Katelyn Pavey, born with one arm, and raised by parents who lived in shame because of their adulterous affair, rose to become a high school and collegiate softball star.
Ricky Hill, who needed leg braces to walk because of a degenerative spinal disease, with a Baptist preacher father pleading for him to stay away from baseball, went onto became a minor-league sensation.
These two inspirational stories are about to hit the big screen with the release of “I Can” and “The Hill.”
Grab some popcorn – and tissues too.
It took 17 years for “The Hill” (premiering Aug. 25) to find the funding for the movie to be produced with award-winning actor Dennis Quaid playing Hill’s father, while “I Can” (premiering Sept. 22) was made on a low budget sponsored by the folks of tiny Lanesville, Ind. (population 944) and the First Capital Christian Church.
Hill, 67, and Pavey, 24, didn’t want their stories to be told to strike it rich – with all of the proceeds from Pavey’s movie going to non-profit groups like the Christian Alliance for Orphans – rather provide self-esteem and confidence to help others overcome life’s obstacles.
They shared their life experiences this week with USA TODAY Sports, talking about the pain they endured, but the inspiration they hope to create.
Pavey, who hit .326 with 32 stolen bases without ever being caught as an outfielder for Kentucky Christian, and now an intern with the National Fastpitch Coaches Association in Louisville, vividly remembers the childhood trauma of being different. There were taunts, ridicule, and even her kindergarten teacher one day sending home a note telling her parents that she refused to tie Katelyn’s shoes any longer.
“I don’t think she meant anything by it,” said Pavey, who learned to tie her own shoes with one hand that evening, “but it was just one of those things. Parents are the worst. Kids are curious. I remember being really young playing in a pool with a little girl. The girl saw my arm and got scared and went to her mother. Instead of saying that some people are different, her mom walked her to the other side of the pool.
“When I grew up playing softball, you’d hear parents say, ‘She can’t hit. She can’t throw.’ I’m in the batter’s box, and the third baseman was playing so close, I could literally high-five her. In travel ball, one coach asked me to leave because I was causing too much drama, with a parent wondering how I was playing over their daughter with two arms. And when it was time to be recruited for college, coaches would say, ‘I’d love to have you, but I don’t know how to coach a girl with one arm.’
“There are people who just don’t want to give you a chance.’’
Hill, born without a disk in his back, remembers his own father trying to stop him from playing baseball to protect him from the same cruelty in Texas.
Wearing bulky braces under his pants, Hill refused to give in to the. He used sticks to hit rocks, sometimes all day long, vowing to become the best hitter the game has ever seen, no matter his disability. He’d go to the local appliance store and watch the Game of the Week each Saturday wanting to be the next Mickey Mantle.
“We were so poor I remember eating dog food out of a can,” Hill said. “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 as 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, discovered by legendary scout Red Murff, who called him the best pure hitting prospect he’s ever seen, grew up believing he’d be a star. He wound up hitting .298 with 26 homers and 116 RBI in four minor-league seasons, spanning 201 games, and led the Grays Harbor Loggers to the 1978 Northwest League Championship under the late Bill Bryk, who managed the club before becoming a Hall of Fame scout.
“He could hit, and he had power,” Hall of Famer Andre Dawson, Hill’s teammate with the Class A Lethbridge Expos, told USA TODAY Sports. “He was definitely one of our top prospects.’’
Hill’s back gave out after the 1978 season and with his career abruptly ending, he nearly committed suicide. He’s now a financial planner in Grapevine, Texas, still preaching perseverance but always wondering just what could have been.
“I think I would have finished in the top 20 all-time in home runs, without a doubt,” Hill says. “I wanted to tell people I had a swing better than Mickey Mantle’s, but I wasn’t that cocky. I was just built for baseball. God gave me a talent, I could hit.”
It’s the kind of story that writers Angelo Pizzo (screenwriter for “Hoosiers” and “Rudy”) and the late Scott Marshall Smith (“Score,” “Men of Honor”) fell in love with, and had director Jeff Celentano spending the past 17 years trying to get produced.
“The moment I read the script, I cried about six times,” Celentano said. “It got inside my heart, and never left. It became an obsession for me to have this made. Rickey worked so hard to where he got in baseball. His tenacity is unbelievable. He never gave up, and I wasn’t either.”
The most difficult aspect of “I Can’ director Tyler Sansom’s job was simply getting the Pavey family to agree to the filming of the movie. He asked three times and was repeatedly rejected.
Finally, Sansom pleaded with them, saying that if the movie could help just one person, would it be worth it. Eric Pavey and his wife Salena finally agreed, but before they could begin, had to sit down Katelyn and tell her a deep, dark family secret.
You see, when Katelyn was conceived, her parents were not married. Well, they were each married, but not to each other. Eric Pavey was going through a divorce at the time, but still married, while Salena had been married for 1 ½ years.
They fell in love working at the local Bob Evans restaurant, had an affair and Salena became pregnant. While Salena had a difficult pregnancy, not a single one of the five ultrasounds or any doctor detected that Kaitlyn she would be born with her left arm stopping at her elbow.
