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sandlot poster

Having young kids really gives me a second chance to be one again simply by doing what they do and being so immersed in their lives. I get to color with crayons and not get looked at like some looney, I get to play with action figures and create intricate scenarios involving Pokemon, Batman, Iron Fist and pirates, and best of all, I get to revisit films from my youth and watch as my kids experience them the first time…and it’s like I’m seeing myself at their age watching these films. That’s a powerful feeling. Movies meant a lot to me as a kid as they were a springboard for my fertile imagination and I see them as the same for my two boys. So, since it’s summer and we were nearing the Fourth of July (what’s more patriotic than a movie about kids playing baseball?), I recently picked out The Sandlot for us to watch and I was reminded how awesome it really is. It’s nostalgic look at youth, coming of age and specifically baseball is endearing and fresh and still makes for a really great story.

The new kid in town, Scott Smalls.

The new kid in town, Scott Smalls.

So the premise of the film is that Scott Smalls (Tom Guiry) moves into town with his mom (Karen Black) and stepfather (Denis Leary). He doesn’t know any other kids and it’s on the cusp of summer. But when he sees his neighbor Benny Rodriguez (Mike Vitar) head to the neighborhood baseball diamond and play with seven other kids, he’s intrigued. The band of ragtag misfits are: Squints (Chauncey Leopardi), Yeah-Yeah (Marty York), Timmy and Tommy Timmons (Victor DiMattia and Shane Obedzinski), Kenny Denunez (Brandon Adams), Bertram Grover Weeks (Grant Gelt) and of course, Hamilton “Ham” Porter (Patrick Renna).

The team: Benny, Yeah-Yeah, Tommy and Timmy Timmons, Smalls, Squints, Ham, Kenny Denunez and Bertram.

The team: Benny, Yeah-Yeah, Tommy and Timmy Timmons, Smalls, Squints, Ham, Kenny Denunez and Bertram.

The one catch (pun intended)…he can’t play baseball nor is really even able to throw the ball. So when he actually joins in with Benny and his friends, he of course gets laughed at and runs away.

Benjamin Franklin Rodriguez - King of the Sandlot

Benjamin Franklin Rodriguez – King of the Sandlot

So Scott ask his distant, relatively uninterested stepfather to teach him to play catch so he can join in with Benny and the others. This doesn’t go so well:

But Benny, ever the leader and statesman, gets Smalls to come back and play despite the protestations of the others. After all, he basically has this set of kids playing baseball to help him practice to get better. They all realize he is something special, that he, unlike them, will transcend the sandlot and move on to bigger and better ball diamonds. He is the undeniable leader and these kids listen to what he has to say. Even within this dynamic, there are real friendship bonds. These kids love one another and spend all of their time together. That’s why they’re so reluctant to let someone new like Smalls in, especially one who doesn’t play ball well, doesn’t know the history or the intricacies of the game, and is generally clueless. Example:

However, once Benny does what Smalls’ stepfather can’t – that is teach him the game – Smalls fits right into the team and the friend group, making him and his mother happy that he’s part of something. So now that Smalls is part of the group, he is now part of their legends and battles. A prime example is that of the tale of  The Beast. When Ham hits their only ball over the fence at the sandlot, Smalls starts to climb the fence to get it. When his friends freak out, keeping him from doing so, we hear the tale of The Beast, which has only been alluded to through its growls through the fence.

And it is here that the end of the film is set up as you know The Beast can’t be introduced with it being seen at some point in the film and without a showdown with The Beast. And that occurs when Smalls, after Benny knocks the cover off their only baseball, steals his stepfather’s baseball signed by Babe Ruth (The Sultan of Swat, The Titan of Terror, The Colossus of Clout, The Colossus of Clout, The Great Bambino) to play with.

When it, too, ends up over the fence in the lair of The Beast, and after many failed attempts to retrieve it otherwise, the boys know someone must face it to retrieve that ball to save Smalls from being killed by his stepfather (not literally, of course). Who would that be, you ask? Benny, of course.

They don’t call him Benny the Jet for nothing.

There is so much to love in this film – the friendships, the baseball, the class warfare between the sandlotters and the rich kids from across town, the larger than life tales of gigantic child-eating animals chained in backyards, all of which are applicable to so many people’s own childhoods. And how can we forget the fair/chewing tobacco scene, right?

I can't take this no more!

I can’t take this no more!

But none is as awesome as Squints surreptitious plan to kiss the lifeguard at the pool, the gorgeous Wendy Peffercorn (Marley Shelton). We’ve all had those childhood crushes and this scene pretty well encompasses what I remember from the crushes I had on older women as a boy. I wish I was as resourceful as Squints, though.

This movie captures the essence of the budding young boy precisely and making the most of the moments you have at that age. The fly by so fast it’s hard to really treasure them. I think this film is as poignant as Stand By Me, although in a much more lighthearted way. It captures the immensity of a young boy’s imagination (The Beast), the depth of his friendships and the power that inclusion brings to even the shiest of souls, not to mention the beauty of baseball. I can’t help but to think of Robert McCammon‘s fine novel Boy’s Life (not be confused with Tobias Wolff‘s This Boy’s Life) and the character of Nemo Curliss, whose golden arm was wasted by an overbearing mother, when I see this film. The pure magic of childhood.

And best of all, my kids were so pumped by watching this. They loved it so much, they went to the computer and tried to find Babe Ruth signed baseballs they could ask for for Christmas. I had to explain that even Santa (yes, they are still believers) couldn’t come up with the $40,000 to get a real autographed ball, they made their own:

My son's "autographed" Babe Ruth ball.

My son’s “autographed” Babe Ruth ball.

Looks like the real thing, right?

And they loved “Ham” best of all and it’s hard not to. He’s far and away the funniest part of the film as is evident by this scene:

This is a great movie that stands up over time. Its themes are as pertinent today as they were when this movie took place (summer of 1962) and when it was filmed in 1993 and, dare I say, may well be the best baseball movie ever made outside of The Bad News Bears.

Here’s the trailer: