The Sandlot Review
I would be willing to bet that most, if not all of us, who call ourselves baseball fans, have seen “The Sandlot”. It’s about as American as a middle-class dad wearing a fresh pair of New Balances, hot dogs, and of course baseball itself. So, as we approach the dog days of summer, I thought it would be a good opportunity to re-hash some of my personal favorite moments from the beloved baseball classic.
Directed by David Mickey Evans, the man behind the most forgettable Beethoven sequels as well as the worst “Ace Ventura”, Evans delivers his best work with “The Sandlot”. This movie is essentially “Field of Dreams” for kids, but it offers much more to stand on its own legs. Set in the summer of 1962, the film centers on the experiences from the point of view of Scotty Smalls – an awkward and nerdy kid who has recently moved to San Fernando Valley with his mother and stepfather. Scotty’s mother is desperate for her son to find some friends right away and she certainly wins the award for coolest sports-movie mom by deliberately telling Scotty to fuck shit up on his search for companions. Well, she tells him to “Get in some trouble”, which is the G-rated version of ‘fuck shit up’.
Scotty stumbles upon eight kids his age playing baseball at empty lot or a ‘sandlot’. He sneaks behind some trees in center field and is in awe of how good these kids are at baseball. When a ball is hit over his way, he scurries to retrieve it only to be ridiculed by the rest of the kids for his complete inability to throw a baseball. All, except Benny Rodriguez, mercilessly laugh at Smalls and force him to run home in tears.
Determined to get better at baseball, Scotty seeks help from his stepfather, Bill. Bill doesn’t get enough character development for us to make a very good determination on him, but in the small amount he’s on screen, we as the viewer instantly don’t envy Scotty for sharing a roof with him. He reluctantly agrees to teach Smalls how to play catch, which goes about as poorly as we would’ve hoped. Scotty indeed catches one ball from Bill, but in the process Bill decides to drop a hammer like Nolan Ryan and the ball breaks through the cheap plastic glove of Smalls and gives him a black eye. Bill doesn’t even apologize to the poor kid, he just says “you gotta watch out for that curve”. Really, Bill?! The kid doesn’t even know what a curve is!
Embarrassed and alone, Scotty sits on his front stoop with his busted plastic mitt until Benny walks past him and invites him to the sandlot so they can field a full team. He’s introduced to the team and is famously declared an ‘L-7 weenie’ by the group. After some tough love for not recognizing who Babe Ruth is, Smalls gets in the action with the guys and takes some fly balls from Benny. Everything seems to be picking up for Smalls until Hamilton ‘Ham’ Porter goes deep over the wall in his at-bat. They lose the ball to the famous ‘beast’ – a malicious junkyard dog that is not to be trifled with. And this is where the story takes off.
Perhaps one of the most iconic scenes in all of sports film history takes place during the guys’ trip to the public pool. I only have to mention this: Wendy Peffercorn. Wendy P had the JUICE. Every middle school kid across the country became a man the day they saw Wendy Peffercorn guarding lives at the town pool. And the scene of Squints pretending to drown to get some action from Wendy still stands as one of the greatest achievements of tween cinema today.
However, as good as this scene is, there is one, which will top it. I, of course am talking about the ever famous, chaw dogs. After handily beating a rival little league team, the sandlot gang celebrates by attending the Independence Day fair. To add to the festivities, the guys decide to try chewing tobacco – fine, but, instead of stopping there they then up the ante and go on the tilt-o-whirl. If you can remember your first time experimenting with Redman or Grizzly, you’ll remember that your first time can knock you on your ass if you’re new to the effects of smokeless tobacco. Combining the tobacco and a spinning carnival ride obviously ensues in the guys puking their souls out. This scene is great for three reasons.
- We see Smalls really start to gel with his new friends
- “Chaw dogs” instantly becomes a thing
- We see how important baseball is to all of the guys for different reasons. Smalls to make friends, others to have fun, and of course Benny’s love for the game and his passion to become great.
Of course, the conflict of the movie truly enters when Smalls and his lack of baseball knowledge, decides to use Bill’s baseball that is autographed by Babe Ruth for a pick up game after Benny loses another ball to the beast. After losing the prized baseball, the movie focuses more on the guys trying to retrieve the ball rather than their love for the game. In the end, they do get the ball back. It is here that they also realize the beast is not so beastly, and his owner is Darth Vader (James Earl Jones). Jones’ character provides a nice bookend to the rest of the film. Smalls learns of Jones’ fabled baseball past as a star player, but has lost his sight and forced him to retire. He also forges another close relationship, which has a profound impact on Smalls becoming a play-by-play announcer later in life.
This movie is great for many reasons and the kids actually know how to play baseball, but it goes beyond baseball and provides nostalgia ultra for all of us who have been in that spot before making new friends, passing the time by, and truly coming of age. This is also one of the few sports movies where the narrative isn’t dictated by a team trying to win every game or upset the best team in front of them. It’s a movie where it’s just about playing the game to play the game and that is what makes “The Sandlot” so special. It’s mentioned in the beginning of the movie:
“I found out that they never kept score, they never chose sides, they never even really stopped playing the game. It just went on forever. Every day they picked up where they left off the day before – it was an endless dream game” – Smalls
It’s a movie not about winning, but a movie about friendship and the impact sports and baseball can have on forming our friends and that is why “The Sandlot” is revered as one of the best baseball movies.
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