During an incredibly successful year for faith-based movies like Jesus Revolution and Sound of Freedom, a new uplifting Christian-themed film has just been released in the United States. The Hill is based on the true story of a Baptist preacher’s son who was given no hope of ever playing professional baseball, yet he did, against all the odds.
Rickey Hill was born in 1956 with a degenerative spinal disease that left him missing a disc in his spine. He grew up in Texas, living in great pain and wearing leg braces to get around. He would hit rocks with sticks, dreaming of the crack of a baseball bat as he slammed a ball into the outfield.
When he was eight years old, he ripped off the braces and grabbed a baseball bat and just started hitting a ball. His incredible tenacity during his formative years landed him a tryout with major league franchise the Montreal Expos who signed him up, but then released him before he got a shot at the big time.
But he went on to play a few years of minor league baseball. The scout who discovered him, Red Murff, described Rickey Hill to USA Today as “the best pure hitting prospect he’s ever seen.” He only bowed out of the sport when his health prevented him from continuing.
Rickey Hill had already achieved his dream. “I knew one day that I would make it, somehow, some way. It didn’t matter the pain. I weathered the pain, because it was very painful, but I weathered that storm through the pain and I just had it built in. My father had it, I had it,” the now 67-year-old told Faithwire.
His father James who’s played by Christian actor Dennis Quaid in the movie, was always apprehensive about his son’s baseball career. He was hoping Rickey would choose a life dedicated to ministry. And in a way he did: “I was probably the only baseball player ever that never said a curse word. I would get on the buses and I’d start preaching and singing Gospel songs to the guys who would listen and sing when I led them while we were on the road traveling. That carried on through my baseball career,” he recalled.
Even in moments when he didn’t understand God’s plan — when he was sick or lying paralysed on the field — he never abandoned hope or trust in God’s sovereignty. “I never gave up hope and faith and I went through major surgeries that restored my legs. I’ve got nine screws in my spine, I have six cages and a 14-inch (35 cm) rod that holds me together. And today, I’m very thankful,” he revealed to Faithwire.
Rickey Hill may not have played in the World Series, but he’s still a legend to many in the baseball community. This month he threw the ceremonial first pitch before a game between the Los Angeles Angels and the Texas Rangers.
Seeing his life’s journey turned into a movie is yet another confirmation of God’s faithfulness. In the late 1970s, Rickey’s brother recorded his story in a small book intended just for the family. Someone in their church got hold of it, and sent it to Hollywood, where a studio expressed interest in turning the book into a movie, but the project was shelved for decades.
Now it’s on the big screen. “Even this movie has brought me just closer to God,” Rickey Hill told Faithwire through tears. “Because of what I went through, it brings me closer to Jesus Christ, because I know that this story was ordained before I was even in my mother’s womb.”
An Australian release of The Hill will probably hinge on its reception in the US, although a streaming service is likely to pick it up.