Review: ‘Running the Bases,’ starring Brett Varvel, Gigi Orsillo, Todd Terry and Cameron Arnett

September 15, 2022

by Carla Hay

Brett Varvel in “Running the Bases” (Photo courtesy of UP2U Films)

“Running the Bases” (2022)

Directed by Marty Roberts and Jimmy Womble

Culture Representation: Taking place in Texas and briefly in Arkansas, in the early 2020s and the early 2000s, the faith-based dramatic film “Running the Bases” features a cast of predominantly white characters (with some African Americans and a few Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: After experiencing a tragedy that derailed his baseball dreams when he was a teenager, an Arkansas man in his late 30s becomes a coach of a high school baseball team in Texas, where he comes up against opposition to his religious ritual of running the bases. 

Culture Audience: “Running the Bases” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching faith-based movies or sports movies with a good story and a meaningful message about courage and standing up for one’s beliefs.

Todd Terry in “Running the Bases” (Photo courtesy of UP2U Films)

As a faith-based drama, “Running the Bases” has the expected religious preaching. Some of the movie’s supporting performances are subpar. However, this good-natured movie is saved by an appealing lead performance by Brett Varvel and some laugh-out-loud comedy. “Running the Bases” should be avoided by anyone who gets turned off by any religious dogma in a movie. But for anyone looking for family-friendly entertainment and can tolerate an unapolegetically Christian-leaning movie, “Running the Bases” is a viable option since it’s slightly better than the average low-budget, faith-based film.

Written and directed by Marty Roberts and Jimmy Womble, “Running the Bases” begins with baseball coach Luke Brooks (played by Varvel) on a baseball field during a pivotal moment in his life. Viewers later find out that Luke is a coach for a high school team called the Parkwood Lions. Luke says in a voiceover, “The path that led me to this moment is not what I had planned for my life.”

Luke mentions God’s purpose and what God the Creator had planned for him. Because the movie shows its religious tone within the first few minutes, viewers will know what to expect for the rest of the movie. The Bible gets mentioned quite a bit and becomes a catalyst for one of the major conflicts in the story.

“Running the Bases” then flashes back to 20 years earlier, when Luke was about 17 or 18 years old and in his last year of his school. The teenage Luke (played by Raphael Ruggero) and his fraternal twin brother Josh (played by Brendan Carl Reimer) are baseball fanatics whose dream is to play professional baseball. Luke and Josh, who are both on their school’s baseball team, live with their parents on a farm in Harrison, Arkansas. Josh is the “alpha male” of this brotherly duo, since he usually takes the lead in whatever he and Luke do.

Both brothers are fairly obedient and respectful. Their idea of rebelling is sneaking off to go fishing with their best friend Jessica (played by Dakota Bruton) instead of doing chores at the farm. The brothers’ mother, Diane Brooks (played by Anita Cordell), is very outspoken in her desire for Luke and Josh to stay in the family farming business.

Diane isn’t very happy that Luke and Josh have applied to a university that can offer full scholarships and where the twins hope to be recruited by a Major League Baseball team. “There’s more to life than baseball,” Diane says to Luke and Robert, much to the brothers’ dismay. Diane’s husband Matt Brooks (played by Stephen Caudill) is more neutral about this matter, but Matt wants the twins to help out with farming duties as much as they can, as long as they’re living there.

One day during a school baseball game, Josh collapses on the field and suddenly dies. The medical diagnosis was that he had an undetected heart defect. It’s also discovered that Luke was born with the same heart condition. He’s told by the attending physician Dr. Spurlock (played by Verda Davenport) that Luke cannot play baseball or do any activity that would put a lot of strain on his heart.

Needless to say, the Brooks family is devastated by losing Josh. There’s a very cringeworthy scene with some bad acting when a grief-stricken Luke is seen by himself wailing and shouting to God: “I’ve got nothing left. No brother, No baseball. Nothing!” he adds, “Can you hear me? Can you even see me?”

