In the early ’90s, Norway, Iowa, was a tiny farming community of just over 500 people with an itty-bitty high school and a great big reputation. Somehow, they had beat out all the big city schools for the State Baseball Championship 18 out of the last 23 seasons. It’s a huge legacy passed father to son throughout the years, due in large part to a supportive community and the great Coach Van Scoyoc.
Kent Stock, the girl’s volleyball coach in nearby Belle Plain, has followed the team since he was a boy and he jumps at the chance to be Van Scoyoc’s assistant. As expected, the team wins once more to the cheers of adoring family members and friends. But an unexpected revelation later that summer rocks everyone back on their heels. The state school board has decided to save money and merge Norway with a larger high school after the coming school year. That means that next spring will be the team’s final season.
Townspeople are not happy.
In the meantime, rebellious teen Mitch Akers finds himself stuck out on his grandparent’s farm after a major blowup with his dad. The city kid isn’t mixing well with the country folk he finds himself surrounded with, either. That is until he finds some common ground: baseball.
But baseball is an irritating sore spot for the school board. And Van Scoyoc and the town members are still raising Cain. So the board fires the legendary coach and hands the reins to the inexperienced Kent in hopes that he’ll be a dismal failure. A losing season will quell all the fervor and make the transition smoother. Ouch.
Mitch’s grandparents are firm but caring. They hold the teen accountable, but also take the time to put an arm around him and guide him through his struggles. Mitch’s grandfather encourages him to put forth his best effort with, “Even the easy things are tough if you do them halfheartedly.” Granddad also praises his wife’s wisdom.
Most often the town’s residents display the positive side of being devoted fans. They’re extremely supportive and even come out to cheer the boys on during practice. (They’re dispirited at first by the school board’s news but eventually rally back around their kids.) For his part, Kent had decided to take a job in another city, but throws his plans aside to help the team after Coach Van Scoyoc is fired.
The local priest is a welcome and very present member of the community (giving wise advice and showing up in times of need). He crosses himself after a player gets a big hit. A sign on a barn says, “On the 8th day, God created baseball.” Coach Van Scoyoc makes a quip about “the gods” of baseball tradition.
Kent steps out of his shower in a towel. Unconnected to that, he lightly kisses his girlfriend. Mitch and a girl hold hands.
A player is hit in the face by a bouncing ball. After giving up in the middle of a game, a player is shoved and punched by his angry teammates. In a scene that’s more startling than actually violent, the bus driver has a heart attack and slumps over at the wheel while driving. (The bus is pulled safely off the road.)
There are a few unfortunate profanities peppered into the outfield: three s-words and a small handful each of the words “h—,” “d–n” and “a–.”
Mitch smokes a couple cigarettes. His grandfather smokes a cigar. Coach Van Scoyoc gives Kent a glass of alcohol as they talk in his study. Mitch offers to buy the pitcher a six-pack of beer if he can strike out a batter.
When Mitch starts asking about where to buy marijuana, a peer warns him to stay away from his younger sibling.
Mitch takes his grandfather’s truck after being told he shouldn’t. (He is suitably punished with hours of extra work in the pig pens.)
Coach Van Scoyoc says, “Baseball is the only game on Earth where the object is to get home.” That little homily, with its underlying nod to the small town, middle-American hearth, is the heart and soul of The Final Season. Based on a true story, this isn’t just a film about winning a baseball trophy. It’s a story of a community where neighbors are always ready with a helping hand or a comforting shoulder. A tale of home where parents (and grandparents) understand the value of hard work and a few gentle words of guidance. It’s a respectful acknowledgment of a place where young players try in spite of the odds and coaches still believe that the best part of a sport is learning to play it right. And learning the right way to play.
This is not a blockbuster flick or a big message movie, however. It won’t leave audiences wrung out in tears or cheering in the aisles. But at the early screening I attended, it did cause one 8-year-old to jump to his feet during the credits and hoist an invisible bat to his shoulder. He had on his game face and, while mom gathered up the soda cups and popcorn boxes, he faced an imaginary pitcher at the end of our aisle and started swinging for the fence. That’s cool. I just wish he hadn’t had to listen to a trio of s-words and watch Mitch suck on a cig in the process. Because I’ll admit I had a bit of a hankering to join the little guy in his make-believe batter’s box—all because of a tiny film about a tiny town with giant dreams.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.