A kids' baseball story with a powerful pitch

Clifton Collins Jr. plays the Mexican boys' coach and Cheech Marin the padre in the inspirata- tional "The Perfect Game."

As a rule, "No crying in baseball" is a sound principle. But make an exception for The Perfect Game, a very sweet, very slight family movie that scores smiles and tears of joy.

In this incredible-but-true tale of the Mexican ballplayers who triumphed in the 1957 Little League World Series, director William Dear emphasizes team spirit and uplift. As with his 1994 remake of Angels in the Outfield, The Perfect Game is a story of answered prayers in the church of baseball.

Made with minimal resources and maximal heart, the unabashedly earnest film has a tremendous asset in its young stars and inspirational story. (It was previously told in the little-known 1960 Mexican documentary Los pequeños gigantes, Little Giants.) The cast of scrappers here is a pleasant surprise, if not quite as unexpected as the casting of Cheech Marin as Padre Esteban.

The story begins in Monterrey, Mexico's industrial capital (inexplicably pictured as a dusty one-burro pueblo rather than a thriving steel town with a population in 1957 of about 500,000). There the youth listen to broadcasts of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Improvising bats out of pipe-organ cacti and balls out of rubber bands, the boys play Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese, and Sandy Koufax.

Then steelworker Cesar Faz (Clifton Collins Jr.) tells the boys he used to coach for the St. Louis Cardinals (he was actually a janitor). He reluctantly agrees to coach the pint-size ballplayers and works them hard. The wide-eyed kids, best among them Jake T. Austin as Angel Macias and Gabriel Morales as Ricardo Trevino, elevate the film above its threadbare filmmaking.

After Cesar tutors the Monterrey Industrials in the holy trinity of strikes, RBIs, and homers, the community makes their uniforms and the Sunday collection plate finances their bus trip to the Texas border town of McAllen, where they are underdogs who triumph over bigger foes and bigotry.

They are Davids who, on their way to Williamsport, dispatch many Goliaths. Maybe it's because before each game, they recite a psalm of David, the 108th, in honor of the 108 stitches on a baseball?

This real-life fantasy is an inspirational movie for young baseball fans and their grandparents.

Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5630 or crickey@phillynews.com. Read her blog, "Flickgrrl," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/flickgrrl/.

The Perfect Game

Directed by William Dear. With Lou Gossett Jr., Clifton Collins Jr., Jake T. Austin, Cheech Marin, Jansen Panettiere, Moises Arias, Emilie de Ravin, Bruce McGill, Patricia Manterola, Alfredo Rodriguez. Distributed by Lionsgate.

Running time: 1 hours, 58 minutes.

Parent's guide: PG (for some thematic elements).