Directed by David M. Evans (1993)
by Sandy DeVito
There are some movies that are so innately tied to emotions they become their own distinct memories, as important as any real experience. The Sandlot is a movie I remember watching in my elementary school classrooms on days where it was too hot, there was no air conditioning and we needed the lights dimmed so we wouldn't pass out, and the teachers agreed we were all too sweaty and sleepy to pay attention to a lesson. They'd wheel those big boxy TVs on metal shelves into the room. There was always a cheerful excitement when we realized we were going to watch The Sandlot. For my generation, this movie was a fundamental part of the childhoods of so many of us, boy or girl, even for those of us who didn't know much about baseball. It's about baseball, but it's also about the warm, hazy nostalgia of summer, and the fleeting restlessness of extreme youth and young friendship, both innocent and bittersweet.
The narrator here is Scotty Smalls (his adult self narrates the film, like Richard Dreyfuss in Stand by Me -- a perfect film if there ever was one and in the same universe as Sandlot for Best Movies About The Best Summer Ever), and he's just moved to a new neighborhood. There is a group of local boys, led by Benjamin Franklin Rodriguez (Mike Vitar -- what ever happened to that guy anyway? He makes this movie what it is, and you really believe his character grew up to be a huge sports star), and they play baseball endlessly in the park, every day. Scotty is desperate to be friends with them and prove that he can hang, as it were, and Benny takes pity on him even when everyone else thinks he's a square. They all come around eventually, though, and it culminates in the best memories of Scotty's childhood. Scotty ends up working in the baseball business years later, but Benny Rodriguez grows up to be a star for the Dodgers, because as Scotty says at one point: “...you see, for us, baseball was a game, but for Benjamin Franklin Rodriguez, baseball was life.”
The dynamic of the boys is one of the major triumphs in the film, showcasing the innocence and deep, unwavering trust that drives childhood friendships. Nowhere is this better encapsulated than a disastrous circumstance where they end up hitting Scotty's stepfather's (Denis Leary) prized Babe Ruth baseball over the fence and into the dreaded yard of The Beast, a giant dog of urban legend. They all enlist in a conspiracy to forge a fake ball and leave it where the other was 'borrowed.” It's the event that pushes Scotty's friendship with them into the realm of the unforgettable.
My boyfriend is obsessed with baseball. We all have a particular thing that wets our whistle, makes us tick, and his thing is baseball. I can't tell you how many nights I've tried to follow his endless monologue about players, positions, stats, announcers, projected performance, game technicalities, the intricacies of playing in one park versus another, the list is endless. Since we started dating over four years ago, I've learned more about baseball than I ever dreamed I would have any desire to. But get this, he somehow had never once seen The Sandlot before we met. And you better believe I bought this sucker just for him and made him sit down and watch it with me. To me, Sandlot is an example of the purest manifestation of the childhood love of games and camaraderie that drives the love of baseball and all major sports. It's easy to forget the humble beginnings of an industry that generates billions of dollars every year. But once, it was just a game. And it was fun. And that's what baseball is really about.
As an adult, I will say there's one scene that definitely rubs me the wrong way and still makes me wince: it's when the Sandlot boys are arguing with some other dudes from across the train tracks, if you will, and both sides are trying to insult each other. The worst insult, judging by the outraged reaction from the opposing team, is the shouted epithet "you play baseball like a girl!" It's an odd bit of scripting to come from a film that's essentially about self-acceptance and the universal truth that baseball can be enjoyed by anyone; I mean, look at Scotty. He's awkward and friendless and can't play baseball worth a damn when he first meets the other boys, he doesn't even have a proper glove or hat. But he learns, and he opens like a flower to the camaraderie he develops with Benny and the rest of the crew. To shoehorn this misogyny into the narrative detracts from the larger goal and the overall theme of acceptance and learning not to judge others by appearances, as later proven with The Beast, a huge dog they are all terrified of who turns out to be benign and slobbery, and his owner, a grizzled and harmless old blind guy made memorable by James Earle Jones. Whether it was meant to be commentary on the times in which the film is set (the 1950's) and a criticism of the boys themselves, or was actually meant to be funny (it isn't), neither angle really plays with any truth.
My favorite scene, on the other hand (though there are so many that are delightful) is when the boys all go to the local fair and decide to chew some pilfered tobacco before going on a whirling carnival ride. They start out joyfully and develop a greenish pallor as the ride circles and careens. They all exit having puked their guts out. This scene is perfect: youthful indiscretion and hilarious comedic timing make me laugh like mad no matter how many times I watch it. This movie also features the now-iconic "You're killing me, Smalls!" I've known people who have used this line without actually knowing what it's from, a testament to its infiltration of the vernacular. But for so many of us, The Sandlot is an innate part of the childhoods of us 90's brats born in the late 80's, who spent many hours in hot, dim classrooms in early summer with these boys. We all shared their best summer ever. And we have never forgotten it.