The Sandlot (1993)

Directed by David Mickey Evans
Written by David Mickey Evans and Robert Gunter

When I was a child, I often spent my summer days at the ballpark, playing the game I love so dearly with so many of my friends. However, my experience was within the confines of Little League, and the rules, regulations, and schedules put forth by adults. As much fun as playing baseball all summer was, the idea of a sandlot team is somehow much more charming. The idea of gathering with your friends to just play ball all day, to get better and just have fun, is an incredible fantasy for this baseball loving child at heart. Even today, I still play in a wood bat league, but wish I could play more. But for as accurate as The Sandlot is at depicting a love of the game, and how a group of kids can come together to have fun simply playing the game, at a much deeper level, the film is even more about building relationships, and having an open mind about people.

Scotty Smalls (Tom Guiry) has just recently moved to the Los Angeles valley from a few states away, so while he likes to spend time in his room with his erector set, his mother (Karen Allen) encourages him to get out and make friends. After following some neighborhood kids, led by Benny (Mike Vitar) to the sandlot one day, Smalls, who doesn’t know how to play baseball, soon finds himself a part of their team. But when one day they lose their ball over the fence into Mr. Mertle’s (James Earl Jones) yard, where the giant guard dog Beast lives, Smalls grabs an autographed ball from his step-dad’s (Denis Leary) trophy room. But when he hits his first home run into the same Beast guarded yard with the ball, the gang goes into full recovery mode after Smalls reveals the ball was signed by some lady named “Babe Ruth”.

As with other films in this marathon, The Sandlot holds a special place in my nostalgic heart, but seeing the film again these many years later, perhaps with a more mature and critical mind, I was able to uncover some hidden truths about the film I hadn’t noticed before. This viewing, for instance, showed me just how much the film is not about baseball at all. While it serves as a great backdrop, the film is truly about friendship and what it means to be someone’s friend. Benny, the leader of the group, leads by example when the group begins to bully Smalls for his initial lack of aptitude for baseball. Benny has compassion and his character truly shows not only what a friend should be like, but how a leader should lead. He shows the power of a leader, as he influences the other to lay off Smalls and give him a chance. His strong values are what make this a wholesome film about friendship and inclusion.

Sharing in something as special as the sport of baseball shows the deep, lasting relationships that can develop in childhood. The cast of characters helps to make this movie, but is always anchored by the honest and eager Smalls and the talented and compassionate Benny. Squints and Ham Porter are the comedic relief, but the entire team helps show the tight friendships developed over a summer of baseball. Wendy Peffercorn, and many of the memorable lines such as “You’re killing me Smalls!” or “Heroes get remembered, but legends never die,” help make the film memorable and nostalgic. The pool scene, the fireworks night game, the carnival scene, the ball retrieval sequence and the PF Flyers scene all help make The Sandlot unforgettable. The great 60s rock and roll soundtrack also helps.

With The Sandlot, we enter into the middle of the baseball movie boom, just as history was beginning to write a story about greedy Major League players who wanted more money and more fame. We will see this continue in the next few film, but the childlike wonder of the game, and the notion that the game is first and foremost fun begins with The Sandlot, making it an important component in the history of baseball movies.

The “biggest pickle” they ever got into is simply an allegory for life, as we tend to imagine things to be bigger and scarier than they often turn out to be, simply needing an open mind and a friend in order to face our fears and have fun. In giving Smalls a chance, and the reveal of the big bad Beast and his owner being nothing more than likable baseball fans helps to communicate the message of giving people a chance to surprise you, and being rewarded by it. Even the classic line, “You play ball like a girl,” which in today’s lexicon would likely be frowned upon, we see the underdog spirit of the sandlot gang against the preppy organized team. Just as we encourage kids of all socio-economic and sexual backgrounds to do what they love, even if that means playing ball like a girl, like Mone Davis and others, The Sandlot stands for an open mind to the possibilities of everyone in being good at something you wouldn’t expect, especially with practice, but most importantly the possibility of being a good, long lasting friend.

**** – Favorite

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