Is The Hill Accurate to the True Story (And What Happened to Rickey Hill)?

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Summary

  • The Hill is a biographical film about Rickey Hill, a baseball player who overcame a spinal condition to achieve his dream.
  • Like The Boys in the Boat, The Hill received high audience scores and found success on Netflix despite mixed critical reception.
  • Rickey Hill’s story in The Hill is mostly accurate, although there are some creative liberties taken with his relationship with his father.


The biographical sports drama film The Hill presents the remarkable life story of Rickey Hill, an aspiring baseball player whose dream of playing major league baseball was challenged by a debilitating spinal condition. The film reveals the various obstacles that Hill encountered throughout his life, beginning with childhood bullying and poverty, before he ultimately achieved his dream of playing professional baseball.

Like the biographical sports drama film The Boys in the Boat, The Hill demonstrates that inspiring and unashamedly sentimental underdog stories have a timeless appeal, except apparently for critics, who viewed the film as cynically as they did The Boys in the Boat. Despite this, The Hill, like The Boys in the Boat, received one of the highest audience scores in recent history. Moreover, while the movie only grossed approximately $7.6 million at the box office upon the film’s theatrical release, much less than The Boys in the Boat, the film has found a much larger audience on the streaming platform Netflix, where it became one of the platform’s most-watched films.


The Hill Tells the Amazing True Underdog Story of Rickey Hill

The Hill
The Hill (2023)

Release Date
August 25, 2023

Director
Jeff Celentano

Runtime
2hr 6min

Read Our Review

The screenplay for The Hill was co-written by Angelo Pizzo, who previously wrote the classic underdog sports films Hoosiers and Rudy, both of which were inspired, to varying degrees, by real-life events and people. Like Rudy, which is based on the life of Rudy Ruettiger, The Hill features a titular real-life protagonist who had to surpass major obstacles to realize his sports-related dream.

Rickey Hill, played by Colin Ford, experienced a difficult childhood in which his degenerative spinal condition forced him to wear leg braces while enduring continual pain and numerous spinal surgeries. Hill’s family’s poverty resulted in sometimes being forced to eat dog food out of a can.

Hill endured vicious bullying throughout his childhood because of his leg braces and had a contentious relationship with his father, James, a Baptist preacher who wanted Hill to become a minister and largely disapproved of Rickey’s quest to become a professional baseball player.

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However, despite his crippling spinal condition, Hill exhibited a great talent for playing baseball by the age of seven when he, with the encouragement of his brother, Robert, began playing baseball against older children. By the age of 12, he gained a reputation for being a prodigious hitter and was dubbed a “home run king” by coaches and fellow players.

In 1975, Hill was signed by the Montreal Expos after putting on a dazzling hitting performance at a major league tryout camp in Texas. While he never played major league baseball, he had four productive minor league seasons until 1978, when his degenerative spinal condition forced him to retire from baseball at the age of 22.

The Hill Is Fairly Accurate to the Real-Life Story

While The Hill certainly contains the requisite amount of creative license and exaggeration that occupies virtually all biographical sports films, the film is nonetheless faithful to the core elements of Rickey Hill’s true story, specifically in terms of his fierce determination to play baseball for as long as his failing body would allow him.

The most prominent creative invention in The Hill is related to Rickey Hill’s minister father, played by Dennis Quaid, who delivers a great performance. In the film, Rickey’s relationship with his father is strained because of his father’s opposition to Rickey’s dream of becoming a professional baseball player.

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However, in real life, Rickey’s father, while never encouraging Rickey’s baseball dream, wasn’t nearly as obstinate as he appears in the film. Moreover, as the film’s emotional climax shows Rickey and his father warmly embracing in the outfield of the tryout camp field, James wasn’t present for his tryout, where Rickey put on a spectacular hitting display.

In fact, Rickey’s father never saw Rickey play baseball during Rickey’s four-year minor league career and at virtually any other point in time. However, while this scene is fiction, the film’s climax nonetheless represents an accurate portrayal of the overall evolution of Rickey’s relationship with his father, who officiated Rickey’s wedding, which took place at home plate on a baseball field on August 5, 1975. In real life, Rickey married his childhood sweetheart, Sherran, who is named Gracie Shanz in the film. Rickey and Sherran divorced in 1986 and had two children.

Rickey Hill Found Happiness After Baseball

The Hill portrays Rickey Hill as a fierce competitor who viewed his body as being like a figurative tire and was determined to continue playing baseball until the tire, in his words, finally went flat. After playing in the minor leagues through excruciating pain, including bouts of temporary paralysis, Hill’s body finally gave out on him in 1978.

After retiring from baseball, Hill became a golf instructor and Little League coach in Fort Worth, Texas. He currently works as a financial planner, though the adulation that he received from the film has made him a sought-after motivational speaker. Hill also continues to live in excruciating pain. After countless surgeries, his back has screws and a steel rod. After living with pain throughout his life, Hill, who turned 67 approximately ten days before The Hill was released theatrically on Aug. 25, 2023, says that he regards the pain as being like an old friend. Audiences can see more from Rickey Hill on his official website, found here. The Hill is currently streaming on Netflix.

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