“When she was born, the doctor told me, ‘Hey, I want to prepare you for what you’re about to see,’” Eric Pavey said. “I’m thinking something is wrong with her heart, or her brain, or something. I thought, ‘Man, this is really going to be bad.’ Then it was like, “Oh, she has one arm, man, I can handle that.’’’
Yet, there was the constant pain of guilt tormenting their body for years, believing that they were being punished by God for the affair.
“Those questions swirled in ours heads for a long time,” Eric Pavey said. “I’m thinking that sin of adultery cost my girl an arm. My wife got over it faster than I did, but I was always wondered if it was because of what I did.’’
The Paveys knew their affair would have to be a prominent theme of the movie if it was going to be properly told, requiring them to share their affair to a whole lot more than the good folks of Lanesville, Ind.
“You can imagine having that on the big screen, and everybody know about it,” said Eric Pavey, now a teacher at Lanesville High School. “We know there’s not always going to be positive comments. But we’re human. We wanted to let people know that everybody has dealt with something they’re not proud of.
“No matter what you’ve done in your past, God has a plan for the future, he’s a God of love and he’s redemptive.’’
The hardest part was revealing to Katelyn and her two younger sisters, who were each born after they were married, about their deep family secret.
“I never knew they weren’t married, I was born out of the affair, or anything like that,’’ Katelyn Pavey said. “I was just shocked. I just felt they should have told me and my siblings. They were just so embarrassed and ashamed they didn’t want to tell us.
“I guess they didn’t want anyone to look at them differently. They had a child born with a disability and blamed themselves for that. Hopefully, by doing this, they’re letting other people know they’re not alone.’’
Said Sansom, who partnered with Kappa Studios to release the film: “Imagine the biggest sin of your whole life, and it’s on the big screen as the primary storyline. The movie has an undercurrent of overcoming. She overcomes her disability, and the parents overcome the guilt and shame. I hope the film can show everybody they can overcome whatever life throws at them.’’
Sansom is not only the movie director, but also happens to be the pastor at their church. Katelyn is getting married in an indoor/outdoor barn on Sept. 15 to Kevin Rockwood, and the person officiating their wedding is, yep, Sansom.
“As you can imagine, it’s been a pretty stressful time,’’ says Katleyn. “You got the movie. The wedding. Starting a new job. But I can handle it.
“Just like in life, as my parents taught me, you can do anything your mind if you set your mind to it.
“The only disability in life is a bad attitude.’’
Around the basepaths
– The Chicago White Sox are conducting a series of internal interviews to determine whether dramatic changes are needed inside the front office or the coaching staff. This has been one of the most disappointing and painful seasons in chairman Jerry Reinsdorf’s tenure.
GM Rick Hahn has one year left on his contract while manager Pedro Grifol has two years remaining.
Lynn, who had a 6.47 ERA with the White Sox, is now 3-0 with a 1.47 ERA since his Dodgers arrival.
Giolito has flopped, going 1-3 with an 8.14 ERA for the Angels.
– The Cardinals will pursue at least three starting pitchers in trades and free agency, president John Mozeliak said, with Julio Urias of the Dodgers, Blake Snell of the Padres and Aaron Nola of the Phillies sitting atop their wish list.
– The Chicago Cubs say they have no intention to offer starter Marcus Stroman a contract extension after the season, and now wonder if Stroman will opt out of his contract, after all. He is sidelined with fractured cartilage in his right rib cage and may not return this season. He is owed $21 million in 2024 in the final year of his three-year, $71 million contract.
– The Yankees, who were cruising along and sitting 11 games above .500 on June 4, have since gone 24-37.
This the latest they have had a losing season since Sept. 6, 1995 when Derek Jeter was a rookie and Aaron Judge was three years old.
– Something strange is happening in Tampa when you take a look at all of their pitchers who have undergone Tommy John surgery since 2020, with the latest being All-Star Shane McClanahan:
– The Dodgers have gone 17-2 in August this year to run away with the NL West, including an 11-game winning streak.
In the Dodgers’ nine division titles in the past 10 years, they are a stunning 160-92 (.635) in August.
“I don’t look at it, and I certainly don’t believe our players look at it, as August being the dog days,’’ Dodgers manager Dave Roberts told reporters. “I don’t think that we start to get tired mentally, physically and hold on. We’re trying to play through October. So, I think when you have a culture, a team of that mind, we’ve got a long way to go.
“So there’s no time to feel fatigued in any capacity.’’
Since Roberts became manager in 2016, the Dodgers have a .678 winning percentage (141-67) in August.
– Los Angeles Angels GM Perry Minasian is the most aggressive GM in the game promoting minor leaguers to the big leagues, and this time even called up first baseman Nolan Schanuel, their first-round pick in this summer’s draft, after only 21 minor-league games.
– The Dodgers have played 1,872 consecutive games at Dodger Stadium without a rainout, and now for the first time, rescheduled Sunday’s game to a doubleheader Saturday because of Hurricane Hilary, threatening to become the first hurricane to hit landfall in Southern California since 1939.
“This is crazy,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “I mean, a hurricane, in Southern California?’’