Shortly after Josh’s funeral, Luke gets a letter in the mail informing him that he’s been accepted to his top-choice college: Evangel University (where Josh also planned to attend) with a full scholarship. Luke tells his mother Diane that he has no desire to go.

But she has a change of heart about Luke going away to college. She tells him it’s what Josh would have wanted. Diane says tearfully to Luke, “He ran his race. He’d want you to finish yours.” Luke agrees to go to Evangel University. Sometime during Luke’s university years, Luke and Jessica get married.

“Running the Bases” then fast-forwards 20 years later. Luke is still in Harrison and working as a successful baseball coach for the same high school that he and Josh attended. Luke and Jessica (who is a homemaker) are happily married and the parents to a teenage son named Joshua (played by Bridger Trent) also known as Josh, who was named after Luke’s dead twin brother. Luke’s son Josh is about 16 or 17 years old and is in his junior year in high school.

Luke is such a great baseball coach, he has won nine state championships with the teams he’s coached. And so, it should come as no surprise that he gets a job offer from another high school. The person who recruits him is Michael Jamison (played by Todd Terry), the school district superintendent of Parkwood High School, which is in an unnamed city in Texas. Michael offers Luke a salary that is double of Luke’s current salary.

Luke wants to take the job, but Jessica (played by Gigi Orsillo) and Josh don’t want to move out of the only hometown they’ve ever known. In the end, Luke thinks the job offer is God’s way of saying that Luke needs to take on new challenges, so he takes the job. It’s also hinted that Luke still has painful memories of Josh dying on the baseball field where he has to coach his team, so he thinks moving to a new place might help ease those bad memories.

Relocating to Texas has some advantages and disadvantages. Luke and Jessica now live in a much bigger city and are delighted that they can now enjoy some conveniences, such as food delivered to their home, which is a service they didn’t have in rural Harrison. However, Luke is in for a shock when he finds out that the baseball team he’s coaching is so underfunded, they don’t have their own practice field, and they have to use a local park to practice.

Luke also gets mixed reactions as a newcomer to this school. Booster club president Ted Graham (played by Garry Nation) and assistant coach Cage Tyson (played by Stephen C. Lewis) are among those who welcome Luke without hesitation. Alex Kinney (played by Van Stewman Jr.) is an elderly man who’s been a longtime baseball coach for the school, so he’s not as friendly to Luke, because he knows that Luke is essentially replacing him.

Charlie Rogers (played by Robert Thomason), the school’s principal, is cautiously optimistic about Luke. Meanwhile, hard-driving superintendent Michael lets Luke know on several occasions that he expects Luke to turn the baseball team into state champions and do whatever it takes to win. This “win at all costs” attitude is not the same attitude that Luke has, so it should come as no surprise that Michael and Luke end up clashing with each other.

Meanwhile, Luke’s son Josh is on the baseball team but Luke tells everyone that no one on the team, including Josh, will get any unfair special treatment from Luke. Michael’s son Ryan (played by Justin Sterner), who’s kind of a know-it-all brat, is also on the team, and he tests Luke’s authority on the very first day that Luke becomes the team’s coach. However, Luke lets it be known immediately that Ryan won’t get any special privileges just because Ryan’s father is the school district superintendent.

Also on the team is an angry troublemaker named Cody Garrison (played by David Michael Reardon), who becomes an enemy of Josh for various reasons. One of them is because of a love triangle. Josh, who’s a new student at this school, has immediately gotten romantic attention from a schoolmate named Danielle (played by Amber Sweet Sterner), and Cody is jealous because Cody has wanted to date Danielle for quite some time, but she’s rejected Cody.

Ryan’s two best friends are also on the baseball team: easygoing Jerry Wilhite (played by Stephon Gryskiewicz) and energetic Cameron Scott (played by Will Oliver), who are essentially sidekick characters. In one of thee team’s first practices with Luke, the coach notices that school custodian Samuel “Sam” Parker (played by Cameron Arnett) is an enthusiastic watcher of these practices, so Coach Brooks immediately makes Sam an assistant coach for the team. Sam is so delighted and appreciative, he becomes a loyal ally to Luke when things get tough for Luke.

