The Perfect Game, opening in theaters April 16th, is the perfect movie. The best part is that it’s based on a true story about a baseball team from Monterrey, Mexico that competes in the 1957 Little League World Series. The team of unlikely champions prays daily and has a priest, played perfectly by Cheech Marin (from Cheech and Chong fame), who blesses them and gives gentle guidance. These boys from a poor town must depend on the kindness of strangers — and even the State Department when expired visas threaten to force them back to Mexico. In this story baseball becomes much more than just a game – it become the opening for deep abiding faith in God and human nature.
An engaging and touching movie such as this, about a story that actually took place, is raised above mere entertainment to pure inspiration. Alongside many of the movie scenes are authentic film footage of the real team — poor Mexican boys reaching for a dream. Their faith and their story reflect God and the Catholic faith in a way rarely portrayed on the big screen.
Interview with Cheech Marin
Mark Armstrong: What took Hollywood so long to tell the enthralling and inspirational story of The Perfect Game?
Cheech Marin: You know, I don’t know. It was such an obvious movie to make and it was a story that I knew real well growing up. I was in Little League when this happened in 1957, the exact same age as these kids. I even looked like them. So I really identify with the story. When they came to me with the script and asked me if I would like to play the priest I said, ‘Absolutely.’
I mean I followed this story when it happened in 1957 on the newsreels. They didn’t have the 24-hour cable channels like now. You went to the theater, this mythic place to see your heroes, it was like another world. So watching these kids do this, coming from absolutely nothing, not even having a bat or a ball or shoes, a ball field–nothing–and winning the Little League World Series, it is amazing.
Armstrong: To put this into perspective, people talk about the “Miracle on Ice” when the U.S. Hockey team beat the Soviets in 1980, this really was something more miraculous wasn’t it?
Cheech: When you look at the odds that were stacked against them and the hundreds of teams with more experience than they had, it was a miracle. What it really shows is the Mexican love for baseball.
Armstrong: It also showed the Mexican love for their Catholic faith because so much of the movie shows scenes of how the boys trusted that God would come through for them.
Cheech: You know I grew up Catholic; I was an altar boy and a choir member. It is a story of faith. For instance, prejudice was unknown to them in their country of Mexico. So when they get to the United States and realize that there are people in that era that treated people of color differently, they rely on their faith to get them through that.
Armstrong: And yet despite dealing with those Jim Crow laws, you see woven through the movie the kindness of strangers practicing what Jesus taught: “whatever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do onto Me.”
Cheech: Wasn’t that wonderful? I think that is the best part of this movie where they are taken in by black hospitality despite the South’s prejudice. The boys were just excited to be there and all they had was their faith to go on. Everyday was a wonderful day for them.
Armstrong: It was also wonderful how the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Juan Diego was told by you to the Little Leaguers at one point in the movie. Did you know about the story growing up and talk a little bit about your faith life?
Cheech: Absolutely. She is the Patroness of the Americas! It is a very famous story. All my upbringing, growing up as a Catholic, helped me to play this part as Padre Esteban. A lot of the people playing parts in this movie are Catholic so they understood what it all meant. So they knew how to pray, how to show reverence for what we were doing and for me the priest (laughs).
Armstrong: I read somewhere that you stated that Mexican priests pastor their flocks differently than American priests.
Cheech: Yeah, I always found Mexican priests to be much more spiritual, concerned more with the soul. American priests sometimes needed to raise funds to build stuff. Where I grew up in Grenada Hills, California in the 1950’s, they had to raise money for building the first church and school there. Their mission from the diocese then was to build a church, so it was harder to pastor people when that was their mission.
Armstrong: So what we see in the movie The Perfect Game is your character Padre Esteban always working to build up the souls of the boys and particularly the Coach.
Cheech: Exactly! The boys’ Coach Cesar Faz is like the Prodigal Son. He has these skills and it is a test of faith for him, which I knew he would pass because I had faith in him, given the right amount of encouragement.
Armstrong: You have come a long way from the days of Cheech and Chong to playing a priest!
Cheech: (Laughs) Well, we all grow up sometime. Tommy [Chong] and I still do our comedy, but it’s a lot different you know.
Spread the Message
Given a positive response from everyone that sees The Perfect Game, by word of mouth, this movie will become a blockbuster–as it deserves to be. It doesn’t always work out that way in the world of big advertising budgets, however. Popular movies are often the ones with the most marketing. But perhaps, this story about the underdog beating all odds, will do so in more ways than one. The Perfect Game will succeed at the box office if this family friendly, God loving story is talked about by those that see it and love it.
The Perfect Game is poised to become a classic. It tells the story about a time in our history when you couldn’t get a hotel room or a meal or sit on a bus or go to the bathroom in the South unless you were white. People, particularly those not old enough to remember those days, need to see films like The Perfect Game to understand that while America has certainly changed, we are still far from perfect.
When I talked to Cheech Marin he told me that the original players that are still alive were very protective about anyone making a movie about “their” story. After seeing the final result, he said they are very happy with the movie.
This movie is about our Catholic faith in action. Baseball is at the heart but God is at the soul — intertwined and never separated. At the end of the movie, photographs of the original people are shown. Watching the closing credits, one will marvel at where all the players and coaches ended up. The story did not just end along with the championship. It lives on in the lives of the original boys, in the memory of victory in their home town, and now it will continue to live on in the hearts and minds of all those that come to see the movie.
To learn more, visit www.theperfectgamemovie.com Rating: PG (for some thematic elements). Run time: 113 minutes.