– The Cincinnati Reds, who are hanging on in the NL Central and wild-card races, will have the calvary coming in with the return of young starters Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo to bolster the rotation. Greene is expected to return Sunday for the first time since June 17 while Lodolo is just a couple of weeks away.
“It’s definitely going to be impactful getting them back,” Reds manager David Bell told reporters, “but it’s the entire team that we have to keep working every day to get back where we want to be. … As important as they are to our team, I wouldn’t want to put that all on them. It’s going to take all of us to play well.”
– Cleveland Guardians closer Emmanuel Clase is a classic example on the inconsistencies of prized relievers in this game.
He was the best closer in the American League a year ago, leading the major leagues with 42 saves in 46 opportunities, striking out 77 while yielding a .167 batting average.
This year, he is 1-7 with a 3.15 ERA, blowing a major-league leading nine saves, while yielding a .244 batting average.
– New York Mets All-Star first baseman Pete Alonso on inadvertently throwing the ball from Cardinals’ rookie shortstop Masyn Winn’s first major-league hit into the stands:
“I feel horrible. I feel awful. I didn’t mean to. I know it sounds stupid, but it’s just a brain fart. I feel like a piece of crap. In the heat of the moment, you kind of just get lost.’’
Thankfully, the Cardinals’ security was still able to retrieve the ball from a fan.
“I’m happy he’s got the ball, but I feel like an idiot,” Alonso said. “That was a complete bonehead move. I’ll never throw a ball into the stands again.’’
– The beleaguered Colorado Rockies quietly are having perhaps the worst season in franchise history, on pace to go 62-100. They have a putrid 8-27 record (.229 winning percentage) against the NL West.
Certainly, it’s painful having their highest-paid player, Kris Bryant, perhaps out for the rest of the season with a broken finger. He will have missed 217 games since signing his seven-year, $182 million contract two years ago if he doesn’t return this season.
– Kudos to World Series hero Kirk Gibson, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s 10 years ago, who continues to raise money for the disease with plans to build therapy centers.
“It doesn’t go away,” Gibson told the Detroit News. “It’s a bad situation, and you want to find something uplifting out of it. You really learn what makes you go and who’s there for you and who isn’t. Whether you have Parkinson’s or not, there are times in people’s lives, as they get older, where there’s a deeper thought process.
“When you’re younger, you don’t have a worry in the world. Then all of a sudden, your first call of duty. Then your second. I don’t know what call I’m on now, but it’s a hell of a long distance one.”
– Well, so much for blaming Yankees hitting coach Dillon Lawson, who was fired at the All-Star break and replaced by veteran first baseman Sean Casey.
Little has changed.
In the first half under Lawson, the Yankees produced a .231/.301/.410 slash line, averaging 4.4 runs a game.
They have a slash line of .232/.325/.376 in the second half under Casey, averaging 3.9 runs a game.
– There’s speculation among scouts that D-backs prized rookie outfielder Corbin Carroll could be bothered by a shoulder injury, although Carroll and the D-backs insist he is perfectly healthy.
He was an All-Star and MVP candidate the first half, slashing .289/.366/.549 with 18 homers and 48 RBI, but since the All-Star break is hitting just .209 with a .303 on-base percentage and .365 slugging percentage with three homers and 11 RBI.
He still could join Mike Trout as only the second rookie in history to hit at least 30 homers with 30 stolen bases.
– Even if Texas Rangers All-Star shortstop Corey Seager doesn’t finish with enough plate appearances to qualify for the American League batting title, he can still win the title, thanks to Rule 9.22 (a) of the MLB handbook.
If a player falls short of the 502 plate appearances, it can add theoretic hitless at-bats to the total. It’s why Tony Gwynn won the 1996 batting title with 498 plate appearances when he hit .353. If they added four more hitless at-bats, even a .349 batting average would have won the batting title.
This year, Seager is hitting .347 over 357 plate appearances, 25 points ahead of anyone else in the American League.
– Atlanta first baseman Matt Olson was hitting.228 with 18 homers, 45 RBI and an .830 OPS on June 15 when manager Brian Snitker moved him out of the second spot in the batting order to fifth, and later to the clean-up spot.
He is hitting .342 with 25 home runs, 62 RBI with an .815 slugging percentage and a 1.246 OPS, putting him in contention for the MVP award with teammate Ronald Acuna and Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman.
He’s on pace to hit 59 homers with 157 RBI, which would shatter the franchise records.
– The Miami Marlins struck gold on their trade with the Guardians acquiring first baseman Josh Bell at the deadline.
He hit just .233 with a .701 OPS and 11 homers and 48 RBI in 97 games for the Guardians, and since has hit .293 with a .973 OPS with five homers and 10 RBI in 11 games for the Marlins.
“Maybe it was that change in threads,” Bell told reporters.
– Atlanta’s Spencer Strider joined Dwight Gooden and Yu Darvish as the only pitchers to have 16 double-digit strikeout games in his first 58 outings, which is even more impressive considering Strider’s first 13 games were in relief.
Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Baseball movies get inspirational boost from I Can, The Hill