Luke is a coach who leads by using respect, not fear. He tells the team that winning is a goal, but it’s not the most important thing in the game. He says repeatedly that he thinks it’s much more important that they do their best, regardless of the outcome. He also firmly believes in this principle, which he imparts to the team: “Greatness isn’t defined by winning. It’s how you conduct yourself on and off the field.”

All of this might sound very corny, but the movie shows that Luke comes up against obstacles where he is tested and has to show if he practices what he preaches. Ever since his brother Josh died, Luke made it a ritual to run around the bases of a baseball field during practice and pray out loud while running. It’s Luke’s way of honoring God and paying respect to Josh.

However, superintnedent Mike is a staunch atheist, and he thinks that Luke’s religious ritual (which Luke does not force anyone else to do) has no right to be part of the team’s practices or games. And it just so happens that there’s a city ordinance that prohibits city-owned land for being used for religious purposes. Mike demands that Luke stop praying out loud during this “running the bases” ritual, but Luke refuses.

It leads to a feud between Luke and Mike. This feud escalates when Mike finds out that Ryan is showing interest in becoming a Christian, after Ryan spent some time with Jerry and Cameron for a barbecue and casual overnight visit in the Brooks home. And the next thing you know, Ryan is getting baptized. Mike gets even angrier when he discovers that Luke gave Mike a Bible as a gift.

Mike thinks religion is a “fantasy,” and he demands that Ryan have no part of it. One of the reasons why Mike is so against religion is because his wife/Ryan’s mother died of cancer when Ryan was 6 years old. A statement that Mike makes in the movie implies that Mike was probably religious in his past, but he turned against God and religion because of his wife’s death.

Even though Ryan’s home life is unhappy, he is the goofy comic relief in the story. The movie’s funniest moments have to do with a pink Love Rope that Luke uses to discipline and embarrass team members who are temporarily suspended for violating any of the team rules or disrupting the team. The rule-breaking team members have the Love Rope tied to each other and are forced to wear it for a specified period of time while watching the team practice from the sidelines. This Love Rope results in some amusing slapstick comedy in “Running the Bases.”

Even though the movie has some intentionally funny moments, “Running the Bases” is very much a drama. There are some very hokey moments in “Running the Bases,” but there’s nothing in this movie that’s entirely unrealistic. There are no “it’s a miracle” moments, but some viewers might roll their eyes in cynicism at how some conflicts are resolved.

A lot of credit should be given to Varvel in making Luke a believable person and delivering the sometimes very corny dialogue in a way that looks fairly natural. Luke is not perfect (he can be stubborn to a fault), but he can be relatable in some way to most viewers. Arsillo is also quite good in her role as the Jessica, but “Running the Bases” falls into the same stereotypes of a lot of faith-based movies that make female characters with the most significant roles as secondary to the male characters—usually as a love interest or family member of the male protagonist.

And although “Running the Bases” admirably has racial diversity in casting several African Americans in significant roles, there could have had more realistic Latin representation in a movie that’s supposed to mostly take place in Texas, a state that has a very large Latin population. And speaking of casting, unfortunately, some of the movie’s co-stars have awkward and stiff delivery of their lines. But because they are supporting characters, this substandard acting doesn’t ruin the movie.

“Running the Bases” doesn’t try to be anything else but what it is: an earnest and entertaining faith-based film. At least the movie is very up front about its religious elements and mostly succeeds with its intentions. “Running the Bases” also gives ample time to an atheist perspective by not condemning it but by showing the debate over religious freedoms and how they can or cannot be protected secular laws. Stick around for the movie’s end credits for an amusing scene that solves a big mystery that was presented in the story.

UP2U Films will release “Running the Bases” in U.S. cinemas on September 16, 2022.

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