Ex-Major Leaguer to keynote KVCC fund-raiser
“The Rookie” is coming to Kalamazoo.
Not actor Dennis Quaid who brought to the screen the amazing story of a high school baseball coach whose shelved dreams of pitching in the Major Leagues were revived by his team of players as he urged them to follow their dreams.
Jim “The Rookie” Morris, the beneficiary of this miraculous form of quid pro quo, will keynote the Kalamazoo Valley Community College Foundation’s sixth annual Opportunities for Education (OFE) fund-raiser on Wednesday, May 12.
The banquet, designed to raise scholarship dollars and underwritten by PNC, will begin at 5:30 p.m. at the Radisson Plaza Hotel and Suites in downtown Kalamazoo.
Morris came out of Brownwood, Texas, as a highly regarded left-handed pitcher with blazing speed. Standing 6 foot 3 and weighing 215, he was the fourth overall pick in the 1983 Major League Baseball draft by the Milwaukee Brewers.
Beleaguered by arm injuries and an admitted lack of maturity, Morris was released by the Brewers four years later, failed as a free-agent signing of the Chicago White Sox, and found himself on the baseball scrap heap.
Realizing his dream was dead, Morris charted another career path, one leading to marriage, fatherhood, a community college degree, and a job as a science teacher and baseball coach in a financially depressed part of West Texas.
Eleven years later, his long-buried dream was regenerated by the players he was charged with coaching. Not a very accomplished squad that had compiled a miserable record, the players received a pep talk about the value of hard work, the importance of dreams, and striving to reach them.
“What was your dream, coach?” came the question. The answer was the long-dormant desire to pitch in the Major Leagues. The hypocrisy exploded - you want us, coach, to pursue our dreams, but you have dropped yours like a bad habit.
The wager was on - the players reach their goal of winning a district championship and Coach Morris will have to try out with a Major League baseball team - a dozen years after he had basically hung up his curveball. In trying to give something to them, they gave him back something.
Once the trophy was in the case after the “from worst to first” turnaround, Morris, accompanied by his three small children, trucked to the nearest try-out camp - one being staged by the latest baseball franchise, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
Chided by the “what-are-you-doing-here-old-man” taunts of the youthful big-eyed hopefuls, Morris patiently waited his turn and threw 12 consecutive strikes at 98 mph, 10 mph faster than when he was a high school phenom.
The first miracle was that Morris was signed to a Devil Rays contract. The second was that, after only three months with teams in minor leagues, he was pitching in “The Show” against the Texas Rangers in his home state before friends, family and the players he had coached. He struck out an all-star in his debut.
Thirty-five-years-old at the time, Morris pitched in 21 games during the 1999 and 2000 seasons. In 15 innings, he gave up 13 hits and 12 runs, eight of them earned for a career earned-run average of 4.80. He struck out 13 and walked nine.
Released by the Devil Rays after the 2000 season, Morris got a free-agent “look-see” from the Los Angeles Dodgers, but that didn’t work out and he left the game, dream fulfilled and intact.
While the baseball world knew his remarkable story, the rest of the United States became clued in when the Disney Studios released “The Rookie” in 2002 with Quaid in the lead role. "The Rookie" would take in excess of $150 million worldwide and won ESPN’s first ESPY for Best Sports Film of the Year.
With a few bumps in the road during childhood to flash back to, as well as the challenges he faced as a young man and father trying to make financial ends meet, Morris has evolved into a motivational speaker whose topics include self-esteem, peak performance, family, setting goals, and taking advantage of second chances. He and his family live near San Antonio.
Tickets for the Opportunities for Education fund-raiser are $125 per person. A corporate sponsorship for a table of eight is available for $1,500. About 80 percent of the cost is tax-deductible.
The KVCC Foundation was formed in 1980 and has accumulated $8.6 million in assets. Its mission is to enhance educational opportunities and the learning environment at the college by supporting the academic, literary and scientific activities of KVCC students and faculty.
Its assists the college’s Honors Program, minority enrollees and non-traditional students through scholarships, and awards grants that promote innovative approaches to learning.
The foundation funds the college’s internship program, and supports such initiatives at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum as the Mary Jane Stryker Theater programming, the Kalamazoo Fretboard Festival, special exhibits, and the “Friday Night Highlights” series of concerts and movies.
“Because KVCC’s tuition is among the lowest of the state’s 28 community colleges and fees are practically non-existent,” said Steve Doherty, executive director of the KVCC Foundation, “scholarship dollars take students a very, very long way toward their goals. We want to help even more in the coming years, now that state and federal sources of scholarships are either drying up or are in jeopardy because of budget cuts.”
In a typical semester, the foundation is able to assist about 250 students, with scholarship and grant assistance averaging around $350,000 an academic year for tuition, fees, books and supplies, as well as for the child-care and transportation costs that students face in pursuing a degree or a new career.
“That represents a minimal fraction of the dollar value of scholarships that are available through the KVCC Office of Financial Aid,” Doherty said. “That type of assistance has federal and state sources that carry restrictions. So do some of those scholarships established by organizations or individuals. And all of those are very important.
“Ours, however, are more open-ended, less restrictive, and available to a broader representation of students who choose to attend KVCC,” Doherty said. “They are what our ‘Opportunities for Education’ event is all about.”
While the unprecedented, nationally recognized gift to this community that is The Kalamazoo Promise is a blessing to families living in the Kalamazoo Public Schools district, Doherty said, during a typical semester no more than 15 percent of KVCC’s enrollment are Kalamazoo graduates. That means a large segment of the other 85 percent still need various levels of scholarship assistance.
For more information about Opportunities for Education, how far scholarship dollars go at KVCC, and tickets for spending an evening with a former Major League baseball player, contact Doherty at firstname.lastname@example.org or (269) 488-4442 or Denise Baker (email@example.com) at (269) 488-4539.
Co-sponsoring the event along with PNC and the foundation are AM 590 WKZO, the Radisson, and Paw Paw Wine Distributors.