The Final Season

October 12, 2007
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I have to confess, I’m not much of a sports person. I never played competitive sports as child, in college, or now as an adult. It’s not that I’m not athletic. It could be that I’m not the most coordinated person in the world. But really, I think it’s just that I’m too afraid of failing, of letting myself down, letting my team down, and just not being able to do what is needed.

It’s a reason that’s always made sense to me, a copout maybe, but valid nonetheless. That is until I watched The Final Season and it struck me that even though winning is great, how much more amazing is it to see a player fail and then get back up and continue to give the game his all? Just think about the teams you’ve played on or cheered for. Think about those teams who’ve already been knocked off the road to this year’s championship games. And then ponder the reality that even the worst teams in every league continue to play until their season is done, always come back the next year to give it another go, and forever retain a mass of cheering fans who never stop believing that maybe this year is the year that their team will make it.

In many ways, The Final Season is the opposite of the stereotypical sports movie (aka underdog becomes champion in cinematic form). We’ve seen the story done about a million different times with about a million different slants. We’ve met underdogs in the form of waterboys, replacement players, prisoners, and bartenders. We’ve seen underdog teams at the Olympics, the Little League Championships, and the Super Bowl. But the interesting thing about The Final Season is that the high school baseball team it portrays has already been the Iowa State High School Baseball Champion for 19 years.

The team has already won many times. They know what winning is like, they are used to it, and their town stakes almost its entire sense of pride and identity on it. But then they are told their winning streak is over. Why? Because their school is being closed. Their longtime coach is fired and replaced with his unseasoned assistant. Their best players leave. But still, they have one season left, a season they had always expected to win and are now predicted to lose. And in the movie that follows, the team, its players, and its coach all give us a look at a power within sports that isn’t just in the end result, but also in the simple act of playing the game and giving that game your all.

As one of the townspeople says to the team’s new coach, “They have a tradition here that’s about more than just winning. It’s about playing the game right.”

And in so many ways, that’s what the movie is about. By the time the team actually wins the championship, it almost doesn’t matter. The final score, the hall of trophies, the anecdotes about what happened to the team and its players after their final season are all just icing. But the way we see the players grow individually, bond as a team, give everything they have, and believe in themselves more and more as the season goes on—that’s what really makes you feel alive.

Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of baseball myself. But watching the kids play baseball in this movie makes me want to cheer. Dead time is edited out and all we see are a team of high school kids giving the sport their all, going up against 90 mph fastballs, sliding in just a hair shy of being out, and blazing through drills that make me want to start up my own pep band right in the middle of the theater.

My favorite part of the movie, though, is the storyline involving Mitch Akers (Michael Angarano), a troubled transfer student who could be said to find his salvation by joining the Norway baseball team. When he arrives in town, he’s a mess. His mother has died, he doesn’t get along with his father, he smokes, he drinks, he has no respect for authority, and he doesn’t seem to care about anything. That is until he starts playing for the Norway Tigers. And slowly, as the season continues, he finds something he cares about, he begins to respect and connect with the people around him, and he comes alive before our eyes.

As Mitch’s grandfather says to him when he’s complaining about life, “Even the easy things are tough if you’re doing them half-heartedly.”

And as we all well know, this life can get tough. There are things that cut us down and make us wonder if we can go on. There are forces of destruction that don’t care if what they are attacking is the most important thing in the world to us. But, as this group of boys from Norway, Iowa shows us, the best way to make sure our hearts find reason to keep on going is to keep holding onto the things in life that we know are worth giving our hearts to and keep on giving the best our hearts have to give.

In each of our lives, the things we give our hearts to will be different. They will change as we go through life. Some days what they are will be very apparent and other days it will not. But after watching the inspirational story of the Norway baseball team’s final season, I can’t help but know that those opportunities to give our all will always be out there. I smile as I realize that even though every place we find ourselves will not be as close-knit and inclusive as Norway, we will each always be needed where we are—in a specific position, on the field, as a coach, or in the stands. And as the movie’s credits roll and I return to my own life, I am inspired by a story and a message that tells me that no matter what may going on around me, there will always be a game being played, a chance for me to join in, to do my best, to give all I can to the teammates who surround me, to accept all that my team has to give to me, and to play with all my heart.

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Elisabeth is a graduate of the University of California, San Diego, with a BA in Literature-Writing. A person who has always loved movies, she never ceases to be amazed by the way they impact viewers by both reflecting and asking questions about the culture and world in which we live. She currently lives and works in the Seattle area.

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