Submitted by Don Doman.
Some films benefit by having a surprise ending, and some films benefit with an expected ending delivered with just the right touch. An inspirational film gives you the build up and the payoff. A really great inspirational film gives you suspense . . . you know it’s going to pay off . . . and yet . . . Inspirational films are usually based on true events and true stories. One of my favorites is The Final Season, starring Sean Astin.
The Final Season came to mind with local papers printing news about Sean Astin making a public appearance in Tacoma and the Pacific Northwest to hype his Netflix mega-hit “Stranger Things.”
The Final Season is about baseball. I always liked playing softball, but baseball puts me to sleep. Inspirational baseball stories, however mostly work for me. The Natural, Field of Dreams, and Bull Durham mean nothing to me, but I like Rookie of the Year, Bad News Bears, and 42. Rookie of the Year and Bad News Bears are comedies, but 42 is a drama. It’s the story of Jackie Robinson’s entry into baseball’s major leagues and breaking the color barrier. Like 42, The Final Season is serious and for the most part true. 42 is about a professional athletics, and The final Season is about high school athletes that were never professionals, but the story is as much about the game as it is about individuals and their teams.
Baseball rules in the small town of Norway, Iowa. Its high-school team is the winner of many state championships, and the coach, Jim Van Scoyoc (Powers Boothe), is National Coach of the Year. When Norway’s high school must merge with another, he loses his job. Kent Stock (Sean Astin), who once assisted him, takes over the Norway team for the last season, but the odds are against Kent and the players.
The town of Norway, Iowa has only 586 citizens. Norway High School has just over one hundred students. The educational powers that be are centralizing and closing the doors of the local high school. 1991 will be Norway’s final year. They only play two or three sports. Their baseball team has won 19 state championships. Their legendary coach has taken a job with a big league team. Their best player moved to California. In their final season, Norway will be led by Coach Kent Stock (played by Sean Astin), whose only credentials are for coaching volley ball . . . a girls’ team, no less. But he is a product of his Norway environment.
There are no secret powers. Norway boys played baseball. No secret plays, no trick moves. Coach Stock just fixes in on playing Norway baseball. They face South Clay and their record of 31-8. South Clay has a pitcher who is being scouted by the majors.
The Norway team is not one of those with members who brim with self-confidence and always thought they would win. They knew reality.
I do like the pep talk before the game given by Kent Stock (Astin): “We win by playing Norway Baseball. 80% of this game is defense. We don’t let anything out of the infield and we wait. Sooner or later, they’ll make a mistake. Every person who’s ever worn a Norway uniform is out there with you today. Now think about this, no Iowa baseball dynasty has ever won a state championship in their final season. We’re playing for everyone who knows that Norway is a great place to come home to. And no matter what happens today, this time next year, the jerseys you’re wearing will be polishing chrome in Madison High School. So ask yourself one question. How do you want to be remembered?”
Late in the game, it looked over. Kyle Schmidt was at bat. He had 13 previous state championship at-bats without a hit. South Clay was up a run. Player Shawn Moss, said “What I remember most is I thought we were beat.” Most on the team seemed to resigned to the fact. Even Coach Stock revealed, “Honestly, I was pacing in the third-base coach’s box, trying to figure out what I was going to tell them after the game.” Schmidt hit a double off the center field fence. Norway had three runs in the top of the 8th to cap off the score at 7-4 to finish.
Most of the team still lives in or around Norway. Eric Frese, one of five seniors, went on to be the head baseball coach at Wisconsin-Platteville. He sums up the achievement as “It’s hard to win championships.”
In games, in life, and in business, we all want to be champions. Sometimes you need that big idea, that one direction, that one pathway, but in reality it’s like Stock said, “80% of this game is defense.” Mostly we just need to do our jobs and work together as a team. Let someone else make a mistake. If we find that one thing that takes us over the top, that’s great, but in the mean time just doing our jobs keeps us in the game.