‘Faith in Jesus’ Carried Rickey Hill from Life with Leg Braces to Baseball Stardom

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The man who inspired the new film about a boy who overcame a physical handicap to play professional baseball says his Christian faith gave him strength and guidance.

Rickey Hill’s incredible story is the subject of the new movie The Hill (PG), which follows Hill as he grows up in rural Texas wearing leg braces due to a degenerative spinal disease but nevertheless develops an uncanny ability to hit a baseball. Hill wants to play pro ball, despite opposition from his Baptist pastor father and bullying from other kids who consider him an unathletic “robot.”

Hill played professional baseball in the 1970s.

“I was born with problems,” Hill told Christian Headlines. “[But] I didn’t let them take me down. I’m still here.”

The film stars Colin Ford (Walker, A Thousand Tomorrows) in the lead role and Dennis Quaid (Blue Miracle, I Can Only Imagine) as Hill’s father. Angelo Pizzo, who wrote the script for Rudy (1993) and Hoosiers (1986), co-wrote The Hill.

Jeff Celentano, who directed it, first learned of Hill’s story 17 years ago.

“I read the script and bawled my eyes out and never looked back. It just got inside my soul,” Celentano told Christian Headlines. “Like Rickey determined to play baseball, I was determined to get this movie made.”

Hill’s story, Celentano said, is inspiring, even unbelievable. Hill learned to hit a baseball by hitting hundreds of rocks each day in the dry fields of Texas. That determined attitude continued into his teen years and adulthood.

“Rickey broke his ankle right before he was supposed to try out [for baseball],” Celentano said. “And he cut his cast off, and went to the tryouts anyway, and limped through them, but was hitting balls straight out of the park, one after the other to prove that he was the best hitter.”

Celentano said he wants the movie to “change people’s lives.” He wanted to make, he said, a “beautiful movie that people would go to, and it would last forever and ever, and people would enjoy watching, like we do with Field of Dreams or The Natural.”

Hill told Christian Headlines his never-give-up attitude came naturally.

“When you have to fight for the first few years of your life, you’re fighting all the time – walking and trying to do all those things, it just came built-in,” Hill said. “And anything I wanted to do, I wanted to be the best at. It just came to me. God gave me the ability to have it. Also my dad always said, ‘If God gives you the ability to have it, He’ll take it away from you if you don’t use it.’ And so, therefore, I used it every way I could.”

His Christian faith, he said, gave him the strength to persevere in life.

“That’s what made me such a really strong person was because of my faith,” Hill said. “My dad built it into me and kept it in me. And I didn’t let no one step on me anymore. … My faith in Jesus was always number one. Family second, baseball third. And if there hadn’t been for my faith, I wouldn’t have carried on.”

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Photo courtesy: ©Briarcliff Entertainment, used with permission

Video courtesy: ©Briarcliff Entertainment

Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chroniclethe Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

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