How far would you go to achieve your dreams? When everyone around you, including your family, friends and even your own coach, are telling you it’s time to give up and aim for something a bit more “pragmatic” or “attainable,” what would you do?
That’s the question that young female baseball player, Joo Soo-in, must ask as she approaches the end of her high-school career and professional offers fail to come in. Add to that an unsupportive family, a former middle school teammate-turned-rival, and a coach wrapped up in his own failures, and you have a recipe for drama.
Once a young female baseball prodigy, Soo-in now finds herself confronted with the possibility of life after baseball when her high school team’s new coach rejects her, and professional teams refuse to consider her. Choi Jin-tae, a former baseball star who was never able to make it to the Korean Major Leagues, is tasked with taking over his high school team from his idol, and doesn’t see a spot for Soo-in. Choi does all he can to dissuade Soo-in from continuing to play, including harshly criticizing her, kicking her out of practices, and finally taking her to meet a team executive who insultingly dismisses her.
Despite the adversity and prejudice she faces, Soo-in refuses to give up on her dream and, finally, the coach is forced to ask her why. Soo-in is able to provide her jaded coach a bit of a fresh perspective; when he asks her why she keeps trying, she responds “I don’t quit unless I’ve tried.” The coach, who sees a bit of himself in Soo-in—as well as the same potential for a flame-out—considers her words and, for the first time since he took over the team, starts taking her seriously.
This is a major turning point for both Soo-in and Coach Choi; realizing Soo-in will never be able to throw hard enough to earn the interest of a Korean Baseball team, Choi decides to teach her the knuckleball instead. Choi also becomes her fiercest advocate.
Unfortunately, Soo-in faces as much rejection and adversity at home as she does from other players, coaches, and executives, as her unsupportive mother obsesses over money and her father struggles to keep the family afloat. Things finally come to a head when the father is taken away for cheating on an exam and, in a fit of anger, Soo-in’s mother burns her baseball glove, threatens to kick her out of the home, and demands she give up on her baseball dreams.
Why should Soo-in get to have dreams when her mother had to give up her own? After blaming Soo-in for her misfortunes, her mother spitefully tells her, “If you were any good, you’d already have a team,” and forces her to take a job at an injection molding plant.
Will Soo-in defy her mother and continue to pursue her dreams of playing professional baseball? Or will she resign herself to a life of what ifs and what might have beens?
While Baseball Girl doesn’t really do anything innovative with the sports drama, it does provide a fresh perspective, as well as an inspirational story and likable lead character. Soo-in, much like Ginny Baker of the late, lamented FOX show Pitch, is a role model for not just girls or baseball fans, but anyone who has dreams which may seem unattainable.
The movie also boasts realistic baseball performances from the leads, as the actors all trained extensively for a month with professional Korean players. So often, actors-turned-athletes leave much to be desired, but Lee Joo-young, the actress who plays Soo-in, looks and acts like a real ballplayer.
The movie is also buoyed by the supporting cast, particularly by Yeom Hye-ran as Soo-in’s unhappy mother, Hae-sook. It would be easy to hate her, but Yeom Hye-ran lends nuance and depth to a broken woman who long ago lost her own dreams and has been taking it out on her daughter ever since.
Lee Joo-young and her costars also drew inspiration from the eponymous character. After reading the script Lee Joon-hyuk, who plays Coach Choi, actually called up an actor he’d previously worked with to apologize for cynically warning him against acting due to the difficulties he’d face. And Lee Joo-young drew strength from the character of Soo-in as she practiced honing her onscreen baseball skills with professional athletes, becoming “much closer to Su-in then.”
Baseball Girl is as much a character driven drama as it is a sports film, providing insight into the interior lives of those who struggle for their baseball dreams. The resilience of Soo-in in pursuing her supposedly unattainable dreams, against the fiercest opposition, with baseball as the backdrop, serves as an inspiration for anyone striving for more.