Helmed by Jeff Celentano, ‘The Hill’ is a sports drama film that delves into the world of professional baseball and one boy, Rickey Hill, who challenges all odds against him. Hill always knows in his mind he is a baseball player, but his biggest opponent is his own body. Born with a Degenerative Spine Disorder, the ardent lover of baseball sets on a most daunting challenge against fate itself! ‘The Hill’ is an inspiring tale of a man’s remarkable journey and resilience that is natural to make many wonder whether such a person exists in real life. If you’re curious about whether ‘The Hill’ is rooted in reality, we’ve got your back. Here’s everything you need to know!
Is The Hill a True Story?
Yes, ‘The Hill’ is based on a true story. The sports-themed biographical film is based on the life of former baseball player Rickey Glenn Hill. Along with the compelling performances of the main cast, Jeff Celentano’s masterful direction and screenwriter Angelo Pizzo’s first-rate writing skills brought Rickey Hill’s inspiring story to life. Born in Fort Worth, Texas, to a Baptist Preacher, Hill always wanted to pursue a dream of professional baseball. However, he had one major obstacle poking in his way — he was born with a Degenerative Spine Disorder that made him use leg braces for mobility. Yet, Hill didn’t let the physical hindrances deter his spirit and overcame all challenges to realize his dream.
Talking about the film’s conception in an interview, Rickey Hill revealed that in 1975 his brother had already written a 56-page story about his family, and Hollywood was interested but Hill couldn’t pursue it as his parents became unwell at the same time. Director Jeff Celentano said that it took him 17 years to get this story made for the screen. Celentano’s brother overheard Hill talking about needing a director, and after interviewing 40 directors, he didn’t feel they had his best interests at heart. After this, Celentano talked to Hill and asked to read the script.
Celentano explained that Hill “did the impossible” and was “definitely guided by a higher power for sure…” He said the story reminded him of the 1985 movie, ‘My Life as a Dog.’ After 17 years, Celentano found producer Warren Oscargaard from Charleston, who would believe in his vision and carry forward with the project. In conversation with The Athletic, the filmmaker said, “I cried six or seven times reading the first script. I wanted to make a movie that people didn’t have to worry about anything but leaving inspired.” Hill was overwhelmed and ecstatic to share his story with the world. He stated, “I’m glad people (are learning about my story) because they never really did before.”
Opening up about his humble beginnings, Hill added, “I was eating dog food out of the can at times. It was a rough road for a kid growing up, wearing (leg) braces. It made things pretty tough. … I’m just thankful for the movie. I hope every little leaguer likes it and learns, guess what guys? Don’t stop.” Hill’s life has been marred with ups and downs. Talking about it, he told USA Today, “My dad had to make my own leg braces, and I tried to hide them under my pants. I didn’t have money for anything; I didn’t have a glove until I was 12. But I never learned the word ‘quit’ or believe that I couldn’t do it. I knew in my mind it was going to happen. If someone said I couldn’t do it, I’d want to do it even more.’’
Hill always dreamed of becoming “the next Mickey Mantle.” According to reports, Hill would go to the local appliance store and watch the baseball Game of the Week each Saturday and follow in the footsteps of legendary player Mickey Mantle. His father, James Hill (Dennis Quaid), a Baptist preacher, pleaded with him to stay away from baseball and follow in his footsteps, but he followed his true calling and went on to become a rising star in the minor leagues. In 1975, the Montreal Expos signed Hill, and he played four seasons in the minor leagues before his body gave up to the condition.
Reflecting on his younger days, Hill told Risen Magazine that sometimes he hit rocks for 16 hours a day, and it “dealt [him] a great hand of having an excellent baseball swing because when it came time to get them off, I was just tagging them.” He added, “Because you’re hitting a little rock. And if you’re hitting a stick with a rock, that’s very hard to do. But that helped my vision, helped me make contact with the ball, even helped me with the stance, even though you’re kind of depleted with your legs. But still, [I] learned all of it right there. It became a natural deal with me.”
Celentano explained what Hill meant when he said he didn’t have a dream; he had success: It’s “because he hits 2000 rocks a day on the railroad track because they were so poor he had nothing else to do and it was a free stick and a free rock. He got so good at eye-hand coordination that he could aim the rock and he just automatically knew he was a baseball player. He was going to go into it even though he had the struggle and fight to do it, so it wasn’t a dream to him…” Hill was discovered by the renowned scout Red Murff (Scott Glenn) and was believed to be the most promising prospect.
Unfortunately, the inevitable happened in 1978. His back was never the same again and all his prospects of a fine career just ended right there, leaving him suicidal. Perhaps, life had other plans for him. Reportedly, Hill is a financial planner in Grapevine, Texas. After a screening of the movie, Celentano said that whether you’re a person of faith or not, you would love the film, comparing it to ‘Seabiscuit,’ ‘Rudy,’ and ‘The Blind Side’. With this movie, he wanted “every little kid in the world to go, I can do anything, nothing’s impossible after watching this.” In the same interview, Hill gave his advice to young kids with dreams: “I always took it like this – whatever we’ve learned, try to learn a little bit more.”
The former baseball player further explained, “If you’re out there on the field and they’re hitting you 10 ground balls, you take 11… if they’re hitting you 50, you take 60. Always expect to do something more than the other person that you’re up against. And that’s what I always thrived on.” On his Christian leanings, Hill told Family Entourage that he had a practice before every match: “I drew the cross in the dirt and I always stood on the cross every time I got to bat. I’m the very last … No one has ever even done this in baseball.”
He added, “No one’s ever drawn a cross… I was a Baptist and we had Baptist rules… I always had faith in me the whole time of my lifetime. That’s why I thought I was so good. That’s why.” Colin Ford, who plays Rickey Hill in the film, told Christian Headlines: “[It’s] also about the dedication of pursuing one’s God-given talents… Rickey had an insane belief in himself and an insane belief in his faith. And I think that they were linked. Rickey said to me that when he would swing the bat, he would feel like it wasn’t even him doing it. He would feel like there was another force or power at work essentially.”
Therefore, there’s no doubt that this biographical film is completely based on a true story that’s been out there for years until a visionary director and producer believed in it as much as the real-life Rickey Hill. ‘The Hill’ is an uplifting story that tells the youth that anything is possible if you set your heart on it. Even if Hill couldn’t play baseball again for the rest of his life, he became a symbol of unfulfilled potential, of what could have been. In this journey, Hill can be at peace knowing he gave his best with his financial circumstances and the trials endured by his body.
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