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Little champs

Movies | The Perfect Game tells an inspiring baseball story

Issue: "Flame-outs," May 8, 2010

In 1957, when baseball still reigned supreme on the radio and in the hearts of little boys, a group of poor, Mexican youngsters shocked everyone by winning the Little League World Series. Not only did they win, but their pitcher, Angel Marcias, pitched the only perfect game in Little League World Series history. From a dusty town outside Monterrey, Mexico, this team was long on passion but short on resources and size. A new family film, The Perfect Game, tells their story.

Cheech Marin plays Padre Esteban, the spiritual shepherd of the desperately poor town. To keep boys out of trouble, he gathers them around the radio and fills their heads with baseball stories. The boys carve a bat out of a crooked tree limb and make a baseball from a roll of string. Like the boys, Cesar (Clifton Collins Jr.), their coach, grew up passionate about baseball. He even moved to St. Louis to try his luck on the Cardinals team. However, in the days before Jackie Robinson, Cesar's Mexican heritage kept him off the field and relegated to menial tasks. He moves home to nurse his disappointment.

Cesar needs the rag-tag boys as much as they need him, and he makes the urchins into a team.

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Cheech Marin, who grew up in L.A., remembers being inspired by the team. "I was in Little League when this story happened," he told me in an interview. "They were exactly the same age as I was. I remember it like it was yesterday. This was big news because I so identified with the kids because they were Mexican and they were little. And I was both of those."

The film (rated PG) treats faith very well. It is also squeaky clean and not afraid to let children be children, instead of wise-cracking mini-adults. Although it drags a bit at times, the film adds up to a satisfying and moving conclusion. The tale of underdogs who make it big is inspiring, almost as inspiring as a perfect game.

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