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‘Rookie of the Year’ (PG)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
July 09, 1993

Kids will instantly understand the expression on Henry Rowengartner's face in "Rookie of the Year." It's that look of TOTAL FEAR when bad things happen. In a kid's life, of course, that comes up all the time.

In "Rookie," which is a good time for kids, 12-year-old Henry (Thomas Ian Nicholas) gets his fair share. There's the eek-what-do-I-say? problem whenever he runs into pretty classmate Becky (Colombe Jacobsen-Derstine). If getting tongue-tied is bad, Henry's baseball problem is even worse. The young Chicagoan spends his time dreaming of being star pitcher for the Cubs -- a team that hasn't done squat since 1908. But he can't catch to save his life. When a school bully lobs a baseball into the air one day, and tells Henry to catch it, he has to go for it. After all, Becky's watching!

Thanks to Twentieth Century Fox's ubiquitous promo trailer, you've probably seen what happens. He trips and breaks his right arm. But months later, when his cast is removed, there's something different about Henry. Suddenly he's pitching 100 mph thunderbolts. Jack (Bruce Altman), his widower mother's sleazy new boyfriend, smells money. A handshake or two later, Henry's playing for the Cubs as the youngest professional in baseball.

Surrounded by his heroes, such as veteran pitcher Chet Steadman (Gary Busey), the wide-eyed Henry starts throwing balls at really big guys -- and striking them out! Meanwhile, his devoted Mom (Amy Morton) watches with protective anticipation in the stands, while his starstruck buddies, Clark (Robert Gorman) and George (Patrick LaBrecque), stare, equally open-mouthed, as Henry tangles with the best of the grown-ups.

Of course, when you're a kid, bad things are never far away. Clark and George get sick of a pal who's always too busy with photo sessions and limo-cruising to play. Jack starts making shady deals with equally yukky Cubs owner-to-be Larry "Fish" Turner (Dan Hedaya). Anyway, that's later in the movie and, besides, Henry has friendly Chet to watch out for him. But even in the midst of success, Henry has The Look with him -- especially when he approaches the mound for the first time, while 35,000 people scream and cheer. Standing up in front of the whole class was never as bad as this -- and for preteens, it's good to find a movie that knows about this stuff.

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