Royce Clayton.

Chronology

1964 Born on January 19 in Brownwood, Texas
1982 Attends Angelo State University on an academic scholarship
1984 Drafted by Milwaukee Brewers; plays in minor league farm system
1988 Retires from minor leagues after series of arm injuries
1991 Plays football for Angelo State
mid-1990s Becomes science teacher and baseball coach at Reagan County High School
1999 Drafted by Tampa Bay Devil Rays; begins pitching in minor league farm system
1999 Pitches first major league game, September 18
2000 Traded to Los Angeles Dodgers
2001 Retires from baseball
2001 Publishes autobiography, The Oldest Rookie: Big-League Dreams from a Small-Town Guy
2002 Disney film The Rookie debuts nationwide

Morris's big league career was brief, but every moment was a gift for the Devil Rays' pitcher. "I wake up some mornings, and it hits me that I'm 36 years old and getting to do what I wanted to do when I was 5," he told Richard Justice of the Montreal Gazette. "It's an amazing feeling. This wasn't supposed to happen for me. God gave this to me." Morris went on to pitch for the Devil Rays in the 2000 season, and signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers before retiring from baseball in 2001. He had served as a relief pitcher in 21 major league games, was 0-0 with a 4.80 Earned-Run Average (ERA), and had logged 13 strikeouts.

In April 2001 Morris published his autobiography, The Oldest Rookie: Big-League Dreams from a Small-Town Guy, co-written with Joel Engel. Almost a year later, on March 29, 2002, The Rookie, the motion picture depicting Morris's life, opened in theaters across the country. Aware that his story had inspired many people to follow their dreams, Morris became a motivational speaker after his retirement from baseball in 2001.

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